Joanie Barclay’s F4 Phantom ‘Burner Bust’
In early 1981, Joanie Barclay, wife of the then Squadron Leader Jim Barclay, a Royal New Zealand Air Force exchange pilot with the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing (31 TFW) at United States Air Force (USAF) Homestead Air Force Base (HAFB), located near Miami, Florida, was quick to respond to an invitation from Jim’s 308th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron (308 TFTS) to experience a ‘Burner Bust’. Like a number of other USAF squadrons, the 308 TFTS annually invited the wives of squadron aircrew to experience an overview of what their husbands did while away at work.
On 2nd May 1981, visits by wives of 308 TFTS aircrew were made to a number of 31 TFW flight training facilities, including the F4 Phantom Flight Simulator building at HAFB to see one of the four simulators in action, to ‘ground school’ classrooms to see modern training methods, and to the Emergency Egress shop; at the shop, the F4 survival aids were demonstrated, including a briefing on the rocket-powered Martin Baker ejector seat, the single-man inflatable survival dingy, and the personal parachute located within each ejector seat. Survival aids were also displayed, including the hand held smoke (for day) and flare (for night) location markers, the heliograph mirror, the emergency locator radio beacon, the small handheld emergency two-way portable radio, and the inflatable aircrew personal floatation device. Some wives were game enough to try the ‘hanging harness’, so were strapped into the parachute harness that itself was suspended from the ceiling – and then the access steps were removed from below their feet so they could feel what it was like to hang in a harness. The ‘treescape’ device was demonstrated to show how to rappel to the ground from a tall tree in the event a parachute descent left an aircrew member marooned up in a tree.
In the main briefing room at the 308th, the Squadron Commander gave an informal presentation to outline the squadron’s training mission for pilots and Weapons System Operators (WSOs). Some lucky wives were then briefed on what was involved in a ‘Burner Bust’. After changing into a Nomex overalls (a flame-proof ‘flying suit’) and being fitted with boots, Nomex flying gloves, a Torso harness to connect the wearer to the parachute and ejector seat, and a Gentex flying helmet with an oxygen mask, ‘the few’ were transported out to selected Phantom jets on a flightline ‘ramp’, comprising over one hundred 31 TFW F4 Phantom aircraft.
Joanie & Jim Barclay pose under the nose of F4D Phantom 66-467 ‘Kiwi’. Joanie & Jim are wearing Nomex flight suits – Joanie has a 308 TFTS badge on her shoulder and is wearing a Torso harness
In Joanie’s case, after a few photos were taken to record the event, Jim strapped her into the back seat of F4D 66-467, appropriately named ‘Kiwi’, and emblazoned with Jim’s name and two Kiwis on the lower frame of the front cockpit canopy.
Jim & Joanie Barclay in F4D Phantom 66-467, with Jim’s rank and name, and two Kiwis, on the lower frame of the front canopy
Jim & Joanie Barclay in F4D Phantom 66-467
Using a ground-power unit to provide pre-start electrical power to the F4, and a ground unit air blower to turn the engine, Jim then started both jet engines before asking Joanie to make the radio call to the HAFB Control Tower for clearance for him to taxi the aircraft out to the duty runway. Using ‘Hot-Mike’ Jim and Joanie were able to communicate with each other in the F4 via the microphone located in each oxygen mask to earphones in each other’s Gentex flying helmet.
Jim & Joanie about to taxy out in F4D Phantom 66-467
After completing Taxi and Pre-Takeoff checks, Jim instructed Joanie to flick the little lever in the rear cockpit that would allow her canopy to close, at the same time he closed his. With clearance given from the Control Tower, Jim taxied the F4 to line up with then stop on the centreline of the 11,000 foot/3414m Runway 06 at HAFB. After smoothly and quickly advancing both hand-held throttle levers located on the left-hand side of the cockpit so as to increase engine RPM towards full ‘military power’, Jim pushed the throttles further forward ‘through the gate’ to engage both engine after-burners, as he simultaneously released the toe actuated wheel brakes. The jet leapt forward as it rapidly accelerated, but within mere seconds as the speed reached 120 knots/222kph, Jim aborted the takeoff as planned by closing both throttles to idle RPM. After applying moderate braking, he let the jet decelerate as it travelled toward the end of the 11,000 foot runway, without needing to deploy the drag chute located in the tail of the F4, or use the big arrestor hook (located under the F4 tail) on the across runway arrestor wire.
After slowing down and clearing Runway 06 via a hi-speed exit onto the parallel taxiway, Jim instructed Joanie to open her canopy and allow fresh air into her cockpit, and thus provide some relief from the otherwise warm and humid air prevalent in the cockpit as was normal in tropical Florida – the F4 cockpit air conditioning system was not effective until the aircraft became airborne.
Jim shut down one of the two engines and taxied back to flightline using the nose wheel steering system, actuated by pressing a button on the control column and using his feet on the rudder pedals that in turn utilised the F4 hydraulic system to turn the nose wheel as required for directional control. The toe actuated brakes, being part of the rudder pedals, were used to control the taxi speed of the F4. On reaching the vicinity of the assigned parking spot on the flightline, the assigned groundcrew member marshalled Jim to a stop, whereupon the remaining engine was shut down and wheel chocks were inserted by the groundcrew fore and aft of the two mainwheels – and Joanie’s Burner Bust was all over! Mission accomplished.
Joanie and Jim – smiles all round after the ‘Burner Bust’!
Afterwards, Joanie was buzzing, “How cool was that? It was most certainly an experience of a life time! Wow, that was fun – and to think you guys do that, and much more, every day. Lucky guys! In addition to the tantalising experience of my ‘Burner Bust’, I wish I could have got airborne and actually flown in the mighty F4 Phantom! Thank you USAF!”
Joanie’s bragging rights were extended by the three Barclay girls, Tracey (then aged 12), Nicola (10), and Stephanie (5), who enthusiastically chimed in to anyone within earshot to tell of ‘Mum’s Burner Bust with Dad’!
Mission accomplished – Jim & Joanie Barclay on the Flightline after the ‘Burner Bust’, with the big arrestor hook behind them, tucked up under the tail of the F4