Creating a flawlessly-working, synergic duo is not an easy task. In fact, crew coordination is probably one of the most difficult aspects of flying the F-14. The proficiency of the crew is what makes the F-14 an old yet formidable aircraft.
NAVAIR 01–F14AAP–1, Chapter 40, highlights some roles and responsibilities of each crew member. The initial paragraph well describes how the crew has to work:
The duties of the pilot/RIO team are necessarily integrated and contribute to the performance of the other. Successful crew interaction can provide cockpit synergism that significantly improves mission success. However, a pilot/RIO team that does not interact successfully can be a major detriment to mission success.
The manual continues by describing the responsibilities of each crew member. The Pilot is the aircraft commander and is responsible for the aircraft and the well-being of the crew. The RIO acts as an extension of the Pilot. He should anticipate developments in flight and offer constructive comments and recommendations. He is also usually responsible for all comms except in specific tactical situations.
The Chapter then offers a few pages of details of roles but I leave you to it.
Clear and effective comms are the very bedrock on top of which a solid synergy is built. In this rather short article, I’m going through some basic comms and commands used by the RIO in BVR scenario. Some of them are inherited from the F-14’s grandfather: the mighty F-4 Phantom (shame ED for cancelling/postponing it!).
The comms between RIO and Pilot can be in plan English (or any other language common to the crew members) but by means brevities and codewords, the process becomes faster and more accurate.
Real life comms in a combat environment
The crew comms, as well as the air combat itself, is always evolving. Modern comms are quite different from the ones used 40 years ago, they sound more “polished”, more refined. So let’s hear how a real life engagement in the F-14 looked like. The following is the famous Second Gulf of Sidra incident, where two F-14 downed two MiG-23s.
Speaking of new standards, you may have noticed how using Angels for both the F-14 and the MiG may cause issues or delays (timestamp: 4’22”). Nowadays, Angels are used for friendlies, Altitude in feet for others.
Most of the following brevities and pro-words are from the usual CNATRA P-825 3-4, some are very similar to the ones I found in the brilliant book “The Phantom in Focus” written by David Gledhill.
Note that Left/Right used to be “Port/Starboard” due to the naval environment.
- Easy Left/Right: commanding a half-standard Left / Right turn using 15 Angles of Bank (AoB);
- Go Left/Right: commanding a standard Left / Right turn using 30 AoB;
- Hard Left/Right: commanding a Left / Right turn using Mil power;
- Break Left/Right: max performance turn (same as ACM);
- Harder / Ease: increase or reduce the bank by 15°;
- Hold: pilot maintains current AoB;
- Steady Up / Steady HDG: rollout at the current heading or indicated heading;
- Reverse / Reverse Hard: immediate roll in the opposite direction with the same AoB.
- Go Up: set a 1,000ft rate of climb;
- Go Down: set a 1,000ft rate of descent;
- Descend ALT: descend to the specified altitude;
- Climb ALT: climb to the specified altitude;
- Level Off / +ALT: the pilot levels off at the current altitude; an altitude can be indicated as well.
- Set SPD: set speed as indicated.
- Gate: set max power (afterburner included);
- Buster: set max continuous speed (no afterburner);
- Liner: set power for max endurance;
- Idle: set minimum power, pilot extends air brakes;
- Hold Speed: pilot maintains speed.
Engagement and Geometry
- Center the T: the pilot places the steering (inverted) T on the target.
- Cold or Cold Left/Right: turn away from the target (do not confuse it with the Aspect);
- Hot or Hot Left/Right: turn towards the target (do not confuse it with the Aspect);
- Put them XX Left/Right: pilot places the target at the XX° ATA (Antenna Train Angle);
- Go Pure (pursuit): put the target on the nose;
- Lead ’em: pilot places and holds the contact 30° in lead pursuit;
- Lag ’em: pilot places and holds the contact 30° in lag pursuit.
The CNATRA P-825 (3-5) suggests a very handy formalism to communicate to the pilot the status of a target:
- Azimuth: in degrees, Left or Right. If < 5° then is "On the Nose“;
- Range: in nautical miles;
- Elevation: in degrees, high or low;
- Overtake (Vc): closure rate (optional).
The example of the complete call is:
SNFO (ICS): “On the nose, 4miles, 3high, 585 over”
NOTE: (SNFO: Senior Naval Flight Officer)
The F-14 RIO may have difficulties providing the altitude difference in degrees (this is not the first time we have to find workarounds for the limitations of the platform) so the two simplest options are using the Altitude of the target or the Δ Altitude. Whatever you choose, make sure the Pilot knows what reference you are using. The Azimuth can be confusing if read from the TID, on the other hand, it is easy to understand the offset by means of such value. Range and Vc instead, are available on the TID.