Out of the good feedback received from the F-14 Workshops we are doing in these days in the 132nd Virtual Wing, one of the most interesting is about providing enough training and documentation to the Pilot, so that he can understand the flow, the limitations and the capabilities of the platform and provide valuable suggestions and ideas to the RIO.
Ideally, the Pilot should be able to play as RIO as well, at least at basic level. The bare minimum is reading the manual at least a couple of times (viceversa, the RIO should be familiar with the performance and limitations of the airframe and should actively help the Pilot when WVR for instance by making sure that he is faster than the corner speed).
1. Don’t do “pilot shit”. Last time a dwarf in the front seat did some pilot shit, Goose died. Remember Goose.
2. Don’t take the radar unless you are told so, or you are WVR. It messes up RIO’s settings and screws up the SA.
AWG-9 WCS & AIM-54: Long Story Short
This list introduces the AWG-9 / AIM-54 combination:
- Analogue technology from the ’60s, originally meant to be used on the F-111B.
- Two radar modes, Pulse and Pulse Doppler (Low and High PRF).
- Detection range of fighter-sized contacts: ~80nm.
- AIM-54 is available in three combinations of seeker and rocket motors. Mk47 is less powerful, C version has digital seeker, hence more resistant to countermeasures.
- AWG-9 is not the first look-down, shoot-down radar, but it still has some issues in such situations. It’s unbeatable when looking upwards.
- Notching targets (ergo with relative speed equal to zero) are filtered by the same filter that removes ground returns (MLC). This filter can be manually operated but the RIO and the antenna should look up to avoid unwanted returns.
- If the speed of the Target and the F-14 are similar, the target disappears (Zero Doppler Filter – ZDF), the RIO can’t do much about it.
- Information provided by the WCS are fundamentally the same as more modern aircraft, but the “human interface” is nowhere near as evolved. Operate the WCS takes time.
- The avionics operate in Magnetic only.
- Maintenance procedures, such as re-aligning the INS during very long missions or after a dogfight, usually require the cooperation of the Pilot.
The meaning of this all
- The AWG-9 WCS is very powerful but old, it provides plenty of information and tools, but it is not as immediate as modern aircraft. It requires a good deal of eyeballing (or time).
- The RIO is usually in charge of comms. On top of the reason above, it means that he can be overwhelmed in some situations.
- The avionics, especially the INS, is very sensible to hard manoeuvre. Don’t over-G unless it is really necessary.
- The pilot may seem to be the secondary role in BVR, but he is still in charge of the aircraft. Moreover, he has the duty of overseeing comms, SOP, timeline, maintain SA, manage wingmen and so on. The F-14B is as powerful as both its crewman are proficient and synergic in their roles.
Understanding what you are looking at
The first step is giving some sense to what the Pilot sees on the TID repeater. The following is a fairly standard view. The Pilot must be familiar with these views. All the necessary additional details are in the manual.
The “spider-web”-ish thingy is the YY (Bullseye). It originates from the bullseye location and the RIO can set its Width, Number of sectors and Orientation. The image shows one of my usual settings for expected threats from between NE to W. Each sector is 30° wide and I always try to have a perpendicular set or arms in order to make the eyeballing process much easier. Each mark on the YY corresponds to 50nm.
The red “L” is our aircraft, the arms spreading on the sides are the radar cone. The direction vector is the bisector of the cone. When this is not the case, the RIO is moving the antenna around. Notice how the arms are represented by a dashed line, each of these (even the missing one) represent 20nm.
The Blue marks highlight the Waypoints. Displayed are WP1, WP2 and HB.
The yellow mark instead shows a radar or DL contact (in this case, our AWACS). If the symbol is shown on the bottom half, it comes from the Datalink. If it’s on the top, it’s picked up from our radar. In this case, is marked as friendly from the LINK4 but it is still marked as unknown by the RIO. The number on the left represent its altitude (“3” means between 25000ft and 35000ft).
If the WP2 were a target, for instance, its YY would be something like:
Bullseye, 345 33 20000 thousand
The bearing from YY is quite easy, being the target between the 360° and 330° arms. The range looks to be further than half of the first mark (=25nm), but not between the haf-mark (=25nm) and the mark (=50nm), which should be 35.7nm. 33 seems a decent approximation. The altitude can be established easily by hooking, here I just write a number that falls into the interval.
Bear in mind that in a real situation the F-14 is moving, the targets are moving and so on. We simply do not have the tools to be as precise as a JDAM, we have to do our best with what we have.
More information coming up
This is another standard view. It shows a contact hooked by the RIO. The target is highlighted and very visible.
The top of the screen shows different information (the RIO can select others by means of the CAP).
The information displayed have a different meaning depending on the TID mode used and, if in GS, if the NAVGRID is enabled or not. As a rule of thumb, is you see the NAVGRID, that’s the reference point.
- RA: Range from the YY or F-14B to the hooked object.
- BRG: Bearing. In GS+NAVGRID is from the YY, otherwise is the Relative Bearing from the nose of the F-14.
- AL: Altitude of the target.
- MC: Magnetic Course of the target.
The “34B” reading near the target is the YY reference: heading is rounded and only the two most meaningful digits are displayed (e.g. 337°→”34″). “B” means that the target is in the second YY mark: A=0-50nm; B=50-100nm and so on.
The TID in Aircraft Stabilized mode still display YY reference values (highlighter in blue). Altitude and MC are still the same but Range and Bearing displayed subsequently (yellow box) are now calculated using the F-14 as reference (compare them with the previous image).
This mode also shows the vertical limits of the radar cone (0-99, red circles) on top of the antenna elevation angle.
How can the Pilot help the RIO
There are several things that the Pilot can do to help the RIO. There are some of those.
Master Arm and other settings
Most of the preparations for an engagement are done and cross-checked during the FENCE-IN. Master Arm may be done later. If the RIO doesn’t tell you, don’t sit there when he calls FOX-3, tell him and turn on the Master Arm.
If the RIO has issues looking for a target, sometimes the reason can be as simple as a wrong antenna setting (can happen, due to over-saturation of tasks). If he is looking for a target higher than the F-14 and you notice that the antenna elevation angle is very low, tell your RIO.
Timeline and range
The Timeline goes fast, really fast. If two fighters are running head-on faster than Mach one, each step of the timeline may take just a little more than 10″-15″. Reading the Slant Range to the RIO may help him a lot, especially if he is new to the procedure.
The RIO may be easily overwhelmed by having to handle 2 radios, ICS, AWG-9 WCS, follow the timeline, build SA, develop the geometry and plan and so on, whilst trying to lock a target that keeps notching and jinking. Handling non-necessary comms on the radio is a real life-saver in such situations.
Play as a Team and be Proactive
This is applicable to both and sums everything up. Be positive, be constructive. Mistakes happen to people that fly for a living, this is just a game.
The RIO loses the target? Peek at the TID repeater, you may recognize a situation the RIO hasn’t (ZDF, for instance). Another example, if you think the geometry is not correct, just say it, don’t be shy.
Cover image, credits to 132nd.FurFace.