Low Levels

This week, one of the subjects for my commercial class was airspace and as always, I made mention of the military training routes on the sectional charts.  When I was flying in the Navy, we routinely referred to the routes as “low-levels” and I have to say, they were fun to fly.

What made them fun?  Flying the routes at 150 to 200 feet off the surface at speeds of 540 knots!  Occasionally, a student will ask about that 250-knot-below-10,000-foot rule.

“Not applicable on a military training route in a military airplane,” was my standard answer.

Five hundred and forty knots!  If you divide by 60, you quickly discover you can refer to that same velocity as nine miles a minute.  Nine miles a minute!  Over 910 feet per second.  Almost as fast as a speeding bullet—well—a slow speeding bullet anyway.

Still, 540 KIAS is fast!

From the cockpit, the world looks completely different.  The best I can do to describe it is to take you back to the movie, Star Wars.  When Luke flies into the crevasse on the Death Star, the scene shows the craft screaming through the corridor on his mission.

Got to tell you, flying a jet close to the ground at those speeds is just like that.  On the routes in Florida, it is somewhat easy because you don’t have to worry about changing elevations and rock outcroppings.

I remember being on VR-1002 one fine Friday approaching the Gulf of Mexico near Cedar Key.  I was pushing it hard around the corner in a high-g low altitude right turn.  I had my Corsair banked over to about 75 degrees angle-of-bank; the g-meter was somewhere near four in the turn.  I looked down, to my right, and there were a couple of guys on a boat, fishing.  I wondered what they were catching.  For just a moment, they stopped fishing and waved.  I waved back, but wondered if they saw it before I was gone.

Out West, things are a little different.  You have to worry about the changing elevations and those rock outcroppings.

In other words, when you fly up to a ridgeline, you have to roll the jet upside down—200 feet above the ground.  Then you pull about four g’s across the ridgeline to the get to the other side.  When they told us we would learn how to do this at Weapons School, we all looked a little like deer staring into headlights.

The first few times, we never made it close to crossing at 200 feet above the rocks.  But eventually with a little practice, we got it.  Just as I am sure, the new generation has got it.

Wish I could go flying with them sometime.  I miss the low-levels.


© 2011 J. Clark

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