Originally from Plainfield, NJ, Maj Russell Prechtl received a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas (1982), where he also completed Air Force ROTC with a pilot scholarship. One of the highlights of his ROTC time, was a tour of the General Dynamics Assembly Line in Ft. Worth - at the time (May 1982) building F-16A's. He attended pilot training at Williams AFB, Az, and graduated top 10% in his class, and got his first choice - an F-16! He subsequently completed F-16 Formal Training at MacDill AFB, FL and flew the F-16A operationally at Torrejon AB, Spain (1985-1988, about the same time as Maj. Mark Miller was there).
He got to fly and visit around most of Europe during that timeframe, including an airshow at Kleine brogel AB, Belgium. After his Torrejon assignment, Maj. Prechtl returned to Luke AFB as an instructor pilot, and upgraded to the F-16C (block 25). He also taught Surface Attack Tactics (SAT) Academics, and developed courseware. He also earned his Master of Science Degree in Aeronautical Science. In 1991 he was selected for the USAF Test Pilot School, and PCS'd to Edwards AFB in 1992, where he learned a lot about how aircraft are designed, built, and tested. In 1993 Maj. Prechtl graduated from USAF TPS and went to work at the F-16 Combined Test Force at Edwards AFB. For three years he got to fly all blocks of the F-16 (USAF and Foreign Military Sales), all 5 engines, and new software and hardware for the F-16 - AND earned his Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering.. In 1996 he PCS'd to Wright Patterson AFB, OH, for a job in the System Program Office (SPO) - a nonflying staff tour. Currently, he's the Program Manager for the Theater Airborne Reconnaissance System (TARS), which is a podded recce pod for Air National Guard (ANG) F-16C block 30's. Fortunately, the 107th FW from Selfridge ANGB outside of Detroit offered to attach him to their squadron for flying purposes, so he's flying again!
F-16.net: As a test pilot with flying hours in every block of the F-16, you are in a unique position of being able to compare them. Which version of the Viper do you prefer, and what flight profiles do you enjoy most?
Maj. Prechtl: Each block of F-16 has its unique appeal. The block 10, F-16A is the sportscar. It is still close to the F-16s original design of a lightweight fighter. It is the best version for basic fighter maneuvers. It has the smallest turn radius, highest turn rate of any block. This was pretty clear when we would dogfight the Block 10 against the Block 50 at Edwards (the Block 10 is superior here). Also during the airshows with the Block 10, the jet is very impressive. However, for combat employment, the Block 50 is by far my favorite. Lockheed, with heavy involvement by ACC operational pilots, have made the Pilot Vehicle Interface (PVI) of the Block 50 the best of any aircraft I've flown. The capabilities of the Block 50 are tremendous, especially when Tape 4 (F-16.net: Tape numbers denote the version of the Flight Control Software installed) is released this summer. The ability to pass data real time between cockpits, and perform a lethal Force Protection role with HARMs is impressive. The air to air capabilities of the Block 50 are also very impressive.
F-16.net: Have you flown any other aircraft besides the F-16, and if so, how do they compare to the Viper?
Maj. Prechtl: In TPS we get to fly about 34 different aircraft, to include fighters, bombers, trainers, transports, and helicopters. That's certainly the positive aspect of going through the school. It gives you a good appreciation for a well designed aircraft, and a clear indication of a poorly designed aircraft. After that experience, I realized how fabulous the F-16 design really was (but I'm clearly biased towards the F-16). The F-18 had the best flying qualities of any aircraft I flew. It was better than the F-16. I flew the Canadian version (CF-18B), and its high AOA qualities were also tremendous. However, it was a little underpowered with its smaller engines, and decelerated quickly. The worst flying airplane was a TG-7, a motorized glider with the flying qualities of a brick. Somewhere in the middle were the airplanes I was thrilled to fly, such as the B-17G, Mig-21UM, F-111E, F-5, and the helicopters (UH-60 and Gazelle). A very memorable experience, and I always look forward to flying new aircraft, like all test pilots!
F-16.net: What was your most memorable flight in the Viper?
