Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Bring the Rain

So, I'm working a T-34 tonight with a student and instructor on board. They're on vectors towards South Whiting for the PAR approach.

Just east of the final are three small restricted areas that belong to Eglin. They usually "loan" them to us, but they'll take them away when they need them for specific operations. Typically they'll have C-130 Hercules transport planes para-dropping troops for survival training or doing low altitude runs. Fairly innocuous things.

Well... apparently they do other things over there too.

The instructor in the T-34 calls me up when they're about four miles from the boundary.

Instructor: "Approach, Blackbird 123, are the restricted areas hot tonight?"
Me: "Affirmative, the areas are hot."
Instructor: "Uh, well, I've got stuff falling around me."
Uh oh.
Me: "BB123, roger, um, what kind of stuff?"
Instructor: "Well, it looks like tracer rounds. It's off my nose, about a 120 heading."
I know Eglin had a few C-130s out on the range tonight. We got point-outs on two of them, but both of those were headed out. I did see one target right on a 120 heading from him level at 8000.
Me: "Well, Eglin had a few C-130s in the area. I'm seeing about two or three right now. Maybe they were just dropping flares."
Instructor: "Ummm, roger."

Anyways, I give them their turn to final and hand them off to Whiting's PAR controllers. I think about it for a moment. Red tracers? What the hell would produce... oh wait a minute. The light comes on. I call up Eglin North.

Me: "Eglin North, Pensacola Whiting, those C-130s you have out in the restricted areas... they wouldn't happen to be AC-130s, would they?"
Eglin: "They sure are!"

Well, no wonder the T-34 pilots were "spooked". This is what they were seeing from about 4 miles away.

That lovely laser-like display is produced by the AC-130 Spooky and its complement of 25mm, 40mm, and 105mm weapons. A serious piece of anti-surface gear, Eglin's got a flock of them based out of Hurlburt AFB just east of here.

When we take point outs or actually work them, there's no distinction made between a regular cargo C-130 or the AC-130. They're all just C-130s on the flight plans. But there's a huge world of difference between a standard Herky bird and the gunship pictured below.

Here's one of the 25mm "miniguns" that produces those tracers. And yes, the pretty girl really is an AC-130 gunner.

Here it is firing its 105mm howitzer. Yes, that's a freaking howitzer mounted on an airplane.

For movie fans, if you've seen Transformers, you've seen the AC-130 in (fictional) action, taking on Scorponok in the desert. When that one soldier says "Bring the rain", that's what he's referring to. Badass scene, though of course Michael Bay throws his Hollywood B.S. into it. It's got a lot of cool USAF hardware - A-10 Warthogs, AC-130 Spooky, E-3 AWACS, and the Predator Drone. Check it out below.

I tell you, you learn something new everyday. I'd heard that Eglin uses those areas for live fire exercises, but this is the first time I'd actually seen it myself.

I will say, we've got some fairly unique airspace around here. I can't think of too many places where the aircraft you're working have a good chance of being hosed out of the sky by a stream of 20mm and 40mm rounds!


Anonymous said...

In vietNam, as an air traffic controller, I had several occasions to vector "spooky" in on charles and also issue vectors for "gunfigthers" to intercept un-identified aircraft.

Anonymous said...

They fly around out there with no navigation lights at night also. Try issuing traffic on that.

In the '50's or '60's, can't remember which, the Air Force actually bombed a civilian town somewhere around Crestview in an exercise gone awry.

Brian said...

Hey wicked, they mostly use those restricted areas for live fire exercises. If you visit the Destin/Ft. Walton Beach area on a weeknight, you can hear the 25mm, 40mm and the Howitzers quite easily.

Transformers gave me the chills during that scene, starting at about 1:05 into it. That is exactly how they call in firepower in badguyland. The chill is the same one I got when watching ¨United 93¨ when the fighters were finally scrambled. It´s one thing to practice war, but to see it in action, accurately, gave me the feeling like I was there!

