Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Navy Airdale – Ground Pounder Story #2

This photo http://www.neptunuslex.com/2009/09/01/the-downside-to-a-plastic-jet/ over at Lex's place triggered this story, happened in the spring of 1978 or so while aboard the USS Eisenhower.



It was a gorgeous day out, we were in Caribbean waters and it was the spring season. The day time temps were only in the mid to high 80's but with a stiff wind thanks to the USS Eisenhower always hauling ass around the ocean. It felt nice out.

I was standing on the water side of the #2 elevator waiting for it to lift an EA-6B to the Roof. Myself and my newest victim were carrying a Radar Transmitter to our next Go bird. The Transmitter weighs in at 112 pounds so you have to move it on the elevators. This one was cannibalized out of the one of the Squadron Hanger Queens. Cannibalization is a way of life in the VS community. I have the patch to prove it.

My victim today was Randy V., a young fresh AT3. He had actually been in the squadron for more than half a year but after 3 months in a mess cooking detail and then three more doing laundry he had pretty much forgot everything he knew about the S-3. That happens to newbie's to the squadron, especially non-rates or those who have not yet made it to that first NCO stripe. 3ard Class or PO3.

This was better for me as I liked having a blank slate to work from. By now I had been in the Squadron almost 4 straight years. I was king of the Flight Deck from my shop and to keep from being bored (if you could imagine being bored and on the flight deck at the same time) I was given the additional duty of being the shop Training Petty Officer. That was good by me; I had a theory that 3-months working the flight deck, with the right person doing the training, and a person would know more about the Jet than if they had spent that time in the school house. In fact, I fully believed one could go there and teach the Jet in the school house.

Randy was assigned to me and he and I had an understanding; when we were on the flight deck, he had to be in my shadow. And I meant that in a way that if I could not get a hand on him, I could not guarantee keeping him alive. Too many things up there killed and maimed and I was going to look out for myself first and give him that one outstretched hand. If I could latch onto him with it, he would be safe. Otherwise, well he was on his own and so far it was working.

We both stared into the water, it was that beautiful green color, with some Sargasso weed interspaced as we steamed along. A school of flying fish broke the surface and flew a few feet before falling back into the ocean and reappearing.

"Wow, Flying Fish. That's supposed to be a lucky thing to see." Randy said. "That's dolphins or porpoises', not flying fish." I replied. "Yeah, but we are on an aircraft carrier, that has to be luckily for us." He retorted. Ah, it's nice to be young and naive.

The claxon soon wailed and the elevator sped it's way straight up to the Roof. We put on our helmets and took either side of the heavy piece of electronics, hauling it to the waiting Hoover spotted on Cat 1. As usual, it would be the first or second Jet airborne after the helo's had taken station. The rest of the Flight Deck crew was in a re-spot cycle, preparing the next group of aircraft for the next event.

Suddenly, the 5MC speakers cackled as they do when the mike in PRI FLY is keyed for someone to speak. We were a good 20 minutes from engine start of the next launch cycle so whatever was going to be said was not usual. "On the Flight Deck" the Air Boss' voice boomed out of the 5MC speakers, spaced every few feet around the flight deck perimeter. These all weather speakers roared out 100 plus decibels of sound power. Usually tolerable when wearing your cranial helmet, but it was ear splitting without. I cringed.

"On the Flight Deck," he repeated, "This is not a drill, this is not a drill." Well, whatever he was going to say was important; nothing ever good comes after those words.

"Emergency pull forward. We have an F-14 inbound with an engine fire. Make a ready deck. Pull all aircraft forward. Clear the Landing zone for fixed wing recovery in 5 minutes." This was big. A burning aircraft that they want to land.

The Flight Deck erupted in activity. Yellow, blue and green shirts ran aft ahead of the tow tractors which sped aft as well. The 5MC cackled time and again calling for Plane Captains to man their Jets or lacking one, for any squadron rep to man this aircraft or that. These were jets that needed brake riders for the tow forward. Aircraft were pulled forward and parked where ever there was room. The usual carefully lined up rows of aircraft were now haphazardly parked willy-nilly.

