Sunday, April 28, 2013

Week Four: Aero, Sims, ...Donuts?

Hi everyone,

Things are going well here! The weather's been all over the place, but besides that everything is fine and now I'm just enjoying my weekend. This week was a lot busier than the last ones have been, but overall went pretty well.

We started studying aerodynamics on Monday, which basically means everything concerning the fundamentals of flight. Lift, drag, weight and thrust all play a huge role in why an aircraft can fly, and they depend on many different factors. So we spent the week learning (or re-learning) why planes stall when they do, why they will go into spins, and what different airfoil (wing) shapes do with respect to lift. Pretty interesting stuff, actually much better than learning systems.

The downside is that the workload was much higher this week. We had at least three CAIs per day, and one or two instructor-taught classes on top of that. Still not too bad, just more to accomplish throughout the day. In addition to that we had two simulator rides this week, but unlike the first two "switchology" sessions in the sim, these were actually graded and required a lot more preparation.

First we got completely into our flight gear. This means you first put on a G-suit, which wraps around your stomach and then tightly is zippered down your legs. There's a hose coming off it that you attach to a nozzle in the jet. Then, when you pull G's in the air, the mechanism it's attached to will fill these air bladders inside the G-suit to help you retain blood in your upper body. The fit is extremely tight, so by the end of the ride your legs are pretty stifled and sweaty. Now add on the harness, gloves, helmet, 100+ degree temperatures in the summer, and the greenhouse effect of being under a glass canopy...

G-suit from the front (not me btw).

Next you have to put on your harness which functions to strap you into the jet. There are two shoulder buckles and two side buckles that are vital: they attach you to the parachute and seat survival kit, respectively. You also have a lap belt and leg restraints attached to you, so you're in there pretty good. Also, we put on flight gloves and Velcro our sleeves closed around them. Finally you put on your helmet, attach all the oxygen hoses and communications cords, and put the visor down. In flight, your entire body is covered by stuff, and all of it is fire-proof. Well, I should say fire-resistant up to a very high temperature. But basically it will keep your skin from getting directly burnt in the case of a cabin fire, or from the canopy fracturing system (CFS) detonating and pelting you with shards of plexiglass.

These sims focused on running through all our checklist items. It's not like a car where you just hop in, buckle up, start it and drive off! There are about 140 checklist items before you even start the engine! And then even more as you prepare to taxi, takeoff, and fly. Air Force flying is extremely procedures-based, and it's done to make sure we're safe. For example, the biggest threat to our safety while on the ground is accidental activation of the ejection seats or CFS. Even on the ground we have the capability to eject, so it's very important that the safety pin remain in the ejection handle right up until we're at the runway.

Overall I did a pretty good job with the checklists, but what makes or breaks you is knowing all of the callouts and challenge-response items. There's a lot of verbiage that we have to know for many of the checklists. My first ride I got an E! Which is the highest grade you can get. The grading scale goes: NG, U, F, G, E. No grade, unsatisfactory/unable (you don't want a U as your overall grade), fair, good, and excellent. So I was happy to get that grade, only 7 people in our class got Es.

We also took our aero test and I got another 100%, so that was freaking awesome. These tests aren't gimme's, there are a lot of tricky questions on them that you really have to think through. So getting 100s is no cakewalk. I was hoping that I could keep up my streak, and was thrilled to see that I did.

During my evenings, I try to relax as much as possible and give myself at least an hour or two (if possible) devoted to not studying, but I always get into my notes and flight documents to study or "chairfly". Chairflying is when you, go figure, sit around your house in a chair and pretend to fly, haha. It sounds childish but it's actually a huge factor in making you a better pilot. Frankly there are not enough sim rides and actual flights to make you proficient, so you have to "fly" as much as possible to get enough practice. You do this by setting up your gear as close to real as you can and going through the motions of your sortie. Some guys even take the cutout of the instrument panel and side consoles that we have and construct a mini-cockpit made out of cardboard! Or you can go the classy route and tape them up in front of the toilet and chairfly/study that way. Whatever works. Haha, I just lay them on my counter in front of me.

My chairflying set-up. Not much but it works. Those are some of the checklists we run through, there's quite a few and those are only two of the pages.

