Plane & Pilot
Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stick Time In An F-4 Sim

Taming the Phantom

Photo by Alberto Curieses
This airplane is a joy to fly! Once trimmed, the controls are lighter than I expected but heavier than one encounters in most general aviation aircraft. I did aileron rolls to the left and right. Coordinated turns are easy because the stick and rudder seem well harmonized at normal flying speeds. I stuffed it for the first time when I attempted a loop and didn’t make it tight enough. I fell out of the sky in an inverted flat spin! The instructor let me fall almost to the ground before pressing the reset button. (I learned later that if the instructor allows the aircraft to crash, it takes about 30 minutes to reboot the computers. As a result, the instructors are motivated to stop the simulator once it’s clear that the student isn’t going to recover control.) The instructor put me right side up and where I was before. In the second attempt, I used more power and tried to maintain 2.5 G’s over the top. That worked fine, and I completed the maneuver without further trouble.

The biggest challenge was landing the beast. The instructor gave me the easiest possible setup, a five-mile straight final to the flare. This airplane has such a high wing loading that it lands really hot. One flies the approach with the power set at 82%! Gear and flaps reduce the speed to 180 knots. When the gear comes down, rudder and ailerons are linked. Thus, only stick inputs are needed on final. Still, I had trouble keeping the plane lined with the runway on the three landings I attempted. In fact, I ended up in the dirt in the first two. The third was marginal, to put it charitably. Standing on the toe brakes, I wrestled the monster to a stop and realized that I was sweating, even though the room was air-conditioned. This was as close as I’ll ever get to the real thing, and the experience was a total rush. Weeks later, I’m still playing the mental videotape!

My 12-year-old son, Kirby, was next in the cockpit. Having flown fairly sophisticated simulators at aviation camp, he was smooth on the controls. When it was time to make a 180-degree turn to return to base, he asked the instructor if he could make an Immelman turn instead. Kirby proceeded to blow him away when he executed the maneuver smoothly and made three beautiful landings.

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