We had a green deck in 5 as requested. Then word was spread to break out fire hoses. Up till now, Randy and I had quietly stood under our S-3, safely parked out of the way of the hysteria that comes from an Emergency Pull Forward. I told Randy to saddle up and we went to bear a hand with the hose crew.

We wound up being the 4th and 5th man back on the salt water line, it would be used with a fog applicator to suppress flames and protect the fire party. The other hose was the foam hose; it would actually be the one to put the fire out. We pulled both hoses out dry stretching them out to the very edge of the landing zone. About 3/4s the way down the landing zone run out. Right in the middle of the crotch area, then we kneeled down while others around us prepared.

Up forward, Corpsman assembled bringing with them the big aluminum boxes with the red cross on the sides, stokes litters were stacked in piles and new lengths of hose were carried out and men assigned to them in pairs. There were maybe 30 or 40 men up there in the forest of aircraft, waiting. They were the "second in."

"On the Flight Deck." The 5MC blared out once again. "Rig for flight operations, Check for helmets on and buckled, sleeves rolled down" the Air Boss rattled off his flight ops check list, albeit early but necessary just the same.

Things were quiet on the two hoses; someone said something about seeing the aircraft. I looked aft and about 2 miles out you could not miss the black pall of smoke billowing up in the middle of the sky. The two aircraft continued inbound; one was the wing mate to the stricken aircraft. It peeled off and made a clearing turn away.

"Wow, look at that!" it was Randy, right behind me. "This is so cool!" he said.

What!! I thought. I looked at him and I knew my face had that look that said I was going to eat him.

"This ain't 'cool' Randy!" I said. "Take a look up front. See all those guys up there, some of them are waiting for casualties, those boxes are first aid supplies and the stokes are for carrying away the wounded. And you see all those rolled up hose segments, those are to replace the hoses we are holding in our hands. We are the casualties they are waiting for. They will be the second fire party in to the plane crash that is happening right in front of us. No I wouldn't call it cool. Crazy maybe, but not cool."

"Oh Gawd! Someone moaned. "He's not in charge, the Air Boss is." Some else said. The fire party On-Scene leader stood up and called for water. We braced as 250 psi sea water charged into the hoses. They are heavy when filled and we all had to adjust to holding the hoses up off the flight deck. I hunkered down behind the large Ordnance Man in front of me. He was hunkered behind the guy in front of him. We were all hunkered down like penguins bracing from the cold.

"On the Flight Deck, the aircraft is 1 mile out. Prepare to recover aircraft." I wondered about the utility in this. The F-14 was new in our Air Wing. We had Phantoms on my prior two Med Cruises. None of them ever burst into flames while airborne. Well, these Tomcats were new, I guess they were still a few bugs to work out.

You could clearly see the jet, smoke billowed out behind it but you could not see flame.

The aircraft crossed the ramp and hammered the sweet spot, but the hook skipped over both the 3 and 4 wire. A Hook Skip Bolter. Bad luck there. The Jet roared by us at full engine power for the one motor working. As it went by us the whole back of the jet burst into flame. You could feel the heat as it went by only 70 feet away from us. It climbed into the sky and executed a perfect left turn and then another as the aircraft entered the downwind leg.

"Oh man, this is nuts!" someone said. "They are crazy for staying in that jet. Why don't they bail on it?" another asked. "I think they still owe money on it!" an anonymous voice responded. We all chuckled.

"On the Flight Deck. We are going to bring him back for another try. Stand by" the 5MC rumbled.

We all watched as the smoking Tomcat flew downwind and then commence its turn toward the boat. It was turning into the "groove" as they called it. Then, it suddenly it went wings level and the canopy popped off. A split second later the two seats emerged shooting into the sky. The aircraft splashed into the water with a great geyser of water and steam. It did not float even a little; it just went into the deep. The crew gently floated down on two good parachutes. The Plane Guard helo's were already moving to pick them up.