On Friday my second sim ride was scheduled for 4pm so I was done around 6... not a fun time. Plus some CAIs I needed to finish up, so that made it 7pm. The good news is I got another E! It's one of those things that you don't just get, but you have to work for. Really motivated to keep up my excellent and 100% streaks that I have going.

We also experienced something pretty cool on Friday morning. Class 13-08 (notice anything similar to my class 14-08?) just graduated and we went to their ceremony. There were a lot of family members present and we saw what planes the graduates will be flying and where they'll be heading. Then they got their wings pinned on. It was pretty cool to see it happening, but sobering to know that we have an entire year before we're there.

On a much lighter note (and as alluded to in the title of this post) we had some donuts involved in this week. Our class policy for late-shows is that person owes the class donuts (or bagels, etc). I was unfortunately late one morning last week (dang alarm clock) and so owed one day. Well on the particular morning that I had PLANNED to go get donuts, I overslept again! So I was at two days. We also had a couple other guys late this week, so my class is pretty stocked up on donut-debt. Well I got up nice and early one morning, drove to the gate, realized I forgot my ID (which gets you ON base), drove back and got it, then finally went off base and got the donuts. And barely made it back on time... haha. So that was my donut fiasco. On the plus side everyone liked them, and it doesn't hurt to build up some good will.

That's about it for this week. We had an outing to Buffalo Wild Wings on Friday night and a birthday celebration on Saturday, so it was a pretty good weekend of fun. Getting ready for next week now!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it! See you next week. Sorry, not too many pictures available/interesting enough... Haha. Here's one of my "March Mustache," something most pilot-types do during the great month of March. We had a Mustachio Bashio at the end of the month to celebrate our manliness/creepiness. Don't worry: it was gone by April 1st!

~ Dakota

Monday, April 22, 2013

Week Three: Systems, Part Deux

Hello again,

Week three is all finished up, and it was overall pretty unremarkable, though there were some important parts. On Monday we took our Systems 1 test. This was a big one because it was the first one to have 47 questions and the first one concerning actual academics (physiology is kind of separate). I only missed one question, bringing my total to three. I set a goal this week to miss as few as I can from this point on. It's that sort of mindset that will get me a T-38 slot, as only the top members of the class have a shot at getting on. Academics only count for 10% of the final rankings, but every bit counts.

We started and finished studying Systems 2 this week, so it was a very CAI-intensive week. Like, three-a-day CAIs. Some of the systems are pretty gee-whiz type stuff (like the GPS interface) and the computer training can take a while to get through. But overall it was an easy week, since that was really the only thing going on. Topics covered this week were flight instruments 1 & 2 , communication systems, navigation systems, GPS, environmental system, canopy system, and ejection system. Most of this week centered on inside-the-cockpit stuff, such as programming radio and nav frequencies and deciphering what the hell the decades-old GPS system is trying to tell you. Seriously, it's a black and green display that shows text most of the time, and when it actually shows a picture with the route you want to fly it's so small you would have to bury yourself in the cockpit and not pay attention to what's going on outside. Good stuff right there...

To really solidify what we learned we had our second simulator "switchology" ride, this time messing around with the navigation instruments. Ever wasted time reading the instructions for some new device you got? Then discovered that by just playing around with it you learned how it worked? That's pretty much what the cockpit is like, messing with stuff until you find out how it works. The CAIs can only teach you so much... Anyway, at the end of the week we had the Systems 2 test. I went into it feeling alright, and ended up getting another 100%!

The large black square with two knobs and green text is the GPS. Not like what you have in your car, am I right?

The main instrument panel, motherload of displays. As you can see, most of them are electronic, which means a failure of your battery or generator will leave you without certain instruments.

Right forward console. The upper portion controls electronics and some engine functions, the middle controls the environmental system, and the bottom is the oxygen regulator. The simulator takes a beating haha, as you can tell.

Full view, with everything shut down and secured. The ejection handle is the black and yellow loop right in the middle of the seat, sticking up between your thighs when you sit.

