The Tomcat, Myself and the Basket

There are plenty of tutorials in YouTube on how to perform an air to air refueling (AAR) in DCS F-14. Heck! I even saw a video of a guy executing an inverted AAR. I really appreciate all the tutorials and videos and I highly recommend them. After lots of practice I'm finally getting into the tanker's basket.

I'm sure that everybody's journey to a consistent approach and connection is different. In my case I approached my learning and practice on two aspects: keeping the Tomcat stable and on speed.

I certainly took advantage of keeping the wing sweep in the "bomb" position. This adds to the stability because the maneuvering flaps don't start messing around with my flight path. Of course I deploy the receiver probe, cut off the right air intake and make my calls to the tanker. Everything is quite well explained in the YouTube tutorials.

Then the fun starts.

During the initial approach (half a mile of more from the tanker) I fly freely towards the rear of the tanker. Being careful of the wake turbulence (I keep my aircraft below the tanker) I approach until I can judge his relative airspeed.

Once I can judge the tanker's airspeed, I match it. It takes some practice to assess the relative speed (VR is a great aid for that, I heard) but the changes in closure rate are visible.

Keeping a stable position behind the tanker during AAR takes throttle work. Don't expect setting your throttle to a certain position and leaving it there will work.

I make a mental note of what throttle position matches the tanker's airspeed. I use this as a reference point for an airspeed at which I will not overshoot the tanker's probe. This doesn't mean that I will keep the throttle at that position for any time longer than ~3 seconds, it's just a reference point. Remember the bolded text above.

After matching the airspeed of the tanker, trim the aircraft for that airspeed. This is, making sure that your vertical speed is zero. Use the tanker as a reference to judge if you are not trimmed (i.e. climbing or sinking). Your trim needs to be near perfect. With the recent changes to the Tomcat, which included changes into the trim response, it is relatively easy.

You may also need to trim the aircraft for roll. In my case, I always notice a small tendency to roll right. Maybe it's the drag from the receiver probe or some noise in my aging stick, YMMV. I trim that roll out with a couple of taps to the trim hat.

Air to air refueling is a very visual exercise. I may take a quick glance to the speed indicator, but that's it. HUD? What HUD? Take your eyes off that thing! Just see through it.

Once the basket is offered to my aircraft, I approach to connect. To stabilize my approach and for keeping my sanity, I always approach this way:

Without looking at the basket (focus on a distant point in the distance), but keeping it in your field of view, I approach the basket slowly. Because I'm trimmed for an airspeed a few knots below my current speed) the aircraft will tend to climb. I counter that with a quick stroke to the stick. Once I'm 20 feet or so from connection, I back the throttle to match the tanker's/basket's airspeed. I always be mindful that the aircraft may tend to sink a bit because of the speed reduction. From this "stop", I then move forward very slowly. Contact!

And that's that! Now something that is not mentioned in the tutorials I have seen in YouTube is that once you are trimmed to the correct airspeed, moving the throttle forward will make the Tomcat to climb and that moving the throttle back will make it sink. Even a couple of knots of airspeed change will do that. See the animated gif below: the aircraft is climbing because my airspeed is above the airspeed for which I trimmed it. Note that when my airspeed is reduced, the climbing stops. This is a source of pilot induced oscillations which may look unexplainable if you don't know what is actually happening.

And that's the beauty of the F-14. Despite its Central Air Data Computer (CADC) keeping control of some surfaces and adding some stability, the Tomcat is sort of a "stick and rudder" aircraft. Don't strap yourself into into it's cockpit with an F-18 mindset.

I hope you enjoyed this entry. Stay tuned for more.



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