USAF F-111 Aardvark, Jim has many interesting stories about this famous aircraft. (USAF photo)
F-16.net: Please give us an overview of your military career and tell the readers a little about yourself?
Jim: First and foremost, I am honored, and humbled to be writing in this forum, having seen some of the exceptional, experienced and knowledgeable folks already on this site. I have learned a lot from their conversations over a variety of topics, and also from the 'newer' folks and the questions they ask. And I must commend and applaud the folks that started, and maintain this great site. Bravo!
I am an F-16 Avionics Systems Specialist by trade, who became a Maintenance Superintendent/Manager by grade. I retired in Feb 2000 as a Chief Master Sergeant, after 12 years with the F-16's in avionics, and 10 with the FB-111's in nuclear weapons (SRAM).
F-16.net: What is a Specialist Flight Chief, Production Super, and Combat Turn Director and what do you do in that role?
Jim: As a Specialist Flight Chief, I was responsible for all the F-16 Avionics, Electro-environmental, sheet metal, and engine system specialists assigned to the F-16 fighter squadron. I was responsible for about 45 people, their training, performance, and duty assignments. Being a Pro Super and Combat Turn Director are somewhat similar. A Pro Super is the senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) on the flight line, running the flying day, and attending too many meetings. He/she is responsible for ensuring that all tasked aircraft, spares, and people are ready to meet the flying commitment, at home and deployed, day in, and day out. There's lots of communication, coordination and problem solving involved, and many anxious moments, but lots of fun too. A Combat Turn Director is much the same, but tasked during combat, or under exercise conditions. He/she is tasked to orchestrate the entire effort: the load, launch, recovery, reload, and re-launch sequence for the fleet, under wartime criteria (i.e. in chem. Gear, while under attack, with aircraft battle damage, injuries, and other scenarios through in). With the best and the brightest on the ramp with you, it's a noisy ballet, and fun to watch, and even more so to be a part of. Kind of like carrier ops without the waves.
313th TFS aircraft patch (Jon Somerville Collection)
F-16.net: You didn't go to Desert Storm, but how were you and your unit involved?
Jim: When Desert Shield began, I was assigned to the 313th TFS at Hahn AB, Germany. Our sister squadron, the 10th TFS (affectionately known as the Blue Zoo), was temporarily in Zaragoza, Spain, for their 30 day Weapons Training Deployment (WTD). Each fighter squadron went to WTD twice a year during the winter months, for the better flying weather and access to the bombing/strafing ranges nearby. The 10th TFS pilots returned fully qualified across all three missions (air-to-air, air-to-ground, and strike). So when the tasking came down, they were selected to deploy for Desert Storm. The 313th and 496th TFS supplied some people and aircraft to complete the deployment package, and provided more later for attrition and rotations. After DS, we recovered their aircraft, and immediately began to prep all aircraft for transfer to the Air National Guard units in the states. Hahn was closing, and it was a very sad time for anyone that had ever been assigned there in the Hunsruck.
F-16.net: Relative to Desert Storm, when was it announced that Hahn would be closing?
Jim: It was sort of a fast-changing story, especially for those of us in the middle of it all. Right after I got to Hahn (Aug 88), it was announced that all 3 fighter squadrons would be getting the new block 40 F-16s (with LANTIRN capability). The 496th TFS had even received their first F-16D model, for training purposes. Then at about the same time, the Berlin Wall started to come down (late 1989) and only the single Block 40 ever arrived. Then one day, it was gone, and those of us "in the know" knew why, though no official release had been made yet. Soon thereafter, Operation Desert Shield began, and then Desert Storm. It was in the midst of these actions, that we deployed the 10th TFS to the United Arab Emirates, and as I recall, we started prepping the 313th and 496th jets for transfer to ANG units while the 10th TFS was still deployed I believe the announcement was formerly made just after Desert Storm ended, and Operation Provide Comfort was beginning (I was re-assigned to Ramstein with the 526th Black Knights, and did a few OPC tours at Incirlik AB, Turkey).
USAF F-16A #80-0545
of the 313th TFS from Hahn AB, Germany. (Photo by Martin Aguera)
F-16.net: What do you do currently?
Jim: After retiring, I was an Avionics Engineer for a major airline, and taught college part-time. Now I am currently an Avionics Program Manager for an international aerospace company, and am pursuing my PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
F-16.net: What is your most memorable time out on the ramp working on the F-16 both positive and/or negative?
