Bubble Check!

From the forthcoming book, "Failure Was Not an Option" by Bill Huizinga. Used with permission.

The book is about flying experiences from pilot training, flying the F-102 and the C-130 in Alaska and on skis in Greenland landing on the Ice Cap. Watch for it, or contact Bill for more info.

Bubble check! The people stationed at the various [Alaskan] early warning radar facilities, with whom we worked every day, were stationed there for a year. Their contact with the outside world was limited to say the least. The facilities were located throughout Alaska in some of the most desolate places imaginable. Almost all of these radar sites were built with a couple of two story barracks, which was their housing, mess hall, recreation facilities etc. Across from these buildings about a hundred feet or so was a large building with a huge white dome on top that protected the radar dish. Every one called that the "bubble." Occasionally we would ask the controller if they would like a bubble check. The answer was always an enthusiastic yes.

The procedure went like this:

"Kotzebue, Alpha Poppa 41, would you like a bubble check?"

The answer always came back, "Affirmative, what is your ETA?" They wanted time to notify everyone there that we were going to do a fly-by.

"Our ETA is 1504 (3:04 PM), give us a heading. Are there any wires between the bubble and the barracks?" We certainly didn't want to hit anything.

They would come back with, "Alpha Poppa 41, port 35 degrees to a heading of 275, we are checking your request." Then a little bit later they would call again, "Alpha Poppa 41, no wires between the bubble and the barracks, what direction will you approach from?"

We answer, "Our first approach will be from the south. Do you have any air traffic in the area?" They let us know what traffic there might be as we set up for a low level run in close formation.

We drop down to about 100 to 200 feet over the ground, the height of the top of the bubble and pick up about 500 knots. Zoom, right between the bubble and the barracks in finger tip formation, then lead signals a pitchout and pulls up into a crop duster turn otherwise known as a wifferdil followed in 3 seconds by the wingman.

Lead calls "Two, no wires, break left." Number two clicks the mike twice to acknowledge.

Lead made the first pass high enough to check for obstructions for himself just to make sure and tells his wingman that he is going to recover from his climb with a 90 degree turn to the left. Lead then drops right back to the ground followed 3 seconds later by number two. We descend below the bubble and go between the bubble and the barracks at .95 mach (about 700 miles per hour) then light the afterburner and pull hard straight up as we pass between the bubble and the barracks. Lead rolls out of the climb at about 12,000 feet to the left and two follows. If two loses sight of lead, which I did a couple of times, he knows not to recover to the left and where to look for him. When you go that fast, that close to the ground, you don't look at lead at all. Then the pull up is at about 5 or 6 Gs, so vision is impaired. Once you got the thing going straight up, you look for lead. Sometimes you even see him.

A bubble check is spectacular and the crews there loved it. So did we! We only did bubble checks at remote sites. We would fly over the bubbles at fairly low level at the sites where there might be some one watching who might take exception to hot-dogging. I never asked if we busted out any windows, I'm sure we did.

A 21st Century Bubble Check

Date: Wed, 18 Feb 2004 15:31:09 -0700
From Afghanistan, the story of the week;

So we are up in the mountains at about 0100 hrs looking for a bad guy we thought was in the area. There are ten of us, pitch black, crystal clear night, about 25 degrees. We know there are bad guys in the area, a few shots have been fired, but no big deal. We decide that we need air cover and the only thing in the area is a solo B-1 bomber.

He flies around at about 20,000 feet and tells us there is nothing in the area. He then asks if we would like a low level show of force. Stupid question.

Of course we tell him yes. The controller who is attached to the team is heard talking to the pilot. Pilot asks if we want it subsonic or supersonic. Very stupid question.

Pilot advises he is twenty miles out and stand by. The controller gets us all sitting down in a line and points out the proper location. You have to picture this. Pitch black, ten killers sitting down, dead quiet and overlooking this 30 mile long valley.

All of a sudden, way out (below our level) you see a set of four 200' white flames coming at us. The controller says, "Ah-guys-you might want to plug your ears". Faster than you can think, a B-1, supersonic, 1000' over our heads, blasts the sound barrier and it feels like God just hit you in the head with a hammer. He then stands it straight up with 4 white trails of flame coming out and disappears.

Cost of gas for that: Probably $5,000.
Hearing damage: For certain.
Bunch of bad guys thinking twice about shooting at us: Priceless!