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A PUBLICATION OF THE LMEA FLYING CLUB
QUARTERLY MEMBERSHIP MEETING AUGUST 2000
The quarterly membership meeting was held on Thursday July 13th. , 2000 @ 5:30pm. at GLERC.
John Betsill called the meeting to order explaining that Ed Delehant was still in England flying C-130J's. In the best interest of the guest speaker the business portion of the meeting was put off until after the program. John introduced "Armi" Armitage, the test pilot of the "Credible Sport" rocket-powered Hercules. He said that Armi had retired from Lockheed in 1982 after 30+ years of service.
Armi came up front and began by recognizing some familiar faces. He began by saying that the narrative that accompanied the video being sent by e-mail showing the crash of the hostage rescue C-130 was all wrong and he would let us judge after we had heard his story. (He showed a video midway through his talk, which showed much more than the clip on the e-mail. His video showed the rocket assisted takeoff, the crash, and tests with the vertical rockets plus the news announcements circa 1997 breaking the story).
The plan was to modify three C-130s to land and takeoff on a soccer field. The program was so highly classified that the commanding officer of Eglin AFB had told him that it had such high priority that if Eglin needed to be shut down, that could be done. Armi mentioned that the narrative mentioned that the program director had been interviewed and had given the account. Armi said that Chet Payne was the director and he had talked with him recently and Chet had not talked to anyone from the media about the test.
The ship had eight retrorockets that delivered a total of 80,000 pounds of thrust to stop the C-130 once it was on the ground, l80,000 pounds of thrust to take off with and two pairs of rockets on either side to arrest the vertical descent. There was no trouble in hitting the ground, the hard part was firing the rockets at just the right altitude so their three second burn was timed correctly.
Armi gave a history lesson and some background. Iran had been our ally until the Shah was ousted from power by the Revolutionary Guard. Student militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 taking the Marine guards and embassy staff as hostages. After releasing some of the hostages, 53 remained. In the spring of 1980 a rescue attempt utilizing helicopters and C-130s was aborted when a helicopter collided with a C-130 tanker and eight servicemen were killed. With the presidential elections looming in November another plan was formulated. Lockheed was asked if a C-130 could be modified to take off and land on a soccer field. Lockheed evaluated the offer.
It was determined that 180,000 of thrust, equal to the thrust of 19-1/2 of the C-130's standard turboprop engines, would be required to get a C-130 off in the length of a soccer field and over the surrounding obstructions. The rocket engines would burn out at different times and there were rocket engines on the pylons in case of asymmetric thrust; yaw only firing. The plane would be 300 feet in the air after traveling 300 feet forward and with a takeoff roll of just 100 feet. Landing was the big problem. We had delivered 66 C-130's to Iran and Armi said he was familiar with the soccer field in question. A dorsal and horsal fin was added and all control surfaces were enlarged 35%. Double slotted flaps were added. It required 85% power to maintain five knots above stall speed. Go arounds would be a problem. The ailerons and other control surfaces were made fully hydraulically powered for quicker response.
The plane first flew in August. Not all Lockheed C-130 pilots held a top-secret clearance. Armi said he had a current T.S. clearance because he had just come off another T.S. program that remains classified to this day. The Air Force general in charge asked him if he would fly it. Armi agreed. There was none of the formal flight test regimen to be followed because of the time span involved getting the hostages out of Tehran before the November presidential elections. The general told Armi to rely on his experience and good judgment. If there were an accident, this would never be talked about; if it were successful, it would never be talked about.
The project was divided up with the rocket control systems going to IBM. There were two pairs of rockets under the wing roots on each side. They had a three second duration of burn. They were fired manually 58 times. If they were fired too late, you would bounce. Armi recognized Chuck Dixon in the audience as having worked on this project.
The hostages were daily marched around the soccer field near the American Embassy and we were given advance notice of when the hostages would be at the field on a given day by one of the many Iranians who were still friendly to the U.S. The planes were equipped with flares, a radar altimeter and even a laser altimeter that looked ahead at the landing aim point to give a precise slant altitude above the touchdown point. A computer was to control the firing of the rockets. If the retrorockets fired before they were on the ground, they were dead. A test was scheduled for three days before the planned mission date in October. If the test were successful, the mission would be a GO.
There were all kinds of glitches. The rockets might fire at 500 feet. All rocket firings up to now had been done manually. Early that morning Armi begged the general and Lockheed personnel to postpone the test. The general said it was bigger than they were. Armi asked whether his refusing to fly the plane would put the test off, citing the general's earlier statement that he should use his best judgment. The general would order the Air Force pilots who had been flying with Armi to conduct the test (they were standing around them listening to the discussion). The general said that if the Air Force pilots refused to fly, they would be court marshaled.