Jim: Although I enjoyed my entire career, and gleaned something positive from every assignment and encounter, my most memorable and rewarding moments were while in the flight test community out at Edwards AFB, California. The people, projects and programs there are extraordinary and still amaze me. Everything in my career before and since point me toward flight test and exploration of the unknown.
F-16.net: What is the hardest thing about working on the F-16?
Jim: The hardest part for me, working the F-16 was keeping up with the many upgrades, block changes, software updates, tape revisions, engine models, etc. Especially for the new folks, it's hard to know exactly what a particular aircraft has in the way of mods, and updates. For troubleshooting, many a great technician has been tripped up by using the wrong 'effectivity code' on the jet their working with.
F-16.net: Other than the F-16, what aircraft have you worked on? And how does the
Jim: My first 'love' in the USAF was the FB-111, with the 380th Bomb Wing at Plattsburgh New York, and then with the 509th Bomb Wing at Pease New Hampshire. SAC's supersonic swing-wing bug sucker, was an impressive aircraft, and great to learn real troubleshooting logic and skills upon. To plug another great website, dedicated only to the FB-111A, check out 'fb-111a.net'.
F-16.net: Any fond memories of a specific deployment or exercise?
Jim: Many fond memories of many deployments, and exercises. The most impressive were the SAC Operation Readiness Inspections (ORI's), that culminated with a massive launch of all aircraft (sometimes 'split-launching' KC-135s in one direction down the runway, and a pair of FB-111's in the opposite). The 30 day WTDs to Spain were always fun, though hard work all day, followed by Tosca-Hopping at night. Quick trips to England to 'catch jets', toss a dart or two, and toast a bitter. Even the Operation Provide Comfort taskings at Incirlik AB, Turkey were great. My best trips though were with flight test. Working with the test pilots, engineers, and program managers on trips to Eglin or Tyndall for live missile shots, doing research with profs and grad students at Georgia Tech on airborne missile simulators, and a variety of other trips to places off the radar screen.
F-16.net: Tell me more details about the 'split-launching' back in the SAC days.
Jim: For the youngsters that don't know what "duck and cover" mean, I'll try to explain what sitting on nuclear Alert meant. During the Cold War, the US and the Soviets had nuclear missiles (land-based ICBMs and manned bombers, and submarine-based missiles), aimed at each other all the time. At Pease NH or Plattsburgh NY, we were a very short flight time away from a nuclear strike, if launched from a Soviet submarine. And only minutes away if launched from Soviet soil. As such, we planned and drilled all the time to launch our FB-111A aircraft, and KC-135 tankers as soon as possible, prior to a strike. The bombers could take off with a bit of tailwind, but the Tankers could not when fully loaded with JP-4 or JP-7 (see who knows the difference). Our KC-135A, and KC-135Q models had the old J-57 turbojet motors, with water injection, and needed all 11,500 feet of runway to get airborne on a hot day (some aircrews figured the last tanker wouldn't make it off, due to the heat and turbulence of all the prior bombers and tankers). If the prevailing wind was from the wrong direction, we would do an AARP (Alert Aircraft Repositioning Plan) and put the Tankers on Alert at the far end of the runway, so they could take off into the prevailing wind (the aircrew usually had to stay with the aircraft). The bombers would stay, safe and sound, loaded, and ready to go, inside the ALERT facility parking area (where they were easier to guard, and faster for the crews to respond to). In the event of an actual ALERT launch (we never actually flew with live nukes on board), 2 bombers would taxi and take-off using the normal runway, and one Tanker would take off, headed the other way. During exercises, we practiced this, with unarmed FB-111As, and partially tanked-up Tankers. It was pretty impressive. As were the MITO's (minimum interval take-offs), when one plane launched right after another, until they were all airborne or broke on the ramp.
F-16.net: What assignment/squadron was your favorite?
Jim: For fighter ops, definitely the 313th TAC Fighter Squadron at Hahn, Germany. For personal and professional reasons, the F-16 Combined Test Force (CTF), Special Projects Branch at Edwards AFB, California.
Jim's favorite aircraft #87-0392
at Edwards AFB, California. (Photo by Scott Van Aken)
F-16.net: Is there any particular F-16 tail number(s) to which you are fond?
Jim: #87-0392 without question. She's a heavily modified, specialized flight-test aircraft (and yes, she is a she), assigned to the F-16 CTF. My crew and I had that aircraft for a particular program, for quite a while, and I was able to arrange for them to fly 'backseat in the bus' to a few deployments, cross-country. The next time your boss offers you a gift certificate as a token of his/her appreciation, imagine tooling across America in a Viper, toll free.
F-16.net: What modifications have been made to F-16D #87-0392?