We all stood up, the tension of the last few minutes gone. Everyone was relieved and we automatically started stowing gear.

The two aircrew were back on deck only minutes after abandoning the Jet, we never heard if they decided to simply pull the lever or if the aircraft went uncontrollable and they left it when it wouldn't fly anymore. I applaud them for staying with it so long. That was nuts.

Later that night, at the conclusion of the flying day I was up in the shop filling out Randy's training jacket. Yeah, I know it's a character flaw. I document the training on the day it happens instead of the traditional method of waiting until the day before the Training Audit and then pencil whipping the lot. I wrote in the time in minutes/hours spent on each item we worked on that day, system by system. When I got to the bottom where "Damage Control/Fire Fighting" was, I paused.

It was only a few minutes, a lesson that would last him a lifetime. How do you document that? I simply wrote in "Cool" and closed the jacket.

Hmm, MIDRATS was on, a big heaping helping of powdered eggs would be good about now. I hustled to the forward mess decks.

BT: Jimmy T Sends.


ASM826 said...

I worked on Marine F-4s in the 1970s and '80s. Never went aboard a carrier.

You have a gift for taking the reader out on the flightline. I'll be watching for more USN and Naval Aviation stories. Oh, and I put you on my blogroll. Your story about the Master Chief was enough.

Semper Fi,

Buck said...

What ASM826 said. BZ on this one, Jimmy.

OT... but: The Transmitter weighs in at 112 pounds so you have to move it on the elevators.

Heh. You'd need a couple of fork lifts and more than one semi to haul the transmitters on the radars I worked on, LOL! Just as an example... the transmitter on the FPS-35 took up an entire floor and had "walk-in" modulators. That radar was a freakin' monster.

JimmyT said...

Mark, Thanks for the addition to your Blog Roll, I put your site up when I went live because of the Scouting. BTW, I'll be posting the GO Patrol story on here in the near future. And I do have more Navy Stories both At Sea and Ashore!!

Buck, I have seen such stuff, in fact, one of the few things I had in common with my Father is that he was in Electronics as well while he was in the Air Force. He did not talk about it much but when I came home from A-School which is the same as your Tech School down at Keasler AFB, he showed me pictures of him welding new plates into a huge vacuum tube. It was part of a transmitter used to radio submarines at a wavelength so low that the antenna was around 2000 miles long. I was astounded, but it explained the Job he had because he was a welder of specialty metals, like silver or stainless steal.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

virgil xenophon said...


I said over at Lex's somewhere--don't know if you were around that day--and more recently at Cmdr Sal's place when they were discussing the finer points of replacement & maint of the arresting wires, that as an AF guy I've got all the respect in the world for the Navy because their's not another branch that demands such technical competence A-Z, top to bottom from so many people--enlisted and officers--just to make some VERY complicated, complex equipment work right in "normal-normal' training and daily operational situations, let alone combat. All of the secondary duties that must be mastered--fire & damage control, etc.--are unk in the AF for most maintenance types, personnel and supply types etc. And the daily, minute by minute dangers faced such as exists on the flight
deck or in a sub, or even a regular surface warfare ship
with LOTS of complicated machinery that can go wrong and be life threatening is almost totally, completely unk in the AF. I realize that every service branch has it's own special unique complications
and terrors, but the Navy stands out as truly unique in this regard imho, and my hat's off to you guys! This little vignette, besides being a great read, really spotlights that fact.

(Did I suck up enough? :) )

JimmyT said...

VX, yes you did!! LOL. That was one of the reasons I joined the Navy, I wanted to work the flight deck so very bad because of the tolerance in everything. And of course the measure if there is a mistake or a problem, people around you pay with their lives or major body parts - this you see as it happens. There is no way to measure that. It was fun, but like I said in that very first story I posted here (http://voicefromthenoise.blogspot.com/2009/08/navy-airedale-ground-pounder-stories-1.html), it is for the young!!

Thanks again for coming around.

BT: Jimmy T sends.