On Thursday our squadron (the 71st Student Squadron) had to gather in an auditorium to hear from the Wing Commander (top dog on base) about the results of our recent Combined Unit Inspection (CUI). Overall our base did really well on this week-long inspection, which means no repercussions emplaced on us. So that's good news! We didn't do well enough to get an Outstanding Unit Award, but I'll take no additional regulations or enforcements.  That's honestly about it for the week, like I said it was a pretty uneventful one.

I wanted to give a quick background of some parts of UPT that I haven't mentioned yet. There are three phases: Phase I is academics, which I'm in right now. Phase II is T-6 flight training, and that's broken up into a few blocks. Phase III is advanced training in either the T-1 or T-38. The whole process is about a year long. In Phase II we will fly a few different types of training, the first being Contact. This is where we learn basic flight maneuvers and then aerobatic maneuvers. What does that mean? Some pretty cool stuff:
   - aileron rolls (DO A BARREL ROLL!)
   - loops (self-explanatory)
   - split S turns (flipping upside down and pulling until you're level again, turning altitude into airspeed)
   - Immelmann turns (opposite of a split S, turning airspeed into altitude)
   - spins (forcing the wings to lose their lifting capability, which is a stall, and then adding rudder so that you start spinning toward the ground)

After Contact, we'll fly Instruments/Navigation. This is arguably the hardest portion of UPT, and the most important. Flying on instruments means that technically you'll never have to look outside the aircraft, which seems completely counterintuitive. But this is the industry standard (when you fly somewhere on commercial airliners, they're flying solely on instruments). After that we fly Formation! Known as "form" around here, it's supposedly one of the coolest things you'll ever do. I can't imagine flying 10 feet from another aircraft's wingtip... And lastly there's Low Level, which is also extremely awesome. This is when we'll burn along the ground, which will be amazing.

Another part of life in UPT is Boldface/Ops Limits. These are handy little phrases and numbers that we have to memorize and know cold. Every week we turn in one sheet of Boldface to our supervisor. Hopefully it'll stay that way, but if we start messing them up (seriously ANY error or typo on ONE of the sheets is a failure for everyone) we'll have to turn in more. So far we're still at one per week, but we'll see how long that goes...

Side 1: Boldface. Anything you see in handwriting is what we have to know. These are emergency procedures that you need to perform as fast as possible (in order to live) so you have to know them by heart.

Side 2: Ops Limits. These numbers and phrases are the limits of the jet, and are important because flying outside these limits is not only dangerous but prohibited. Also they make GREAT quizzing questions for the IPs to grill us with...

Finally, I wanted to mention some terms I might be using in future blog entries. When I say "track select" or "track" that means which advanced trainer I go into. So "tracking T-38s" is being selected for a T-38 fighter trainer slot. "Dropping" or "drop night" is waaaaay down the road for me and that means finding out what aircraft I'll be flying for an operational unit. On drop night our class will find out what aircraft are available to get into, and some drops are better than others. Typically a good drop includes as many fighter aircraft as possible, some bombers, and maybe some Special Operations planes. This is assuming you're in T-38s. In T-1s, the drops will include different types of cargo transport and tanker aircraft, though there are still some pretty cool jobs that come out of it. AC-130 gunship, to name one. C-17s would be pretty cool as well. Whichever airframe I end up in, it's flying. Beats working.

There's an option in most drops called "FAIP" which means First Assignment Instructor Pilot. FAIPing means you'll have to stay at Vance and become an IP (instructor pilot) for students. This is a good and bad thing. It's bad because you have to stay around and teach snob-nosed students for two or so years. It's good because you get a lot more flight time in either your specific trainer or the T-6 and you usually you get a pretty good assignment after you're done being a FAIP. So it's not the end of the world.

Alright, that's it. Now that I've talked your ear off... haha.

Thanks for reading!

~ Dakota

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Week Two: Bye-Bye Physio, Hello Systems

Hello again,

This week was a pretty interesting one, and overall went pretty well. On Tuesday we had our altitude chamber flight. For anyone who doesn't know what that is, imagine getting into a very large steel box the size of a small room. Once you're all set up in your oxygen mask, the room is closed off and depressurized, allowing them to "bring you up to altitude" by sucking air out of the room. This has a couple of different effects: your ears will start to pop because of the pressure differential between the room and your body, and the quantity of oxygen in the room would rapidly decline. The whole point is to demonstrate how much our bodies rely on oxygen and how it affects our mental acuity.

