Breaking the speed of sound (nearly)

So, as mentioned in my last post, if the weather cooperated I would be telling you all about my first solo in the Harvard II today. However, the weather did not cooperate and Monday's flight was shifted into an IF mission while Tuesday and Wednesday were a complete wash as Moose Jaw collected over 65mm of rain in 48 hours which succeeded in cancelling all flights as well as making a large puddle in my basement. In conjunction with the rain, we had strong northerly winds resulting in a strong crosswind out of limits for the Harvard II. My latest attempt for my solo was Friday, where I managed to get up in the morning for an aerobatics flight that doubled as my solo checkout. Although I did fine and was once again qualified for solo, shortly after we landed the winds once again shifted to the north and outside of solo crosswind limitations. Once again, my solo had been scrubbed. All of this however, was made up by the fact that Thursday I got to ride backseat in an F18!

Alright, let's take a moment to talk about this. First off, how the heck did I go from flying a Harvard II trainer to flying a full blown fighter jet!? Well, 410 squadron (the F18 training squadron located in Cold Lake) decided to bring a couple aircraft down for a Motivex (this one isn't really an acronym, but more of two words squished together. Motivational-Exercise). Effectively, they decided to come show off and try to inspire student pilots to become fighter pilots.

Before continuing, a quick aside. Why would students need inspiring to become fighter pilots? Don't all students want to be fighter pilots? Who doesn't put down fighters as their first choice? Despite what you may think, many students don't want fighter's as their first choice. Many elect to go Multi or Helo for many valid reasons. Some go that route for career progression (Both Multi and Helo experience is highly desirable for airlines and commercial aviation after a military career). Some don't want the fighter lifestyle of living in remote locations (Cold Lake, AB and Bagotville, QC) and studying for days prior to a one hour mission. Some simply don't like wearing an oxygen mask and G-suit, pulling G, or simply get airsick. Long story short, not everyone want's to be a fighter pilot, and in fact the current state in Moose Jaw is they need more pilots to fill fighter spots. All of this to say, this wasn't just a private air show for fighter pilots to show off, but an opportunity to explain to potential candidates what the fighter stream is all about, and what students can expect if they decide to go that route.

Okay, back on track. They brought down four F18 jets to show students, as well as the pilots to provide briefings and answer questions students may have. As part of this Motivex, 410 squadron put together a famil flight where the 4 aircraft would go fly a mission, and 4 passengers could ride backseat to experience what fighter pilots do. 2 spots were reserved for Harvard II instructors, and 2 spots were designated for students. The names of students were put in a hat, and two names were drawn. I was fortunate enough to have my name drawn! In actual fact, a friend's name was drawn and the spot offered to him, however he declined due to the fact that he had flown in an F18 multiple times while on OJT (On the Job Training) in Cold Lake. He elected to pass up the spot for someone who hadn't had a ride before. Thanks to him, the next name drawn was mine, and I got to go for a ride!

Wait a second. Didn't you spend two summer's in Cold Lake? Yes, I did in fact spend two summers in Cold Lake, but I never got a ride on an F18 while there. The first summer I worked at the Air Force Tactical Training Center (AFTTC) where I worked in flight planning for the exercise Maple Flag. Although I got multiple rides on C-130 Hercules aircraft, I never got into an F18. Last summer I also worked in Cold Lake, but worked at the Aeronautical Engineering and Testing Establishment (AETE). I got to fly in the Tutor aircraft with them, but again, no F18 ride.

So, how was the ride? What did you do? How fast did you go? Did you get sick? Well, the first question is the easiest to answer, and it's also the answer you would probably expect: IT WAS AWESOME! Unsurprisingly, flying in an F18 is about as cool as it looks. As for what we did, the four ship formation took off and then split up into two-two ship flights so that each two ship flight could engage in dogfights among themselves. (effectively, we split up and had two, one on one fights). These dogfights are called Basic Fighter Maneuvering (BFM) in the fighter community. These fights start off very intense with the two aircraft closing head on at over 400 knots apiece. At the merge the two aircraft turn as hard as possible towards each other in an attempt to bleed airspeed and maneuver behind the other aircraft. After this initial hard turn, the fight becomes very slow as both aircraft are trying to fly slower than the other to allow them to turn tighter, get behind, and shoot. The end result is the two aircraft end up in a very nose high attitude, at a slow airspeed, with slow scissoring turns to try and get the nose of your aircraft behind the other. All in all, these fights are very short and lasted less than 30 seconds apiece. After these two fights, we did a few minutes in close formation up at high altitude which offered a few minutes for a quick photo op!

Following BFM, we transitioned to the low level environment and did some low level work as well as a quick speed run. During the speed run we went into full afterburner and very quickly worked our way up to .95 Mach, which is about 630 knots,  or nearly 1200 km/hr. We didn't make it to Mach 1 because we didn't have airspace that allowed us to go supersonic, but we did get within about 10-20 knots of Mach 1. This is without a doubt the fastest I've ever gone, and with the F18 in afterburner  it didn't take long to get there! Finally, we came in over the airport for a battle break (where a flight of F18's fly overhead at low altitude to simulate an attack on an aerodrome before breaking hard up and away from the aerodrome). Following the battle break we did  two closed patterns (think of it as a very tight circle  where you quickly come around for another landing but instead of landing you pull up and go around for another tight circle). During these closed patterns, we pulled 5G in the pull. This means that in those pulls your body feels 5 times it's normal weight. In the Harvard II,  we pull 2G in a similar maneuver, so this maneuver is a fair bit more intense. Throughout the entire flight we maxed out at 6.1 G. I did perform an Anti-G straining maneuver (AGSM) (a maneuver where you clench your legs and breathe in short quick exhales/inhales 2 seconds apart to keep the blood from pooling in your lower extremities), but for the most part this was largely unnecessary except for the times where we exceeded 5G thanks to the miracle of G pants! G pants are very tight fitting pants that inflate with the onset of G to help compress the lower extremities and keep blood in the head. I had never worn them before, and was amazed at how much they helped fight off G.  

All of this took place in a span of 45 minutes, and by the time we landed the low fuel warning was going off, so the F18 sure burns through its several thousand pounds of fuel pretty quick! In short, this flight was truly an amazing experience. I got to see just about every part of a fighter pilots job, and I didn't even get airsick! I'm really glad to have had this experience, not just for the obvious reason that flying in an F18 is fricken awesome, but also because this is what I hope to do for a job one day so seeing how it all fits together was really valuable. The fighter jet route is a long one, with many long courses, all with long wait times. In reality, I'm look at another 2-4 years as a minimum to become an F18 pilot, but this flight definitely showed me what I'm working towards!

I would say it was a pretty good week even though I didn't get my solo in! Next week I hope to get my first solo, as well as my Initial Instrument Test (IIT) done. Stay tuned to hear about that, and if you enjoyed this please subscribe for email updates, and share with anyone who might be interested in my story!

P.S. I did bring a GoPro along for this flight, and I will hopefully get a video together at some point in time so if you would like to see it please subscribe so you know when it's up!