Jim: F-16 #87-0392 is a dedicated test-bed aircraft, and has miles of orange wiring installed. She has transducers and strain gauges all over, and an on-board recording system. There's also provisions for separation cameras, telemetry datalinks, and a variety of other specialized equipement.
416th Flight Test Squadron (Jon Somerville Collection)
F-16.net: Tell us what you can about the AMRAAM testing?
Jim: While at Edwards, we were tasked to test an anomaly with the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile. Without going into too many details, there was a problem with the data link between the missile and the aircraft. As a result, the host aircraft didn't know that the missile had good 'lock on' with the target using its own radar. This meant that the Viper would continue transmitting RF energy much longer than necessary, making its presence very well known to ANYTHING in the area that could detect RF energy. We fixed it, and restored more of the launch-n-leave capabilities pilots seem to prefer.
F-16.net: Tell me about the earthquake that happened while testing the AMRAAM?
Jim: During these AMRAAM tests, the F-16 was suspended from the ceiling of the Benefield Anechoic Facility (BAF) at Edwards. At 6 AM, me, Tony, or Jose, would climb into the seat, we'd hoist up about 3 feet, apply hydraulics and retract the gear, and then hoist up to full test height for 6 hours (and yes, we did bring Piddle Packs up with us). We had to lower the aircraft at noon, and swap out the 'operator' and then the new guy went up for another 6 hours. Day after day, the tests continued, first to identify the problem, and then to test various possible solutions. One day, Tony was airborne when a fairly significant earthquake hit the local area (NOTE: The infamous San Andreas Fault is just south of Edwards, maybe 20 miles or so. And you can always tell the 'newbies' at Edwards, because they leave their car alarms on. With all the seismic activity and sonic booms, you can kill your battery in a day). The lights in the BAF went out, the aircraft rocked a bit, and Tony was left there with just aircraft battery powered lights, and the stand-by gyro spinning down for company. It's always really quiet in the BAF, with all the absorption materials around, and now it was really dark, and vast. And with such earthquakes, you never know if it's the first, the last, the biggest, or the smallest. Imagination is a terrible thing to have at these moments. We always had an escape rope, in a pouch, strapped to the canopy and connected to the overhead hoist. Tony was in the process of making his hasty egress over the side, when an engineer with a flashlight entered the BAF, and reassured him the generator was firing up, and he'd be fine. I'm just glad it was Tony up there that day, and not me or Jose (we might have jumped).
F-16.net: Have you been involved in any foreign F-16 programs?
Jim: While at Edwards, I was only involved with a couple of FMS (foreign military sales) flight test programs. It's probably best not to mention specific customers, as some F-16 users don't get along too well, and we had to make sure certain test-beds weren't visible when we had certain visitors.
F-16.net: Have you been involved in testing aircraft other then the F-16?
Jim: Unfortunately, while at Edwards, I was pretty much limited to the F-16, though I did do some work with the AFTI F-16, and the MATV/VISTA F-16. I had minor involvement with a few bomber tests, and a variety of weapons and weapons systems.
F-16 having some work done on the ramp. (USAF photo)
F-16.net: Any interesting stories or events you would like to share?
Jim: One major event comes to mind readily. I was sitting on nuclear alert with the 380 Bomb Wing, the day President Reagan was shot. The Klaxon (alert horn) sounded, and we all responded to our aircraft, as we had so many times before. Not knowing what had happened in Washington, we expected this to be just another SAC exercise to keep the pointy end of the spear sharp and rust-free. The UHF radio crackled with the encrypted alert message from the Command Post, we authenticated the code, and compared it with the matrix, and then we all turned pale, felt sick, and sought answers from each other. This was not a drill. Definitely not a drill. We were to proceed with immediate launch sequences and prepare for take-off within minutes. Area clear, pins pulled, cart start 1, turn and burn 2, chocks out, taxi now. We held at EOR (end-of-runway), engines running, all FB's (FB-111s) and Tankers straining on the pavement, ready to go, base locked down, for what seemed like hours. "Is there any news? What's going on?" "Do we have inbound tracks (any sign of incoming Soviet ICBMs)? Has anyone heard anything?" Not during the lock-down we didn't. The US Command Authority (Looking Glass et al) were airborne and waiting for firm words to see if this was an isolated incident, or the start of something bigger, and perhaps much, much badder. I never felt so connected, and concerned with world events, and yet so distant and insignificant as at that very moment. When the final UHF message arrived, and was decrypted, it said 'return to alert status XXX, DEFCON is now XX.' There was a great sense of relief, though tremendous uneasiness for weeks thereafter (much like after the Northridge earthquake hit).
