2010 Articles

JAN 26 2010
Views from the Viper’s cockpit

There haven’t been too many occasions when I’ve been compelled to contact an author but when I finished reading “Vipers in the Storm” (VITS) that is exactly what I decided to do. A dedicated collector of aviation titles, as followers of my blogGAR will know, I actually only managed to get hold of VITS three years ago, but the time lapse (it was published in 1999) did nothing to lessen the title’s impact.

Keith Rosenkranz flew 30 missions (mostly at night) during Operation Desert Storm and VITS details, and I mean ‘details’, not just these but the build-up to the conflict, under the auspices of Operation Desert Shield, and also the aftermath. Incredibly, 2010 marks 20 years since Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait and the vast deployment of military forces which would lead to military action commencing in January 1991. GAR will be producing a series of articles to mark this anniversary and where better to start than with some views from the Viper’s cockpit courtesy of Keith Rosenkranz himself?

Borne out of the United States Air Force’s Lightweight Fighter Proposal, the F-16 made its first flight in February 1974 and would enter service with the USAF in 1978. More than 30 years on the aircraft is still very much in active service, operated by some 25 nations, and is slated to remain active with USAF until approximately 2025. The F-16 has also been deployed on operations in Afghanistan in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with the air forces of Denmark, Norway and The Netherlands. During Operation Desert Storm Rosey’s unit, the 388th TFW, flew some 4,052 air to ground sorties with an incredible effectiveness rate of 98.2% with only 71 sorties aborted for maintenance reasons. This figure is from a total of approximately 110,000 flown by coalition forces during the conflict.

“The combat missions I flew during the 1991 Gulf War are still fresh in my mind,” says Rosey, now an International First Officer on the Boeing 757 and 767ER with Delta Airlines.

“That's hard to believe seeing how it has been 19 years since the war ended. I was at Luke AFB in Arizona this past November, which is where I went through initial training in the F-16, and seeing the aircraft on the ramp and flying overhead brought back a flood of great memories."

What kind of memories are we talking about though I wonder?

“More than anything I miss the challenge...the excitement...and the fulfilment of sitting in the F-16 cockpit...a few hundred feet off the ground... in the middle of the night... at 600 miles per hour...with my hair on fire!

“Is there anything else in life that can match that? I don't think so.”

Obviously the majority of us haven’t been fortunate enough to experience flight in an F-16 and I ask Rosey to explain a little more for those of us who haven’t flown one of the World’s most successful modern day jet fighter bombers. What does he recall of his first flight in the Viper? Was it everything he expected it to be and more?

“I remember my first flight as if it were yesterday!"

“I was a former instructor pilot in the Northrop T-38 Talon, which obviously has the stick between the pilot's legs, but the F-16 has a small, side stick control that barely moves. In fact, the movement was artificially generated by the engineers shortly after the aircraft came on line during the late 1970s.

The stick reacts to the pressure a pilot places against it and the flight control computer activates the hydraulics that move the flight controls. The first pilots to fly the F-16 operationally didn't like the fact that the stick didn't move, so the engineers created artificial movement to appease them. It took roughly two sorties to get comfortable with the side stick control alone.”

I’m guessing that the jump from the T-38 to F-16 was an exciting one too?

“Yes! The other thing that stands out about my first flight was how powerful the engine is. When you put the throttle into afterburner for the first time, you come to realize very quickly just how much thrust the aircraft has.

“With 1,200 hours of T-38 time I actually found the F-16 easy to fly but it would take a good year to eighteen months to get comfortable with the aircraft’s weapons systems.”

One of the central features of VITS discusses Rosey’s change of units on arrival in theatre. As one of the comparatively few LANTIRN qualified pilots in theatre at that time, Rosey and one of his colleagues were transferred from their beloved 4th TFS, the Fightin’ Fuujins, to the 421st Black Widows, chosen to be the dedicated night squadron. LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night), in the guise of the AAQ-13 pods attached to the aircraft at that time, had only been cleared for service in 1989 and Rosey, having completed the six week LANTIRN course at Luke AFB in April / May 1990, had actually arrived at Hill AFB to join the 4th TFS as the wing’s first qualified pilot!

Despite initial misgivings about leadership and morale in the 421st, the move proved to be an extremely successful one, and one that would see the Squadron develop in to an incredibly tight team as the conflict progressed.

“I was one of the initial LANTIRN pilots and a small group of us developed many of the medium and high altitude tactics that were used during the Gulf War. I have subsequently learned from several former and current F-16 pilots that the tactics my friends and I developed are still in use today. I take a great deal of pride in having been a part of a group that contributed to that.”

“I am also proud of the fact that the coalition's victory over Iraq is considered by many historians to be the greatest aerial victory in military history. Having been a part of a group that can say that, at least for a period of time, they were the best fighter pilots in the world is extremely rewarding.”

GW1 was of course the ‘computer game’ or TV war where the general public saw a range of modern military technology in action for the first time, perhaps the best example being the remarkable footage from laser guided weapons as they tracked towards targets. It is all too easy, I think, to believe that all the action in the cockpit was like a video game for the aircrews and VITS does a great job of highlighting just how high the workload was on the F-16’s combat missions. The pilots were very busy operating their systems in what was, at the start of the air war anyway, a high threat environment; the fear of failure and, ultimately, of not making it home, was very real.

