Coolstone Plays “Pick-a-chart”


by Roger Crewse July 1963

“Just give me Operations, ” Coolstone hummed softly under his breath, “way out on a lonely atoll.” He looked out the window again for about the tenth time, and the volume of his voice increased slightly as he added, “For I am too young to die, I just want to go home.”

He was worried. Eight 106’s and their intrepid crews were standing by for a division exercise. The rain was not mainly on the plain, but right here on the old home patch. Showers had been passing over the base as forecasted for the past three hours.

The Old Man was on leave, and as Operations Officer the Rock was holding a rather soggy bag. Everyone knows that paper loses its strength alarmingly as it becomes damp.

Specifically, the problem that kept nagging away at his piece of mind concerned the condition of the runway. He had played “pick-a-chart” until he really didn’t know how much runway it would take to get stopped with a bag failure. Before the last supplement had come out with all the James jazz on it, he had had no problem. He could have just used the dash-one and that would have been the end of it.

Just for kicks he tried it again. With a thousand-foot touchdown, zero wind, a wet runway, no chute, using the dash-one chart, he came up with a total requirement of 9,100 feet.

I’ve just got to quit fooling with that chart, he told himself and burped gently. Must be acid indigestion, no doubt. The runway was 8,700 feet to the barrier. He turned back to the front of the book and the supplement with the James Brake Decelerometer readings. This is better, he told himself. Let’s see … with a dry runway, the rollout would be 5,000 feet. Then I run up to the 11-13 line on the chart, and it looks like about 6,700 feet. With 1,000 for touchdown, I’ve still got 1,000 feet to spare.

It sounded fine to him, and the supplement stated that it should be used, but the chart had been available for only a couple of weeks, and this was the first time the runway had been anything but dry. The numbers the chart came out with looked good, but unfortunately his experience on this runway when it was wet led him to expect a rollout in excess of any 6,700 feet. In fact, with a drier runway than they had right now birds with drag chute failures had performed all sorts of interesting tricks on the runway before the pilots had finally acquiesced and taken the barrier.

Technique maybe, but into the barrier they’d gone.

He went back to his seat by the window, looked out, and hummed again, “Just give me Operations…”

It was really pouring now. The odds were that there wouldn’t be any chute failures, but if they did occur – well, at least he had one chart on his side… “way out on a lonely atoll.”

His rendition was interrupted by one of his flight leaders. “It looks pretty slick out there,” he said. “A drag chute failure would probably put us right into the barrier. The book says . . .”

“I am reasonably familiar with what the book says,” snapped the Rock, “but if you will look and see what the supplement says, we would be just fine.”

“How about those barrier engagements last month?” asked the flight leader. “The runway wasn’t even wet.” Then he added, more to himself than to Coolstone, “You can find a chart for anything these days. Just pick one.”

“Well,” said the Rock, making a decision that he had been playing with for some time, “I’ll call the Group Commander.” He walked over to the hot room and said to the operator, “See if you can get the colonel on the phone.”

He waited a moment, and the operator handed him the receiver. The colonel was on the line.

“This is Coolstone, Colonel. I don’t think we should take this one with the runway the way it is. If we have a bag failure, I’m pretty sure we’ll probably have a barrier engagement. If we have two bag failures in a row, I’m pretty sure we’ll have an accident. What do you think about cancelling out until the showers get by and the runway dries out a skosh?”

“What does the book say?” asked the Colonel.

“Well,” Coolstone answered rather reluctantly. “One chart says we are all right, but the other one says we’ll go off the end. You know, Colonel, the last time it rained we had two chute failures and a barrier engagement with both of them. Of course,” added the Rock, “I guess we could recover somewhere else, but that always causes lots of problems.”

“I agree,” said the Colonel. “We don’t want to get scattered out. Stand by and I’ll check with the Sector.”

If Coolstone could have had his say at this point, he would have scratched all flying until the squadron commander returned, regardless of runway condition.