F-16.net: What did you think of the F-111 retirement?
Jim: When I first got to a 'real' Air Force base, I remember seeing all the 'old fogies' out by the museum jets, talking to their grandkids about the glory days of yore, when they flew or fixed these exact aircraft. I never, ever, figured I'd someday be one of them old boys. My how things change, and so fast. Now my beloved FB-111s, and even some of my first F-16s are grounded, on static display with a pole in their bellies, or worse yet, being cut-up for scrap at the bone yard. As Chief Smith once told me, you'll know when it's time for you to retire, and you'll just know. Having the FB-111s retired and scrapped was a strong indicator.
F-16.net: Any other events or fond memories with the FB-111 you would like to share?
Jim: I worked for a great supervisor at Pease, Chief Dale Smith, and would consider him my mentor. After I had won a SAC-level award, he managed to get permission for me to fly right seat in an FB-111A. At the time, no maintenance folks were allowed to fly in two-seat SAC aircraft, and certainly not a weapons troop (the last flights had all been crew-chiefs, before one punched out of a T-38). I had already been a private pilot for many years, and also had some 50 hours in the FB simulator, so I felt pretty comfortable in the aircraft, and knew how to start the engines, and run most of the avionics systems. So my assigned pilot-in-command, the 715th Bomb Squadron commander (LtCol Steve Lubrecht) checked me out in the sim (emergency procedures, crew module ejection, water recovery, etc.) and then took me up. But he let me 'have the jet' from chocks pulled, all the way through 5 touch and goes, and until engine shut down. It's a massive aircraft, yet once you've "jumped the hump" and selected Zone-5 afterburner on both number 1 and 2, she's a fast mover, and eager to go. I was amazed at how quiet she got, gear up, flaps/slats retracted, wings swept, and burner cooking. We neared the speed of sound (honest, we never exceeded it, cause that wasn't allowed) over the ocean, and it was more relaxing than driving a VW bug (but then again, most things are).
F-16.net: What advice would you give junior ground crew?
Jim: Look, listen, learn and ask lots of questions, but don't talk much more than that. Save the bragging and bravado for your family reunion, and for later in life. Interesting point I'd like to make here is that the very best technicians and specialists I EVER worked with, were unquestionably the best listeners, and many of them were women, with very little aircraft or automotive experience. Those that can learn the right way to do something are the best, and most trusted. Forget about how you and Uncle Bob dropped a motor into his Firebird using only a Leatherman and a tree branch. And Chris, if you're out there anywhere, I still tell people about how you tried to fix a Viper's throttle grip (radar cursor control) using a paperclip (I summarily yanked him off my flight-line forever. Hopefully his new job didn't mind the use of office products to make repairs to multi-million dollar items).
Anyway, back on the soapbox, figure out who knows what is going on, and tag along (some call it mentoring). Contrary to other's advice to me, volunteer. Get involved. If your unit is having engine problems, volunteer for additional training and help out swapping motors. If you have the chance to get ANY training, do so. KEEP RECORDS of it ALL. When résumé time comes, and it will, you should have all the info at your finger tips. Go to college every chance you get. By my 9th year in the service, I had earned 2 Bachelor's and a Master's degree, all while on active duty. With the ops tempo these days, I don't think that's even possible anymore, but keep trying. It sure is more marketable than saying you were on the squadrom basketball team year after year. Last, but certainly not least, take lots of photos and videos of your adventures, friends, and co-workers. It's amazing how fast things change, units deactivate, aircraft retire, people leave, friends move on. These people and places are mere fleeting moments in your life, that should be captured, saved, labeled, shared, and cherished in later life. It's all about the fun, memories and the magic. Besides, what else will you have to show for yourself when you're in the home??
F-16.net: Any words of advice to any of our young readers wanting to join the military?
Jim: Listen to your inner self, and the clues that life sends you. You'll soon learn the things that you're good at, and those you enjoy. Notice the things that attract your attention (and that are legal), and those you really find interesting. These are your clues. From them, you will be able to chart a course that might lead toward a happy place, though nothing is guaranteed, and nothing is fair (so don't rely on that). Only you can define what success is to you, and for your life. And remember, it is not the destination that's important, but the journey itself. You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. Plan to go out, skidding out of control, into the grave on four bald tires, on the last drop of gas, owing no one, and being owed nothing. And most importantly, have fun. If it's not fun, what's the point?
F-16.net: Thank you for the interview.
- CMSgt Jim Rush was interviewed online by Jon Somerville in July of 2004 -