P.S. Just slew and enter on those Hercs and you can tell what they are by there callsign. They don´t bother changing them for local training missions, just when they deploy overseas.

Wicked Penguin said...

@anon1: Is that really as cool as it sounds? Because it sure sounds a lot cooler than what we do. Wow.

@anon2: Yeah... we have Navy training helos that go out into the Hurricane and Bear lake areas to play at night. When those Hercs are out there, it's traffic call city.

Like you said, they're running with the lights off, in the dead of night, over wilderness. And they're low. These poor helo drivers are looking out into the darkness for this massive black angel of death that can swat them out of the sky and use them as a lovely orange and white hood oranament.

Needless to say, we have had a few close calls.

@brian: That's awesome how accurate they got that part of the movie. Everything in that section was used exactly as it would be in real life - the Hogs, the Predator, the Spooky. The AWACS segments were filmed inside a real AWACS with real crew. That movie really does a good job of showing off our country's military hardware. I love the opening sequence with the V-22s as well. From what I understand, that was the first time the Osprey was shown on screen.

Regarding the Hercs, they are typically on Eglin local codes and we don't talk to them. We just take point-outs so at least we know who and where they are. Typically we'll just tag up the point-out and slap "C130" in the aircraft type field.

However, on the occasion when they overfly our airspace, we do see the Spur, Talon, etc. call signs. I'm going to assume Spur = AC-130 Spooky and Talon = MC-130 Combat Talon.

Speaking of "United 93" and chills, a few years ago I got to visit the Air Traffic System Command Center in Virginia. The room had such presence. Aside from being the top of the food chain for ATC, it was in that room where Ben Sliney gave the order to land all the planes in the United States. And the place looks exactly as it does in the movie.

Command Center
* My Photo
* Still from the film

Paul said...

In my old area at ZSE, we have the "Yakima Firing Center"... R-6714.

It goes in use with varying altitudes- sometimes surface to 030, sometimes to 090, sometimes to 230, sometimes to 290, and sometimes to 510.

It depends on what they're shooting or doing in there.

There's a story that one night, a plane was heading from PDX to GEG... and the route goes right over the firing center. Plane was at FL230.

Pilot calls up, very scared, and says "hey center, what altitude is the firing center hot to?"

Center replies "um, one-five-thousand. Why?"

Pilot: "Because we're pretty sure we're seeing artillery rounds up here."

Our mission desk calls the firing center guys. Oops... show it in use FL 290 and below.

Lucky they didn't catch a round in the wing!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I was a PAR controller at NDZ from 97-00. I never had a clue what went on in the MOA's at Eglin. I just knew to keep my birds out of there. Now I know. Wow!

Jimh. said...

I live near the Yakima Firing Center. I commuted to colleg from here past the center every day. One day I saw a straight winged plane coming from over the center. I thought, crap, some private pilot is gonna get into BIG trouble. The next time I glanced out, I realized it was an A-10! I pulled up on the next hill with a view and watched them, a pair, doing hot runs. I couldn't hear it from 5 or 6 miles away, but I could see the smoke from that mighty GAU! Usually I see helos on the south side, thugh I have seen other A-10s and a pair of F-15s. A friend who passes the northeast side of the range sometimes sees F-16s. Ah, the US military at work.

Mike said...

That "one soldier" is a USAF Combat Controller. Yup, the movie got THAT right, too.

Are you sure that first cannon is a 25mm? The barrels look a bit small and short. I'd say that's 7.62mm, looks like a Dillon Aerospace mod.

the 25mm is a huge beast:

7 feet long.

This is the GAU2 minigun:

And judging from the slow rate of fire in that movie scene, I think they were shooting 40mm Bofors.

It's all good.

Anonymous said...

The USAF guy in Transformers could have also been TACP, they never really say, though.

Anonymous said...

does thd gunship fires du shells , if it does the hotgunner will turn into gulf veteran sindrom gunner, it looks kind of hazard