“What did he say?” asked the flight leader.

“Stand by one was the word,” said the Rock.

“Coolstone,” called the Duty Officer. “We have just been moved up to five…”

“All of the birds?”

“Rog. All of them on five.”

The announcement was made over the squadron P.A. system. Pilots interrupted pingpong games, television viewing, and other endeavors designed to improve the mind, long enough to get their equipment together, so that they would be ready to go.

The Rock was Number One to go, so he decided he had better tidy up a bit also.

“Phone,” some one said to him.

“Coolstone here,” he said into the instrument.

“Rog,” said a strange voice to him. “You are the commander, I presume.”

“Just in his absence,” emphasized the Rock. “Just in his absence. I am really the Ops Officer.”

“Understand that you don’t want to fly them today. Is that right?”

“Yes, sir, that’s right. To whom am I talking, please?”

“This is the Weapons Director. What’s your problem?”

“Well,” said Coolstone. “With a drag chute failure and the runways as wet as they are, I don’t think we can get them stopped. I guess you had better cancel us out until the showers pass. Weather says we should be getting clearing conditions in about four hours.”

“It sure takes the heart out of our exercise,” said the Weapons Director. “The targets should be coming in any time now and we were counting on taking tactical action with you people first. Are you sure you can’t go?”

“I don’t think we had better,” said the Rock reluctantly, and he knew there was a subtle aura of pressure in the Weapons Director’s remarks. Then he firmed up his refusal, straightened his shoulders, and said, “No, count us out. I’m sorry.”

“Look,” said the W.D. “How about standing by for a moment before you go off readiness?

“Well,” said the Rock. “Well… O.K. We’ll stand by for a minute or two.”

He had barely replaced the receiver when the Group Commander came into Operations. “I talked to the Sector,”‘ said the Colonel, as he approached the Rock. “They were mad as Hell, but I told them it was your show.”

(and Coolstone couldn’t help but notice the emphasis on the phrase, “your show.”)

“You know,” added the Colonel. “According to the new Safety of Flight Supplement in the front of the dash-one, you should get stopped just fine, even with a drag chute failure on ice. The James reading is 11 today.”

“Yes, sir, I know, but I am convinced that that chart for all configurations is generally optimistic. Our experience is that the dash-one chart, while perhaps too pessimistic, is more accurate, because there is usually a directional control problem associated with a real slick runway. You just can’t brake all the time like it says in the book. Besides, the last time it rained, we had …”

But he was interrupted by the hot room operator. “Sector on, Major.” said the operator.

“Coolstone One,” he spoke into the instrument.

“This is the Battle Staff Commander,” said a rather authoritative voice in his ear. “I have the dash-one for the six in front of me. Now, you have 9,000 feet, the winds are variable, but let’s, use zero wind, three thousand pounds … it’s about 75 degrees there, isn’t it?”

Coolstone quickly answered, “Yes sir, it is.”

“I come up with 6500 feet, using the RCR of 11. What’s the problem?”

“Well,” said Coolstone rather weakly, “in the first place I have to figure at least 1,000 foot touch down; that leaves me with 8,000, and then, if you use the chart in the back of the book for a no-chute landing, actually it shows about 8,100 feet for the roll-out. I feel this is a more reliable figure, simply because the last time it rained we ran a couple into the barrier with chute failures, and I don’t believe the runway was as slick as it is right now.”

“Well,” said the Colonel. “It says right here in the Safety of Flight Supplement that this is the chart to use. Why are you using the other one?” Then he added rather quickly, “Now don’t get me wrong. It’s your show. I’ll go along with whatever you decide. I just wanted to know, for if your squadron doesn’t participate in this exercise, it will be a great disappointment. The targets are already committed.”

“I know that, sir,” said Coolstone. He hesitated for a moment. “Let me run it over one more time and see what type of distance I can come up with. Maybe,” he added, hedging a bit, “the true distance is somewhere between the two figures.”

