It wasn’t a normal training mission. More of a sad mission. I was scheduled to accompany another A-10 on a cross country to deliver a part. There had been an unfortunate accident the previous week which resulted in a loss of life. We were to ferry a part for examination to the USAF A-10 depot in Oklahoma City from Tucson.
It never seemed to rain enough in Tucson, but when it did, it was a gully washer. All night it had rained. Our flight was scheduled to depart at first light as soon as we could get the weather good enough to go. Everything that morning was soaked. When the pilot entered the cockpit, he first had to open the canopy and step in. Next step was to get the crew chief to help you get the parachute harness straps fastened. Then he would step down and remove the auxiliary step ladder attached to the side of the jet. You simply couldn’t get the canopy down quick enough to not be soaked.
With the canopy down, I finished the checklist and pre flight, and watched as the poor crew chief waited in the pouring rain for me to taxi so he could go somewhere and get dry. Finally, all the systems checked out and I signaled to have the chocks pulled so we could taxi. Advancing the power slightly I tapped the brakes for a safety check and returned the smart salute of respect from the crew chief as I left to join the flight lead on the way to the runway.
I was in an almost brand new airplane. We had been getting a delivery of at least 2 new jets per month in Tucson as we were beginning to build a new squadron that would be based in Bentwaters England. The jet I was to fly had only recently been delivered and probably had less than 20 hours total. Even though it was nice to be in a new jet, there always were things that needed to be shaken out with a few flights. You never knew with a recently delivered plane what those problems might be.
Today, though, the focus was on the weather and the upcoming flight to Tinker AFB Oklahoma. After receiving our clearance and the final check of the weather, lead signaled for us to taxi on to the runway for our run-up and check of the engines before brake release. As I ran up the motors, I was thankful for the heat that finally came out of the vents which were strategically located about 3 inches from my elbows. Obviously the heater vents were an afterthought, they were still nice on this very chilly wet Tucson morning.
Lead released his brakes and started his run down the runway. The water kicked up obscured his jet as he vanished into the gloom. Deciding we had enough weather to barely rejoin in visual conditions (VFR) underneath the clouds, I had hacked my clock to wait the 10 seconds before releasing my own brakes.
Thankfully, the cockpit was now getting nice and toasty. As I was running down the runway, also barely able to see the strip of concrete ahead due to the water, I reached my hand off the throttles down to the left console and felt for the heater control. I began turning it counter clockwise to reduce the heat flow. Moments later, I was airborne and the visibility increased.
Picking up lead at my 12 o’clock position and 2 miles ahead, I called lead in sight and began my straight ahead rejoin. He had throttled back to allow me to get some overtake airspeed. The A-10 was woefully underpowered for these types of maneuvers, but with full power, I had about 100 knots of overtake airspeed. I was moving in quickly. Reaching my hand down again for the heater, I cranked it full counterclockwise and noticed for the first time in my consciousness how hot it had become in the cockpit.
Still, my focus was on lead, the rejoin and the very low ceiling. Additionally, I had to get the rejoin accomplished quickly as Tucson is ringed by very high mountains. So staying low was not an option much longer. As I began the final few hundred feet of the rejoin before popping into the clouds to resume our climb, I again worked the heater. I knew that it was now hot, but in my focus of flying the aircraft, rejoining and preparing to go into the clouds, I hadn’t noticed how hot it had become.
Extending speed brakes and reducing power had given some relief to the heat as I slowed to make the rejoin. But contemplating how hot my arm and leg had become as we were preparing to penetrate the clouds, I knew that I had a serious problem that had to be addressed soon. Not knowing exactly what was wrong, I radioed flight lead and told him I was returning to base. He turned with me as we contacted approach control and asked for priority handling for a return to land. As I increased power again to maintain flying speed while flying the 8 miles back to base, I again immediately became very uncomfortable.
Over heating the human body can be painful, but in small doses, it can also be very insidious in how it affects the judgement center in the brain. I knew at this point that I was literally cooking and needed to get on the ground as soon as possible. In order to do that, I declared an emergency and was given over to tower for final approach and landing opposite direction to the prevailing landing runway.
Tower informed me as I approached the last half mile to land that I would need to go around as he had a Navy A7 on landing roll out opposite direction. I immediately radioed back that he could clear me to land or I would deposit on the runway my A10 without me in it. In other words I said, “clear me to land, or I am ejecting!”
His response was immediate, “cleared to land, cleared to land.” As I landed on the left or hot side of the runway, touching down on the very wet runway, I will never forget two things. One, my joy at having the power at idle and the heat at a minimum. And two, seeing the Navy pilot’s startled expression on this Air Force base runway with another fighter landing next to him in opposite direction.
The heater coil had failed on this new jet as a result of the incredible soaking it had gotten overnight in the Tucson rain storm. Since these airplanes would soon be in wet England, it was nice to know this problem existed and that a permanent fix could be made to prevent an aircraft being lost to such a simple problem. Oh, by the way, the temperature of the heat blowing into the cockpit? Since it was pure bleed air off the motor at about 700 degrees, not being modified at all by cool air, it was very hot.
Speaking of hot. I love hot and spicy food. In honor of this flight, I created a sub sandwich for Sahuaro Subs restaurant chain which became very popular. The name? “The Red Hot”. And you will love it. But it is a very, very manly taste, which has been enjoyed by a number of ladies as well.