Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Colors of the Flight Deck - Yellow

In a continuing series on my humble electronic home, I want to introduce you to the many and varied colors of shirts worn on the Flight Deck of your typical Aircraft Carrier. The color is significant in what the people are doing and even within the color there are differences.

Explained herein Today's lesson: The Yellow Shirt.

There are actually two flavors of Yellow Shirts that you will see on the typical flight deck. There are what we call 'Handlers' or 'Directors' and then there are Cat 'O''s (Officers).

The Cat O's are the ones you see waving his hand in the sky between the Catapults and signal the actual release of the aircraft into the wild blue yonder. There are not too many of them and they pretty much stay at or near the two sets of catapults, between the two bow cat's and another one between the two waist cat's. These guys are called 'Shooters'.
A Shooter on the USS Harry S Truman lets one go! (USN Photo)

Handlers and Directors are up there aplenty, generally anytime an aircraft is moved either under its own power with a Pilot at the controls or by a tow tractor there is a Yellow Shirt involved, actually several of them may be involved. They are the guys that spot aircraft on each catapult prior to launch and they are used to land and direct the take-off of Helicopters, known as LSE's or Landing Signal Enlisted (I never figured out why Officers landed fixed wing aircraft and the rotary wing guys were landed by Enlisted but that is how it is).

An LSE directs a Marine AH-1W Cobra into the sky to commence a mission. (USN Photo)

Here, a Director positions a C-2 Greyhound onto the catapult for launch. (USN Photo)

The typical flight deck is divided into three broad sections called 'Fly's'. Fly-1 is what we called the Bow, the area from the very pointy end to about the back of the forward set of Jet Blast Deflectors. Fly-3 is the area from the back of the boat to roughly the area forward of the last arresting wire or cross deck pendant (this is the part of the wire that you see). The area in-between them, is Fly-2.
All the Directors/Handlers wear your typical cranial helmet but these are modifed to include a radio and microphone. This appartus is known around the roof as "mickey mouse". This allows the Boss or Ships Handler to precisely position each Yellow Shirt and then move aircraft between them.

A Fly-3 Yellow Shirt pulls an F-14D out of the pack on the ship Fantail. (USN Photo)

The 'Hand-Off'. One Handler passes control of a Jet to another
up deck from his position. (USN Photo)

Having these territories is very important because when aircraft are taxing around on the flight deck, the Yellow Shirts don't move. They pick a spot in clear view of the pilot and give him/her directions for taxing the aircraft. They don't ever step backwards, only towards the aircraft under their control. Because of this, you have to have several Yellow Shirts stationed strategically around the flight deck to move the aircraft around. They are in charge of the aircraft while directing it, if they smash it into another aircraft or god forbid into something stationary, like the boat itself, well, they get their pretty yellow shirts taken away and are made to wear a different color, usually Purple but sometimes Blue.

The bravest Yellow Shirt of all is the Yellow Shirt that 'catches' the jets during the landing cycle. What happens during a landing is that when the aircraft hits the deck the pilot automatically advances the throttles on the aircraft to full power. This usually guarantees that the aircraft will have enough flight speed to get back into the air if the hook misses all the wires, known as a bolter. When the hook catches a wire, or a trap, someone has to be there to indicate to the pilot what to do. Such as, reduce the throttle to idle, release the brakes, stow your tail hook, fold your wings and taxi right and out of the landing zone.

This is all the work of the bravest Yellow Shirt. This is because he stands right there next to the foul line at the roll-out end of the landing zone and watches the arresting gear. If anything comes off the jet, or if it should come in a little too much to right of centerline, he has some trouble right in his face.

The Catcher at his post, note the foul line demarking the landing zone. Also, note how clean the one Yellow is, he is most likely a transfer from another division or a Blue shirt that was promoted to Yellow. (USN Photo)

Not a tough job as long as everything goes right, but there was a reason we called this Yellow Shirt the "first one dead" Yellow Shirt.

No kidding.

Here is the 'gaggle' for the launch of a VS-41 S-3, note all the colored shirts. Note also the Shooter with the crossed guns on his float coat. (USN Photo)

BT: Jimmy T sends.


Barco Sin Vela II said...

I always had mucho respect for the guys on the roof. Performing my job, I used to leave the ready room with my big green bag, look hesitantly out the waist cat access door, stop. Look carefully right and left, then scurry quickly to the waiting H-3 spotted for launch.

I was the one wearing a wetsuit and rubber booty's rather than the hard sole boots.

The smell of hot grease and steam remain deep in my memory.

Buck said...

I'm getting educated. Between you and Lex, Jimmy, I'll eventually semi-understand the Navy. Maybe. :D

Fine writing.

JimmyT said...

Barco - that steam was the best. I loved final checking so that I could bask in the wash of that steam coming back onto me as I cleared the cat. Those were the days!!

Buck - I'll be doing maybe 6 of these to get through all the colors then I'll do Navy Tech. Get into more of the workings around the Roof!!

BT: Jimmy T sends.