It was a compromise that he didn’t want to make. Oh, boy, he thought, I’ve had about all the squadron commanding I can use right now.

“Well,” said the voice on the phone. “See what you can come up with, and in the meantime we’ll continue to show your eight sixes on five.”

“Well, sir,” said the Rock, dragging his feet, “I’d rather not,” and he looked pleadingly at his group commander, who was just as intently studying the slightly stained ceiling tiles above the Rock’s head, as if he was considering some rather extensive staff action concerning it.

Coolstone gave it up. “O.K., sir, I’ll call you right back and let you know.”

He handed the receiver to the hot room operator, reached for his dog-eared, dirty dash-one . . . and at this point the world of Coolstone became unglued.

The scramble horn blew… the loud speaker was calling off the scramble information… his pilots were on their way… and he, who was supposed to be their leader, was standing there holding his dash-one.

He fought an inclination to scream at them, “Come back, come back.” But the horn finally got to him also. Just too many years on alert had conditioned his reflexes.

As he ran for his bird, he rationalized, “Our drag chute failure rate is good anyway.”

About an hour and a half later the Rock was recovering his flight on GCA. He felt pretty darned good. There are quite a few MA’s left in the old boy yet, he told himself. He had salvaged one that was real tough. He knew the troops couldn’t have missed seeing it. As near as he could tell, the whole squadron had done real well.

The flight was turned on final. As they let down to their approach altitude, they broke out. While the rain was definitely still there, the visibility wasn’t bad. At GCA minimums he started his flare and brought the power back. He touched down just fine at about 1200 feet. He had carried a few extra knots for his wingman, and he waited until he heard Two call drag chute.

Coolstone then deployed his chute. “One potato, two potato, three potato,” he counted to himself, as he always did as he waited for his chute to deploy. “Four potato, five potato.” He started saying the words loudly to himself, as he waited to feel the chute’s decelerating force.

Then, over the radio he heard, “Coolstone from Mobile. You have a streamer.”

He dropped the nose, hit the idle thrust switch, and brought the brakes in real lightly, he thought.

The bird did one of its tricks to the left immediately. He got off the brakes, and with elevon, rudder, and nose wheel steering along with right brake, he tried to get the bird straight with the world.

Slowly .. ever go slowly … the bird began to straighten. He hit the brakes again. The drag to the left which followed was identical to the first.

He came off the brakes, and this time, even with fully deflected nose wheel, the six did not respond. Hook, he thought, wildly pressing the button. The end was coming, and all too quickly.

He hit the right brake, held it to the skid point, then into the skid. Slowly the nose started to come around, then, as he overcontrolled, the bird showed him a trick to the right. It showed it to him so rapidly that he couldn’t get the nose wheel steering in phase. He was approaching the barrier, so he released the left brake, still sliding straight but pointed to the right, and engaged the barrier at about 80 knots. As he did so, the aircraft straightened itself out real fast, and the right wing started dropping.

The Rock finally came to rest, sitting at a list of about 10 degrees. Must have blown the tire, he thought.

He stopcocked, unstrapped, got the canopy opened, and tried to deplane in some semblance of an orderly fashion, since an impressive group of fire troops were congregating around the aircraft.

He hit the ground, tried to recover his composure for a moment, then reluctantly looked at the right main gear. It’s crumped, he thought, because he saw it was spraddled outboard way out of shape, resting against the drop tank. But then his blood pressure became normal again, as he saw that there was no real damage to the bird.

The staff car was coming across the field, and Coolstone really wanted to hide. Then, shuffling his feet slightly, he waited for the Colonel.

All too soon the Old Man arrived. “It looks like you were right,” offered the Colonel. “That other chart was the one you should have used and stuck to.”

“Sir,” said Coolstone, his voice reflecting little of the temperature rise he felt, and only the most discerning would have noticed it, “It was almost worth it to get us all on the same page.”

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