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Climbing Mount Fujiyama

Climbing Mount Fujiyama


This occurred 40 years ago before the density of population and air traffic made such things impossible. This was a time when the Secretary of State carried a big stick rather than a big purse. It was a time when nuclear war was thinkable. It was a time when VA-125 at NAS Moffett Field turned out A-4 pilots trained to deliver just one bomb in a loft maneuver. If called upon, we would fly our mission alone, one pilot and one Skyhawk and one hellacious nuclear bomb.
In preparation, we often flew alone on navigation flights. So it was not unusual that, one February day after the squadron off-loaded for ten days at Yokota, I was at 15,000 feet over Fujiyama in a Dambuster A-4B. Fujiyama resembles Mount Shasta, which we saw on a few of our navigation routes out of Moffett. Both stand alone, dominating the landscape, but Shasta’s slopes are concave, leaving a steep angle toward the peak. I had flown over Fujiyama before, and the first time I did, I rolled up on a wing and looked directly down into the crater. The mountain was so symmetrical that it appeared to have no elevation. It seemed to be level with the floor of the Kofu Basin.
How gentle a slope, like a low angle climb on the one side and low angle descent on the other, I thought that day. As in a cartoon, the little light bulb went off over my head. Why the h_ _ _ not, I said to myself. There isn't a person anywhere on the mountain. It's cold out and the people are indoors. I can get a straight run-in line here without passing over any villages. OK. I know what it takes to get up to 500 knots on a loft-bombing run-in line, so I'll start my dive to the deck about there.
I had the 500 knots, as I knew I would. I had the mountain bore-sighted as I shot across the basin at 200 feet altitude. I knew just where I was going to start my pull-up. After all, this was just like another low-angle loft maneuver. This is IT ---- going up ---- paralleling the slope ---- about 100 feet above the mountainside ---- approaching the snowcap ---- there's the crater ---- a little nose up, a half roll ---- a glance into the crater ---- pull nose down, another half roll ---- just like an over-the-shoulder loft maneuver ---- keep the nose down ---- parallel the slope again ---- down the mountainside ---- easy pull-up here at the base. Really haulin’ the mail outta here. D_ _ _, that was fun. I'm goin’ do it again.
Several days later, having flown this invigorating maneuver several times, I became complacent. Yes, that bane of aviators -- complacency. What harangue of a safety officer is complete without this word? But I was just going to visit Fujiyama one last time. How prophetic that thought nearly was.
This time I started a little lower, a little closer, and a little heavier. As the base of the mountain approached, I realized that I only had 440 knots. Well, that should be enough, I thought, and up I went. With the snowcap still well ahead I saw the airspeed indicator rapidly bleeding down toward 200 knots. I suddenly realized I wasn't going to make it to the top, let alone over the top. There was only one way out. I banked starboard, tentatively, using about ten degrees angle of bank. With the airspeed bleeding off and the slats coming out, I went to half-flaps. The aircraft was starting to shudder a little. I was concentrating on keeping the ball centered in the turn-and-bank indicator. Having made it through 90 degrees of turn, aircraft still shuddering, it still looked like I was going to be a permanent blemish on the mountainside. I was trying to keep the nose up enough to keep from pranging and down enough to keep from stalling. (There was no angle-of-attack indicator in the Bravo).) I can't say how far above ground I was, (There was no radar altimeter either.) but I was glad there were no trees. After an eternity the airspeed started to increase. I had finally gotten the Skyhawk pointed downhill and completed the hairiest, strangest wingover imaginable.
This is the point where I should say "I Learned About Flying From That" and I never did that again. But I can't, because I went down that mountain, back across that basin, climbing to altitude, and then with a split-S got my airspeed. And for one last time, I flew the slopes of Fujiyama.
Mike Trout





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