Plane & Pilot
Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stick Time In An F-4 Sim

Taming the Phantom

Photo by Scott Slocum
As a twenty something, I figured that the only chance I would ever have of getting into an F-4 Phantom cockpit would involve a successful run for Congress, followed by finagling a seat on the Armed Services Committee. Years passed, and that pipe dream vanished like a wisp of smoke long forgotten. So, I was very excited when I had the opportunity to visit Holloman AFB in Alamogordo, N.M., and fly the simulator used to train German Air Force pilots.

The simulator device is mounted on a limited-motion hydraulic platform. The control panel allows the instructor to monitor the pilot’s responses to every imaginable in-flight emergency and tactical problem. The simulator requires the power of two mainframes to operate.

The first impression one gets is how small the cockpit really is—definitely more cramped than a Cub or a Citabria. There are more buttons and switches than I’ve ever seen in one place. I told the instructor that I had never started a jet engine and would need help getting underway. Through the magic of electronics, he put me and the airplane at the end of the runway with both engines running, thus saving us at least a half hour of fumbling around.

When taking off at max takeoff weight, 55,000 pounds, the airplane won’t leave the ground without the use of afterburners. Afterburners are activated by advancing the throttles to the forward stop, then pushing them left and forward again, somewhat like shifting into compound low on a heavy truck. The aircraft doesn’t fly itself off the runway. The nose is lifted at 140 knots, and the mains clear concrete at 180. Gear and flaps are on the left. The levers are distinctively different. The gear lever is a short stick poking out of the bulkhead with a knob on the end shaped like a yo-yo. The flap switch has a smaller tapered throw that looks like a flap and won’t be mistaken for any other switch in the vicinity. Gear and flaps are retracted as soon as the climb out is established. I came out of burners and leveled off at 10,000 feet in a frighteningly short period of time.


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