Monday, August 24, 2009

Navy Airedale - Ground Pounder Stories #1

My First Day on the Job:

We all called it simpy "The Roof". It was 4.5 acres of steel. And I am not taling about beer can steel; this was good old fashion Iron. And nothing but, thick too! The Roof was designed to take a pounding from aircraft weighing more than 70,000 pounds and more. There were no soft edges; even the surface was covered in a layer of the deepest anti-ski material that man was capable of putting down. This stuff removed skin right down to muscle if you had the misfortune of falling and skidding on it. The Roof respected no one, it may well be the very bedrock of all Navy Aviation because it is so demanding and unforgiving. It truley seperates Naval Air from any other flying service.

I loved working on the Roof.

I will say this up front; it was the hardest, dirties, most mentally challenging work I have ever done and would go back there in a minute if I knew the place would wound not kill me. Time and age has a degrading affect on your reflexes and you need all of them working at full capacity to work there any length of time and survive. It is work for the young of mind, body, heart and sprit.

When I first went to sea with the S-3 or Hoover, I was not the only one that was doing something new. The squadron, VS-31 Topcats, was new to the S-3 as well as the Air Wing and ship since the S-3 was just then being fielded. Every time an S-3 Squadron deployed it was a milestone since the aircraft was brand new. All 11 of our aircraft came straight from the Lockheed factory in Burbank. They still had that new plane smell when we got them. It would be a few months yet before they started taking on that familar smell of BO, sweat and vomit. Hmmm, how sweet.

So, when I first went topside to 'catch' my first S-3 it was new for everyone not just me. Now my Job at the time was two fold. I was to be the Avionics shop rep or Troubleshooter who would handle any last moment problems with the aircraft's extensive avionics package. My second Job was as a "Final Checker".

Checkers do the final touch on the Jet prior to the catapult ride off the ship. We checked all the fittings on the Jet, looked for hydraulic fluid and engine oil leaks, made sure there were no panels loose or open, we verified that the landing gear linkages and door lingages are free and not binding and the hydraulic reservoirs were full.

We basically patted down the Jet while it was being attached to the catapult. You had only the time it took them to position and hook the Jet to the catapult to finish the check and assume a position where the Aircraft Handler could see you give him a thumb: up or down.

You also watched the aircraft flight controls while the Pilot did a 'wipeout' of his flight controls making sure they were working and not binding. This was usually done with the aircraft at full power, screaming to get airborne. The pilot would then salute the Handler who would hand the aircraft over to the 'Shooter' and he would signal the actual launch of the Jet off the ship. The famous tip on the deck.

On this first day we were working only with my squadron of S-3's and the Hummer Squadron flying the E-2 Hawkeye (this was the Early Warning Squadron) from VAW-117. The plan was to start late (1100 hours or 11:00am) and work the aircraft doing both Tounch-n-Go's and then Cat-n-Trap's. That is the Pilots would practice landing and then start taking the wire and stopping, then immediately going to a catapult for a launch and them back into the pattern for another landing. At sometime there would be a pilot switch between the two front seats so the right seater could get some Qual's in also. Usually this is accomplished while the aircraft was being refueled on deck, with the motors running, known as a Hot Switch. My Squadron was bringing all 11 aircraft and the Hummer squadron was bringing all 5 of thier birds as well.

We were starting late because the plan was to do Night Qual's as soon as it got dark and work till around midnight. It was going to be a long first day. To a man, we were all excited and ready.

And so it went for the first 3 or 4 hours. A Hoover would trap and as it crossed the lowered Jet Blast Deflector I would trot over, signal the crew and start my Final Check. Sometimes I would do the Port side of the Jet, sometimes the Starboard. We worked in pairs to cover the whole Jet. When a Hummer was on the cat, I and eveyone else not involved in launching that aircraft would wait our turn in the "Pig Pen". This is a safe place (relatively speaking of course) between the two bow catapults. It is a painted box on the deck where you could stand and then squat down for each launch. It was just a place that was relatively out of the way of the immediate launch in progress.

Safe, right?

So, there I am in the Pig Pen, waiting my turn. A Hummer was just then going into tension on Cat 1 and I took a knee to get down and take the blast from the E-2 when it was tossed off the pointy end. At the same time we had one of our S-3's doing a Tounch-n-Go in the landing zone.

That's how it is on the Roof; stuff happens all around you and all of it is stuff that will kill you. You have to watch all of it, all the time.

So, while I am down on my knee, in those few seconds with the Hummer at full strain on the cat and my back to the landing zone, AG703 did her Touch-n-Go and just for fun, it shed a Hub cover.

This is a kind of hub cap on the wheel. It is about 6 inches in diameter and 4 inches deep and made of maybe a quarter inch thick aluminum. There is some weight to it but that's not too important in this instance, it had momentum. This momentum came from the aircraft speed of some where near 100 knots (120 mph). This is the approach speed of the S-3 give or tak 10 knots. No matter, this piece of aluminum popped off and flew itself like a missile down town, looking for a victim.

You guessed it, Me.

People told me later that it sounded like an artillery shell coming in, that whistling sound but this one ended in a thud.

My fledgling self protection alarm sounded in my mind and my instinct was to stand up (I couldn't go anywhere except into more dangerous places). The hub cover caught me in the righ hip. Not bad, it could have been the right side of my head and maybe the end of Me right there.

The impact was so hard that it lifted me up several feet and spun me around tossing me forward and into the Pig Pen where several other men were waiting out the E-2 launch, they broke my fall. Pandemonium broke out around me, the E-2 finally departed and people circled me, there were many scared faces staring down at me eyes bluging out. You see, I was thrashing about like I was hooked up to electricity. You know how fish out of water look, yeah Me.

A pair of Corpsman came up and took over, holding me down and trying to calm me. I was sure I had lost a leg and even whent they held both feet up for me to see I thought they were lying. One of the first things they teach you in first aid training is to reassure the patient so they dont' go into shock. I knew this. So, in my mind they were just holding my severed leg up next to the attached one to reassure me that I was Ok. It was not working.

So, they brought out a Stokes which is a basket style litter or strecher and strapped me in and hauled me away, off the Roof and downstaris to Medical, inside the ship. I was the first casualty of the line period, I wouldn't be the last. Nor would this be my last ride in a Stokes. In the nearly 4 years of working up there I would be carried away two more times. Those are stories for another day.

Epilogue: The story of my recovery and return to work is another story. It is more of a story about the relationship between a very young sailor and an ole salt Master Chief, a story of a strong will and a legacy, one that I will cover in a future post.

BT: Jimmy T sends.


Buck said...

Wow... just WOW. Great stuff, Jimmy!

JimmyT said...

Thanks Buck, part 2 is on the way, later this week. Even more on the way.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Musings on life the universe and things said...

Hi, I'm doing some research about Navy flight operations---I'm trying to figure out where a realistic observer location might be for a jet noise simulation, and I wonder if you might be able to describe how far away people are supposed to stand during launch as it sounds you have somewhat of a feel for that environment.