Armi agreed to fly the test, but only if safety switches were installed to preclude the computer accidentally firing the rockets prematurely. It was agreed. There were three safety switches, one for the navigator for the vertically firing descent arresting rockets, one on the co-pilot's column and one on the pilot's column for the retrorockets. All the switches were on safe and it was the intent of the crew (six in all) to fire the rockets manually.
There were lots of dignitaries at the special Eglin AFB field prepared especially for the program. It was too early and too political. To be on the safe side they made the assisted takeoff first. Everything went well on takeoff and they came around for the landing.
Armi said it was one of those perfect approaches where you were right where you wanted to be, 85 to 86 knots. All the fire fighting equipment was ready and standing by. The navigator had control of the lifting rockets because his laser altimeter was the most accurate gage of height above the ground. At 50 feet he hit the switch, to fire the rockets at 49 feet above the ground. Armi heard a loud bang but they didn't fire. Now remember the pilots had control of the stopping rockets and both switches were on safe.
Armi lost part of his visibility, the upper retrorockets had fired. At 49 feet the lifting rockets had not fired. They had full flaps. Three fourths of the time they had fired the retrorockets on the ground roll, the engines had quit due to the exhaust gas temperature spike caused by the heat of the rocket's plumes.
He realized they were going to crash and his instructors had always said that if you're going to crash, try and hit flat. At 19 feet the rest of the retrorockets fired. They hit hard. Four of the crew went out the back of the plane, Armi and the flight engineer were ready to jump the crew entry door but there was a sea of flames on the ground. One of the fire crew saw them and shot foam so they could get out.
Even though they hit hard, there was only one bruise on one crew member and one bit tongue because that person tended to stick it out between his teeth during stressful tasks. The general had stated that if there was an accident , there would be no accident investigation team. One month later an accident investigation team showed up.. The team knew nothing of the program. The full bird colonel leading the investigation asked if there were any comments before they started. The general who had been in charge of the program and other high ranking officers and Lockheed officials were present.
Armi spoke up and asked if the recorders could be turned off and the secretaries asked to leave. The colonel looked at the other officers and agreed. Armi gave a five-minute spill about how rushed and tenuous the program was and how he had been assured that if there were an accident, there would be no investigation. Armi said he would like to be part of the engineering investigation.
Armi backed up and said that after the firefighters had finished he asked the general and Lockheed officials present to accompany him and to go on board the crashed plane and observe the position of the safety switches. Both the pilots and co-pilots switches were still in the safe position.
Armi, during his five-minute talk, stated that every pertinent Air Force regulation was violated. The general agreed. This was not normal, a politically drive program that from start to finish had been accomplished in two months. Armi, indicating that if he was fired as a result of the crash, said "I'm a civilian. I will sue." He would not be held responsible. The general agreed. He again stated that he would like to be part of the engineering investigation.
The colonel asked what we do now? The accident investigation was canceled. Later they had an engineering investigation.
Armi did want to add that the general was a fine man. He would go three and four days without sleep. It takes a personality like that to be on charge of such a program as this was. The C-130 has the capability. He was ashamed there was not enough time to get the bugs worked out. They had an Iranian general who was going to have all the radars out of commission. We had a lot of help. In the end, they said, "Don't come." The Iranian leaders wanted to end the hostage situation but wanted to save face. The hostages were released shortly after President Reagan was sworn in.
Armi said the good Lord stepped in. No one got killed.
Q: Audience: Why did the navigator control the vertical rockets?
A: Armi: He had the laser altimeter.
Q: Audience: Did they find out what caused to retrorockets to fire prematurely?
A: Armi: No. But it had been raining that morning and water can ground circuits, which in this case could have made them fire.
Q: Audience: How many planes were modified and what happened to them.
A: Armi: Besides the one that crashed, one is at Hulbert Field at Eglin AFB, and the other is at the Warner Robbins Air Museum.
Armi said that until Peter Jennings came on the evening news with the story, he wasn't aware that it had been declassified. He called a friend in Special Forces. He advised him not to mention names or get too specific. He believed there was potential to use aC-130 in a similar role in the future.
Q: Audience: Would the plane back up once it landed on the soccer field?
A: Armi: No, the plane would spin around and be ready to takeoff.
He added that the problem of the engines EGT spiking and causing the engines to quit was only when they operating at higher power while the retrorockets were firing. By going to ground power quickly, the engines would overheat momentarily but not shut off.
Q: Audience: What was the name given to the program?
A: Armi: Credible Sport.
Armi heard later that the general had suffered a mental breakdown and
Q: Audience: Where were the planes modified?
A: Armi: Here in Marietta in the B-4 Building.
John Betsill thanked Armi and gave him a C-130J Flight Crew cap for coming to the meeting. A round of applause was also given by the members in attendance.
NOTE: The unapplicable remaining portion of the newsletter has been left out. The original document came from Lockheed-Martin Employee Association Flying Club.
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