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On April 13th, during a practice flight before a weekend air show, a member of the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team went supersonic over Tucson.  The sonic boom frightened people and broke a lot of windows.  Going supersonic over populated areas is a huge USAF "be no" (as in "there shall be no ...") and I imagine the offending pilot's in a heap of trouble, temporarily grounded at least, possibly off the team altogether.  In my day, it was a one-mistake Air Force for anyone on the leadership track, as Thunderbird pilots always are ... I doubt that's changed.

FAA and military regulations prohibit supersonic flight outside of certain designated areas over the oceans or unpopulated sections of land.  USAF pilots are supposed to mind their speed; Thunderbird pilots, who are exemplars of professionalism (and closely watched by Air Force leadership to make sure they stay that way), are supposed to be perfect.  Perfect in this case means pushing the Mach during high speed runs but never exceeding it, and yes, there are cockpit and head up display indicators to tell you exactly how fast you're going.  Busting the mach at low altitude over a city is a mortal sin, as inexcusable as bending a wingtip during a taxi accident.

But I'm here to tell you it's awfully easy to go supersonic when you're pushing the Mach.  A little turbulence, a sudden drop in air temperature, a momentary distraction, a second's inattention, and you'll go from .97 to 1.0 almost instantly.  And there's no taking it back.  I feel for that pilot.  Any fast-mover would, because we've all done it.

Which brings me to this letter, which appeared in yesterday's Arizona's Daily Star:

Ground the pilot who created sonic boom

Re: the April 14 article "Sonic boom shatters windows."

First of all, let me say that I am fully supportive of our base in Tucson and very happy they are here, and I appreciate the service to our country our forces are providing us.

However, when a stick jockey goes off the reservation such as happened Friday at approximately 2:45 p.m., serious action should be taken by his commander.

First, he should be knocked down two ranks and pay scale adjusted. Secondly, he should be grounded for six months. Third, he should be enrolled in psychological evaluation for those six months. Fourth, he should be forced to attend a six-month flight-training class to get his priorities and responsibilities straightened out. Go Air Force!

Howard S. MacNeill

Retired business executive, Tucson

Go Air Force?  I hope I may be excused for reacting tribally:

Go fuck yourself, Mr. MacNeill.  Where did you earn your wings?  In the Fightin' Nothing-and-First?

Ah, that feels better.

Originally posted to pwoodford on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 08:51 AM PDT.

Also republished by Baja Arizona Kossacks and Kossack Air Force.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Must have awoken MacNeill from his nap. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    leftykook, joanneleon, G2geek, cris0000

    That letter comes close to being the biggest bunch of propwash I ever heard.  His ignorance of aviation is only exceeded by his lack of social skills.  

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 08:57:38 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for the (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Otteray Scribe, G2geek, daddybunny

    perspective from a pilot.  I did not know that it was so easy to slip or run into sudden conditions that would cause you to break the sonic boom.  As a little kid, we lived maybe ten miles from a major airport, as the crow flies.  I seem to remember jets going over our neighborhood and breaking the sonic boom. Not often, just a few times that I remember.  Scared the hell out of us but didn't break any windows.  And just about a month ago I was staying somewhere near a base, a place where there is a lot of training and traffic along the coast by military jets and helicopters.  One night, one or two fighter jets flew by so low and so loud while I was standing in the kitchen that I grabbed onto the wall instinctively, and all kinds of thoughts went through my head, like maybe it was coming crashing down into us.

    I can understand why that guy was upset, but his outrage and then laying out his specific terms of punishment?  Ugh.  What a blowhard.  I seriously doubt that pilot did it on purpose, as he is suggesting.  Sounds like his knowledge of the situation came entirely from the scene in "Top Gun" where they buzzed the tower for kicks.

    "Justice is a commodity"

    by joanneleon on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 09:16:41 AM PDT

  •  Wow. WottaDouche! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Otteray Scribe, G2geek, peptabysmal

    That guy is a moron.

    BTW what speed are these demonstration teams using?  What about the speed limit below 10,000, seems to me we were limited to 200 or 250 kts below 10,000, and we were in a giant bus...Is there an ATC issue?  How does a demonstration team practice, does the local Center give them a "box" to practice in and keep others out?  I assume they were buzzing around Davis-Monthan AFB, probably aligned with one of the runway headings and using the AFB's tower controllers....still, there's a big difference between 250 kts and 650 kts...