Maj. Prechtl: Besides the flights during which I reached 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000 hours.... I was flying another developmental flight test mission at Edwards in May,1995. It was a high angle of attack test mission with AIM-120's and LANTIRN pods. We were attempting to clear this specific configuration to a CAT I loading for block 40 aircraft. During one of our test points the aircraft departed controlled flight. It wasn't completely unexpected because the engineers expected it to happen based on the previous configuration's problems. However, it was not an intentional departure/deep stall (we do those on test missions, too). Anyway, this point was memorable because the F-16 entered an 85 deg/sec spin. Everyone who knows about the F-16 flight control system (FLCS) knows the FLCS is designed to inhibit yaw rates because of its unrecoverable spin mode. In any case, my control room directed me to begin "pitch rocking", which is the flight manual method to recover from a deep stall. Well, that didn't work. Because the yaw rate was still high, the AOA probes on the right side of the aircraft "saw" a low AOA, and told the FLCS I was still in controlled flight. So my side stick inputs were used to roll the jet while I was pitch rocking! It was like riding a bucking bronco, and was very dynamic departure (a wild ride in comparison to anything I'd seen before!). Anyway, I couldn't recover the aircraft to controlled flight by the time I descended through 25,000 ft MSL, and the control room called for me to deploy the spin chute. We mount a spin chute on the tail of our test aircraft. Its very effective. As soon as I hit the deploy button, the chute came out and the aircraft immediately recovered from the deep stall. After I landed, we debated how to continue this program for a while. Last week (Feb, 97) the CTF tested their first LANTIRN loading again with some highly improved procedures to combat the yaw rate. First, they chop the throttle to idle, because these big engines (GE-129) produce a lot of centrifugal force. Then they engage the MPO switch without touching the stick. This produces the highest differential stabilator to reduce the yaw rate. Its pretty effective, and these new steps will probably end up in the flight manual. Its really neat to be part of the team that develops all these new capabilities.
F-16.net: Speaking about milestones... which one did you enjoy most: 1k, 2k or 3k hours?
Maj. Prechtl: The 3,000 hour milestone was the most enjoyable, partially because it was a developmental flight test mission, and personally a culmination of my experience at Edwards AFB. I flew a Block 50, Tape 4 Integrated Systems Evaluation. That's a technical term for flying an operational SAT mission. They're useful missions because the pilot uses all the systems in the aircraft to ensure they work well together in an operational scenario. We catch a lot of problems on these missions that sometimes get overlooked on the more procedural avionics test missions. This occurred in March, 1996, just 4 months before I left Edwards.
F-16.net: What exactly are SAT missions?
Maj. Prechtl: Surface Attack Tactics (SAT). Every Viper driver is taught how to design, plan, and employ air to ground weapons in a tactical scenario. This accounts for variables such as target location, type, vulnerability, as well as threat location, type and methods to defeat them.
F-16.net: More and more air forces are using the Viper in a recce role - as Chief of Integration for the Theater Airborne Reconnaissance System (TARS), do you think the F-16 can handle it? And why is the ANG selected for this role, and not an active unit?
Maj. Prechtl: Recce is a very busy mission for a single seat fighter pilot, and I'm working to design the USAF version to tailor the PVI to assist the pilot as much as possible. There are times when the pilot will be very busy, and when the datalink is incorporated, he may be maxed out. The ANG stepped up to do the mission because they were performing the mission in the RF-4 (manned tactical recce) before it was retired. Gen. Fogleman asked the ANG if they could continue the mission, and they responded they would love to do it! The USAF ANG is a very capable, unique organization. They don't receive all the funding of the active duty units, but they make the most of their upgrade capabilities, and are installing some innovative technology in the Block 30. They are definitely increasing the combat capability of the USAF F-16 fleet!
F-16.net: Do you have any special recollections from your visit to Kleine-Brogel AB (F-16.net: KB is now home to the 349th Sqn of the Belgian AF)
Maj. Prechtl: The Alpine Eagles were an Italian team that put on a demonstration in turboprop aircraft. One of the pilots took me along for one of the shows, but the throttle stuck during the routine and we had to land early. I really enjoyed airshows. When I got to Edwards I volunteered to be the F-16 demo pilot, and got to perform the F-16 demo for a couple of seasons. It was fun!
F-16.net: Since you've done almost everything there is to do with an F-16 - which squadron or assignment gave you most satisfaction?
Maj. Prechtl: The F-16 CTF was the highlight, without a doubt. I never would have gotten that experience anywhere else!
F-16.net: And to conclude... do you have any affection with a specific F-16 (tailnumber?)
Maj. Prechtl: #86-0359 (F-16.net note: see photograph) was "my" jet at Edwards (with my name on the canopy). It has Block 50 avionics, and a GE-129 engine (all that thrust is a fighter pilot's dream!). I had the spin chute flight in that jet, I hit 3,000 hours in that jet (that was intentional, of course). I launched a HARM during another Block 50 Tape 4 mission in that jet, and generally enjoyed flying that aircraft the most. And it has the right number of seats - 1!
F-16.net: Thanks for the interview!
Maj. Prechtl: I enjoyed it!
- Maj. Prechtl was interviewed online by Stefaan Vanhastel -
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