My T-38 IP once told me, “You don’t ‘strap in’ a jet; you ‘strap it on.'” He didn’t make a big deal of it – he just shared this as a ‘matter of fact’ statement. For whatever reason I knew immediately what he meant. By “strapping it on,” the jet becomes an extension of your being – and flying it subsequently becomes second nature.
In the beginning strapping on a T-38 is not an easy chore. It begins with putting on our chutes; our parachutes. Most of us leave our chutes propped up against the ladder while doing the preflight walk-around. Once that is complete, the ‘strapping on’ process begins.
The parachute has to fit very tight. So tight in fact that when it is fit properly, you look like a guy walking around with “the Full Cleveland.”* You can not walk upright if your chute is properly fit. So you kinda ‘crab’ up the ladder into the jet.
The right leg over the cockpit rail on to the seat pack, followed by the left leg down onto the left floor well. Once your right leg finds it’s place on the other side of the stick you can settle down on to the seat. The first thing you notice – right away – is a sense of relief! Spacers at the back of the seat serve to take a lot of the chute pressure off your shoulders.
Once you settle into the seat your form-fitted helmet commands your attention. Some of us would put on our helmets before climbing up the ladder; it was only a matter of personal preference.
Once I settled into the seat, a quick moment to catch my breath was often in order. Then it was back to the task at hand. First came my anti-G suit hose connection on the left side, followed by the aircraft oxygen hose and comm cord connections on the right side. Now I was ready for the lap belt and shoulder harnesses. It was at this juncture that a crew chief was a great help.
The lap belts, left and right, were set in our laps. Then the loops from the shoulder harnesses were threaded unto the belt link, followed by the “gold key.” The gold key was attached to the “zero-delay” lanyard that functioned with your seat. (It’s purpose was to “arm” your chute for immediate deployment if required.) Once these three things were on the belt link, they were secured by latching the belt.
Now it’s time to ‘really’ secure yourself to the seat. First you jam your ass as far back into the seat as you can. Then you tighten the lap belt as much as you can stand it; and then you pull a little bit harder. The excess belt on each side is then tucked under you thighs. Now you lock the shoulder harness inertial lock lever on the left side of the seat. It manually locks the shoulder harness straps. This is where we would take a look at how the shoulder straps were routed. If they weren’t routed correctly, they could become entangled and trap you to the seat in an ejection. Not good.
Once the shoulder straps were pulled as tight as you thought necessary, you pulled even harder. With this done, you could just about reach the inertial reel lock lever to release it. This done, the last step in the “strapping on” process was to lean forward to check for freedom of movement.
Now you were ready to get to begin “punching buttons”…
One last note here, with respect to “strapping on jets.” In the early eighties I was part of a 4-ship flight of squadron IPs. We were being led by a young FAIP (first assignment IP). The briefing was fairly straight forward, and thorough. As he concluded, the young FAIP remarked, “Now gentlemen, let’s ‘mount up.'”
“OH, Jesus Christ!” loudly rang out from Polecat.
“You strap on jets; you mount sheep,” he exclaimed as he walked out of the room, chewing on his cigar, somewhat in disgust… The FAIP just stood there, dumbfounded.
Funny as hell! Glad it wasn’t me who said that…
* A “Full Cleveland” is what you see when you see a ‘senior citizen’ in Florida wearing his pants up over his belly, often held up by suspenders. He is kinda hunched over by nature. To complete the ensemble the guy will be sporting knee-length black stockings, with black shoes and a while, long-sleeve shirt. Got it?