KC-135 Cockpit showing the location of the radar display between the pilot seats
It is that orange circle at the bottom middle of the photo
(from a photo posted by Paul Kile on Flicker)
The following is part of the preface of my upcoming book entitled “Fundamentals of Weapon System Sustainment”. The preface begins with this quote from George Nethercutt:
Songs are often written by people who are witnesses to history.
….If the author and consultant, George Nethercutt, is correct in his quote above, how did it come about that I wrote this song, or rather, this book? I was the right person in the right place at the right time. Sometimes there is a person in a position to see history unfold, have the background to understand what is happening, and also have the talent and motivation to write about it. I have many friends and colleagues who possess most of these traits, especially the knowledge, as they were far more instrumental in creating modern sustainment than me. But here I am, writing about it.
I received brief glimpses of this thing called “sustainment” as a pilot on KC-135s from 1977 to 1982. It was obvious even to me, a pilot ignorant of most things maintenance, that a huge amount of support was required in terms of technical orders, repairing, supply lines, and the like. But there was also this mysterious group of people who, although not readily visible to me as the weapon system operator, somehow were keeping the weapon system in good shape. They were even more visible when they failed to do so.
The sharpest example was the day Systems Command delivered a newly modified KC-135Q tanker to Beale AFB and it was my boss’ job to go check it out. J was an instructor pilot and evaluation pilot in the Standardization and Evaluation (STAN/EVAL) section of the Wing. Since I was picked to be a STAN/EVAL co-pilot, I was by some kind of definition one of the top copilots. In any event, I was about to upgrade to aircraft commander. As was J’s technique, the inspection of this newly-modified aircraft was to be a learning experience for me. That is, after we climbed into the cockpit he turned to me and said: “What’s wrong with this?”
Naturally, the first thing that popped into my head was that J had high expectations that something very obvious was wrong. Therefore, I concluded inside my brain, that if I didn’t answer immediately I would look stupid. The next thought was that wasting my time thinking of not looking stupid was not going to help me think about what was wrong. All this thinking was done while intently looking at the cockpit at least pretending to search for what was different.
“There! J practically shouted. “There where they installed the DNS panel!” When I failed to respond quickly even at this point he thundered: “What used to be there?!”
“Oh!” I said weakly. “The radar screen.”
“YES”. Silence. Then, “OK, what’s wrong with that?!”
“How can the F#$k!n pilot SEE the radar? Look at where those F@cx@rs put it!”
I looked around and finally found it over on the right hand side of the co-pilot. As I was thinking that I, as the co-pilot, could see it fine, J started an expletive-sprinkled rant about how it had been in the perfect spot for both pilots, right between them. And now the DNS panel was there, a pretty much useless piece of junk when you consider we have a navigator right behind us. And those individuals at Systems Command had no idea how often we, as Q pilots, flew in formation in the weather and needed to see the lead aircraft on the radar. And etc.
There were other incidences that opened my mind a bit to the idea of organizations that sustained weapon system. There was the aircraft that seemed to always catch lightning strikes while others remained lightning virgins. (I wrote a letter to the folks in charge of this kind of thing and got a fairly dismissive reply.) There was the in-flight jet engine monitoring program where the pilots recorded engine data that could predict engine failure. And there were other examples.