I supposed it had to happen eventually, everybody has one in time. And I had mine yesterday.
It was a good hop, really. Raging around down low, hiding in the mountains, waiting for a chance to pounce on the unwary. Although this is graduation week at the (prestigious) Navy Fighter Weapons School, and there are very few unwary students left. Still, good clean fun, and your host can say “Copy kill” with the best of them.
Cruised on back to the field for the recovery with few cares, being very nearly the first to land. The students being further away from the field at the knock-it-off, and the instructors taking advantage of whatever fuel they had left to whirl and flail at one another in the best traditions of the service. A tolerably precise landing, there’s the seven thousand feet to go board, and at 150 knots indicated I pulled the drag chute lever aft, bunting the nose slightly out of the aero-braking attitude to ensure a tangle-free deployment.
Which is precisely when nothing happened.
Ordinarily you feel a pretty good tug on the shoulder harness as the drag chute deploys. Not like an arrested landing aboard ship, mind. But the sensation is unmistakeable, as is the effect, particularly at higher speeds. Which I was still traveling at, the chute having either failed to deploy or parted behind me, there was no way to know. Look, there goes the six board. Still about 150 knots indicated. I’ve mentioned to you before how much runway the jet takes up during the take-off roll with the afterburner howling behind you. It takes up a surprising amount of pavement at idle, too. Especially with no drag chute. Time to go.
The procedure calls for full grunt, and drag chute lever forward to cut the chute if it’s a streamer. It takes a little while for the engine to make full thrust from idle, time spent nervously watching the departure end come up. At least I was still going pretty fast, so there wasn’t that far to go to get to fly-away speed. And I was light.
Tower cleared me to land on the left runway, which is a few thousand feet longer. Much to the dismay of a student whose need to land was at least as great as my own, the right runway being fouled by a drag chute, and hizzoner being low fuel state as he subsequently admitted under protest when he was asked to go-around and make room for me. But based on the timing he was now second in line for special handling. There’s a good man, wait your turn and ‘fess up first in the future. I hope you’ve learned something from this.
I was already pretty low on fuel myself, so I didn’t need to burn down gross weight. Flew about as slow as I could without risking a tail strike or hard landing, she does not like to fly slow. Still about 185 knots in the round-out. With no drag chute the book calls for aerobraking until 130 knots, and judicious use of the wheel brakes from that point on, balanced across the length of the runway remaining. You’re a long time holding the aero-braking attitude with no chute. You go by a lot of runway. Depending upon headwinds or tailwinds and runway length, one might even shut the engine down to reduce residual thrust.
I didn’t in the event, but the brakes – and anti-skid – got a pretty good workout. When I taxied back to the line the maintenance guys told me to go away for 10 minutes. Just in case the brakes might, you know: Catch fire. Which they didn’t, so no harm done.
It’s funny how quickly you can go from “comfort zone” to “wrestling snakes” in this business.
But even snake wrestling beats life in the cube, for me at least. In measured doses.