“One of the reasons we were so successful during the Gulf War is because we had ample time to prepare,” says Rosey who was credited with 10 Maverick missile kills during the conflict.

“I had just come off of a one year remote tour in Korea, where I learned how to manage the F-16's complex weapons systems. I followed that tour with LANTIRN training during the spring of 1990 and I arrived at Hill AFB in Utah shortly after that. Our squadron participated in a Green Flag exercise at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada during the summer of 1990 and it was during this exercise that Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait.

“I deployed to the United Arab Emirates with my squadron in late August 1990 and had four and a half months to prepare for my first combat mission. I got a year's worth of flying during that time and by the time the war started I was as proficient in the F-16 as I would ever be.

“The only thing I had to learn once the war actually started was how to channel my fear. You can be the greatest fighter pilot in the world, but your first couple of combat missions will generate a fear you have never experienced in your life. And there is nothing that can prepare you for it. So yes, those first few missions I was busy - busy being scared!”

Having said that, it is very clear that Rosey and all his colleagues implicitly trusted the F-16 as an aircraft to take in to battle and I ask him, if he can, to summarise what it is that makes the F-16 such a user-friendly aircraft from a pilot's perspective?

“First and foremost, the F-16 is very easy to fly. What makes the weapons system user friendly is the fact that you can operate it without having to take your hands off of the throttle or control stick. The HUD (Head Up Display) has a wealth of information as well. All of these things combine to make the F-16 a force to be reckoned with.”

While Rosey is no longer current on the aircraft, how would he rate the F-16's effectiveness in 2009 - some 32 years after it entered service?

“I still believe the F-16 is a formidable fighter, even today!”

“Of course, the type of war we are fighting today isn't quite the same as the one I fought in 19 years ago. When it comes to attacking ground forces and doing so with precision - precision that is necessary to avoid civilian casualties - the F-16 is as capable as any aircraft flying. Add in smart weapons and you have a very lethal combination.”

Finally, I have to ask, if you could have that time again and were joining the USAF now – would the Viper still be top of the wish-list?

“Oh yes! I loved dropping bombs and I believe the F-16 platform is the best when it comes to delivering weapons on target. Now, if anyone could help me go back in time so I can do it all over again, I would do so in a heartbeat.”

GAR wants to interact with its readers so if you have a question for the author or a comment to make on this feature, please click on the button below. The best comments will appear right here on GAR.

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2010-02-02 - Keith Rosenkranz
Glad you enjoyed the piece - here are the answers to the two questions.

1/ I received an introduction to the Maverick missile during LANTIRN
training a few months prior to my deployment to the Middle East.

I was not checked out formally once I was in the squadron though. It wasn't until
the later part of the war that our squadron was given Maverick missiles as
part of our weaponry.

One evening, our squadron operations officer asked during a meeting who
was Maverick qualified. Those who were would remain flight leads and
those who were not would be relegated to flying as wingmen. That didn't
appeal to me at all, so I raised my hand and said I was qualified in

That night in the compound where the pilots lived, one of our squadron
weapons officers - Mark "Stitch" Miller - taught me the basics of firing the
Maverick missile from the F-16 platform. It was a crash course, so to speak,
but I picked it up quickly and I flew my first mission with Maverick missiles
the next night.

The Maverick missile can be difficult to employ as the pilots consider it a
switchology nightmare. What I mean by that is that there is a set way to
employ the Maverick and you have to use the right switches in the right
order to do it.

It didn't take me long to get comfortable and I was able to get ten Maverick
missile kills during the last missions I flew. Those missions were
pretty exciting, to say the least. I almost lost my life on one of them.

Several of the Maverick kills I got were on the infamous "Highway of
Death" north of Kuwait City. Once again, those were challenging missions.
I wouldn't have wanted it any other way, though.

2) Other than refueling off of KC-10 and KC-135 aircraft, we rarely flew
with other forces during our missions. On my first two missions to
Baghdad, I flew in large strike packages that included F-15s for air support,
F-4G Wild Weasels for suppression of enemy air defenses, and EF-111 for
enemy radar jamming. Outside of these missions, I was always paired with
other F-16s from my squadron.

We did refuel on each and every mission and having the KC-10 and KC-135
aircraft orbiting in over 30 plus tanker tracks made our missions that much

I flew out of a base called Al Minhad, which is 20 miles inland from Dubai in
the UAE. We had to travel a great distance across the Persian Gulf just to
get to southern Kuwait, so refuelling was necessary on each and every

I hope this answers the questions. Feel free to continue sending
them in!


2010-02-01 - James Watt
Hi Keith

Excellent piece! Did you work very closely with the other aircraft which were involved in the air war? It must have been busy with all the different elements going out on missions?!.



2010-01-31 - Paul Smith
Great article - thanks guys!

I wonder if you could ask Keith how easy the Maverick was to use from a pilot's perspective?



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