Before ascending, we had to breathe for 30 minutes on 100% oxygen. Normally when we breathe we take in more nitrogen than oxygen because that's just how the atmosphere is. But when you go to a significantly lower pressure level too quickly, nitrogen bubbles can possibly leave our blood and go into the joints, causing decompression sickness (aka "the bends"). Not good. So they had us take the precaution of eliminating as much nitrogen from our systems as possible.

Once we reached 25,000 feet in altitude, we had to remove our oxygen masks and see how we reacted from the lack of oxygen (aka hypoxia). I had already experienced this due to my altitude chamber flight as a four-degree at the Academy, so I knew what to expect. My symptoms are a really warm feeling throughout my body, noticeably increased heart rate, and eventually a feeling of relaxation and calmness. This last one is really bad in an airplane, because imagine flying around at high speeds feeling completely relaxed and lazy, all the while losing oxygen until you pass out. Reeeeeally not good. So in the future if for some reason I start to go hypoxic I know what to look for. Or feel for, in this case. My hands started to shake visibly as well this time, so that's another good sign.

We also had some other cool practical things in Aerospace Physiology this week. We did our Fighter Aircrew Conditioning Test, which is a baseline test measuring your anaerobic physical fitness. If I track to the T-38 after the T-6 (which I want to), I will have to take this again. The increased forces on the human body in a fighter plane require you to be in peak physical condition, so it'll be important to keep up a good workout regimen over the next year.

The T-38 Talon, the aircraft you train on after T-6s IF you're selected to go fighters.

We also did our parachute training course, which was pretty fun. Having done the jump program at USAFA, I have some experience with this. We had to demonstrate a Parachute Landing Fall (PLF) which is how you're supposed to fall to the ground when you're landing with a parachute. We also went through parachute operating procedures while hanging from a harness, and of course, got dragged around (by our buddies) in order to practice detaching from a parachute if you're being dragged across the ground by the wind (which would probably happen if you had to eject in Oklahoma, because the wind is ridiculous).

Our last physiology test was this week as well, and I busted my 100% streak by missing a couple questions. But I still passed, and that's all that really matters. That was it for Aerospace Physiology! The real stuff is just beginning...

The first block of academics is called Systems. To give you a sense of this exhilarating block of study, I will ask you a question. Picture your car. Now tell me the route a gas molecule takes, starting from the gas tank and ending with the exhaust. In detail. Can you do that? Well, that's the level of knowledge we're expected to have, just with the T-6. And the fuel system is only ONE we have to know (that's why they call it Systems... emphasis on the last 's'). So we've spent the week learning the propulsion system, fuel system, electrical system, hydraulic system, and flight control system. Seriously fun stuff right here. And! Systems 2 is next week. Woot.

Ahh... the beloved hydraulic system diagram.

The method of instruction is even better. The majority of information given to us is presented in these things called CAIs. Computer Aided Training. So basically you click through a computer program that gives you all the information you'll need to know, with little pictures and diagrams. It's not TOO bad, it actually does a good job of explaining everything. But gone are the days of humans teaching humans it seems haha. We still have instructors to teach us, but it's mostly in a review format. I had a bit of trouble during the first hydraulics CAI... And my classmates deemed it fitting to capture the moment for me and put it on Facebook.

Pressure release valve... selector manifold... actuator lever...

The good thing is you can do CAIs at whatever pace you want.

The last couple of cool things this week were visiting the T-6 maintenance hangar to check out the plane we'll be flying in a little less than a month. And then our first simulator "ride", in which we sat in a stationary cockpit of the T-6 and went through all of the switches, levers, buttons, and dials we'll be pressing in some form or another. "Switchology" as it's called. So that was pretty awesome. I didn't take any pictures unfortunately. I'll try to grab some in the future.

Besides that we had an ice storm, so that was cool. And then like two days later it was warm and sunny.

That's it for this week. Sorry for the wordiness, but the details are what make it interesting!

Stay classy,

~ Dakota