    "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

    by leftykook on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 09:20:11 AM PDT

    •  Every time the T-Birds or B-Angels were in town (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      G2geek, leftykook

      where I used to live, there were NOTAMS and they had a practice box restricted for general aviation use.  Good reason to check the NOTAMS if you are flying an LSA or some light aircraft with no radio.  Reminds me of the time I was driving up the Interstate where a low level route parallels the highway.  As I drove along, here came the Navy steaming up the valley, below the level of the highway.  They were low enough so I could see down into their cockpit. Both guys had their heads down and locked.  

      I knew that in that area there is quite a bit of ultralight activity, and all too many of those folks would not know a low level route until it bit them in the ass.  Scary.  

      The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

      by Otteray Scribe on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 09:35:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I used to fly out of Travis AFB in Nor Cal... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Otteray Scribe, Simplify

        ...and it lies about 10 miles south of I-80.  Some of the approaches/departures for Travis have you take off and turn north towards the highway, crossing it at between 2 and 3 thousand feet....

        The joke among the crews was that Travis was the only place they'd ever been where you have to look both ways before crossing the road in a plane, because the highway is essentially the flight route for folks flying "Bug-Smasher IFR" ("I Follow Roads")....

        "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

        by leftykook on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 11:46:35 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Otteray Scribe, G2geek
    head up display
    I am so sick of seeing and hearing "heads up display" in supposedly knowledgeable productions that I've almost given up protesting (and screaming). "Heads up" is what you yell when your Jart™ has gone awry. "Head up" is the position you get to keep your head in when a designer has thoughtfully projected useful information on the windscreen. So thank you for using it correctly (as I fully expected you would) and please help me in the fight to end that serious mis-usage (and the highly unprofessional and hip-hoppy "roger that", as well).

    By the way, we had a watch supervisor back in the day who was known to declare on certain shifts that "there would be no annual!" (annual leave, otherwise known as A/L or annual, is vacation time, and it can be taken in one hour increments—consequently, it was not uncommon at the end of a swing shift when traffic had diminished and bars were open, to take a couple of hours of annual). Yeah, that was his nickname—"BeNo Baker." I even have an article about it on my ATC site below (although, in truth it says little more than what's in this paragraph—lots of other entertaining stories, though). Pardon the whoring—the site(s) are wholly personal and I couldn't care less about traffic and I don't make a cent from them.

  •  could some knowledgeable people from dKos write (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Otteray Scribe

    ..... more LTEs to the Arizona Daily Star about this, for example explaining that the slightest change in atmospheric conditions can cause a pilot to go from 0.97 to 1.0 so quickly there's no time to compensate?

    It seems to me that even if there were instruments in aircraft that could detect those kinds of changing conditions, the sheer inertia of a large heavy object at high speed is such that there's not a lot that can be done to slow down before the aircraft encounters the condition in question.  

    As for broken windows, the Air Force could compensate the cost of repairs and that's that.  It's only a friggin' window, and back in the days when kids played physical sports outside, a ball through a window was no big deal.  

    And as for people being all a-scared of a sonic boom, they pay good money to go into movie theatres and get scared, so what's all this ingratitude for getting a free one?  Turn on the radio, find out it was flight practice, and laugh about it!

    "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

    by G2geek on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 10:48:40 AM PDT

    •  I should clarify that I don't know how fast (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Otteray Scribe, G2geek, Azazello

      ... Thunderbird or Blue Angles pilots are supposed to go during those solo high speed passes.  I expect pretty fast, but I don't know that they're supposed to push the Mach just this side of busting it.  Maybe they're not supposed to go over .9, which is still pretty darn fast ... and there could have been other reasons for that pilot going supersonic than the ones I speculated about.

      Still ... my experience tells me these demonstration pilots are in a bit of a corner.  They are expected to put on a good demo, which in many cases means maneuvering close to the edge of safety.  At the same time they are expected to never, ever, screw up.

      It has to be demanding.

      •  there's also an international side to this: (0+ / 0-)

        These demonstrations also say to potential foreign adversaries:

        Look what our pilots and aircraft are capable of.  Don't even think of starting something.  

        That, I think, has much to do with pushing the edge.  

        Similar to, though more demonstrative than, the mass military parades staged by other countries.  The USSR in particular always put on an impressive display including ferocious-looking machines that were as wide as two lanes of traffic.  For that matter North Korea's choreography is impressive, though God help the soldier who so much as sneezes at the wrong moment.

        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

        by G2geek on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 05:40:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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