Looking Back: "It'll Never Get Off the Ground"

  • Published
  • By Unknown (Circa 1968)
Wisconsin Air Guardsmen have an $850,000 plane that will never fly, and they're happy about it!

The wingless, tailless, motorless aircraft is a 'flight simulator.' It is a nine-ton training device which duplicates--to the smallest detail--the cockpits of the KC-97 tankers flown throughout the world by members of the 128th Air Refueling Group, Milwaukee.

The simulator was built in 1953 and is one of only 11 in the country. It is used to familiarize flight crews with proper pre-flight checks, starting and take-off procedures, normal and emergency flight operating procedures, fuel management, cruise control, landing procedures, radio communications procedures, and the use of navigational aids. It is crammed with a maze of dials, instruments, switches and other gear that surround the pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer.

Basically, the unit is an analog computer. Instead of answers in numbers, the computer produces flight attitudes, conditions and problems. It contains 604 tubes, 117 motor-driven resistors and 200 resistance cards to feed data into four computer racks. Power equipment around the device generates enough heat each hour to warm two small homes.

Manning the complex equipment are three air technicians: Master Sergeants Earl Mueller, non commissioned officer in charge, and Donald H. Waligorski; and Technical Sergeant Dale W. Treat.

These specialists program the trainer to simulate all of the KC-97's systems. This includes possible emergency situations such as varied take-off weights, engine fires and failures, severe wind buffeting and rapid loss of altitude. In addition, they can 'freeze' the airplane in flight to point out situations requiring special attention. Instructors say one hour in simulator generally is equal to four hours of actual flying time.

The simulator was obtained from ANG's 116th Military Airlift Group, Dobbins AFB, Georgia, when it converted from C-97s to C-124s. It also has been used to train pilots at Randolph AFB, Texas, and an air base in Florida. More than 46,000 hours have been logged in the trainer during its 14-year history.

"Our acquisition of this unit means that aircrews of the squadron won't have to travel to distant air bases to keep proficient in their training," says Sergeant Mueller. "Training will now be quicker and more economical."

There's only one thing Sergeant Mueller doesn't like, however. He's beginning to cringe slightly when someone looks at the device, then wisecracks: "Looks pretty good, but I'll bet it'll never get off the ground."