Monday, September 21, 2009

Navy Airdale - Ground Pounder Stroy #4: Running from it All

I was running forward as fast as possible. Note that I said 'possible', stripped down I was sure I could actually go much faster. But, I was laden down with so much gear it made running nearly impossible. I was not the only one running; right in my shadow was Randy, my charge, my junior, someone I was training. Orders were for him to stay no more than one arm's length away from me and he was doing a good job. He too was carrying a ton of stuff as well and if either of us went over the side we would drown for sure.

We both had butt pack tool belts on us, each weighing in around 20 pounds. The tool kit purposely assembled and contained all the wenches, speed-wrench, screwdrivers, ratchet and many sockets plus an allen wrench set and a nut driver set, a pick or scribe, an inspection mirror, some q-tips or "swab, cotton tip, wood shaft" and a small plastic bottle of isopropyl alcohol. There was more, but it was supposed to contain the tools that would cover 80 to 90 percent of the work we would encounter during a typical day working the roof. All contained in a canvas bag, the thick web belt also carried a flash light and a small pocket for the TL29 wireman's knife.

We also carried two other canvas bags, one of these was the bag with our Tape Transport Cartridge. This loaded the S-3 Viking mission computer with software that we used for troubleshooting the avionics package. Another bag carried the code guns used for the secure radio encryption device (KY-28/58) and the IFF mode IV Challenge/Response code. These needed coding almost every flight, so we carried them.

These last bags were held on long sashes that criss-crossed our torso's. They rendered our float coats useless because you would have to jettison the bags before you could attempt to inflate the float coat. No one expected to survive falling overboard, we called all this gear "drown proofing". The butt pack tool belt would most likely drag you down all the while you were working to pull off the bags with the TTC and code guns. By the time you were free to pull the lanyard that would inflate the float coat you would be pretty deep. No one knew how deep you could be and the float coat inflate. Since it was all "low bidder" stuff no one expected to surface using the two small cylinders of CO2 that were in the coat alone. Most everyone was hoping Davy Jones himself would boost you back to the surface, or King Neptune. I was hoping for friendly dolphins or porpoise, whichever one it is that we don't eat.

Running with all this gear was as problematic as swimming, bounding all around and such. And it was running that we were doing right then. We weren't the only ones running. There were maybe 10 or 12 others heading forward out of the fantail area too. I did not stop to ask why everyone was running, when I saw the first Red Shirt go sprinting forward I joined him calling after Randy to keep up.

You see, the majority of Red Shirts on the flight deck are Ordnance men, or AO's. You know the bomb handlers, the loaders of all things that go boom. When you see them running anywhere you generally try and keep up with them.

When we got forward of the Island structure I turned and got behind a tow tractor that was parked forward of the E-2C Hawkeye in what we called "The Hummer Hole", it was an area right in front of the island. I knelt down behind the tractor and waited. I need to catch my breath and I was waiting for an explosion. Randy tucked in beside me and we sat there huffing and puffing. I looked back aft towards were the aircraft we were going to work on was parked. Back there in the pack of aircraft parked on the fantail, that was where the problem was that had spooked all the AO's. I saw noting initially.

"Clear the fantail, clear the fantail. I want all personnel to clear the fantail." It was the booming voice of the Air Boss shouting from his high perch in PRIFLY. No one came forward, it seems word of mouth or the sound of many hoofs running away had served to clear the deck ahead of the Air Boss's warning.

While I was surveying the fantail area I saw it, the thing everyone was running from. It was an A-7E Corsair II that was loose. It was not chained down nor was the brake set, either having failed or like the brake system on the S-3 had to be pumped with hydraulics' fluid. The pressure that held the brakes came from a pressurized system that slowly over time, bled off. Back then you had to pump the brakes manually with a crank handle.

Nothing anyone wanted to do in the hot sun of the Caribbean. And it was a lovely day too, warm and haze free. It was a beautiful day up there right up until the AO's hauled ass.

This is an A-7 Corsair II from CAG-17 I beleive (VA-27). Back in the day my Air Wing (CVW-7) carried two A-7 Squadrons, VA-12 and VA-66. (USN Photo)

I watched the A-7 roll to the starboard side of the ship as we rolled with the ocean. It would then roll backwards towards the port side when the ship rolled the other way. The problem with the AO's was not simply that the A-7 was loose on the deck, it was that they had been loading it with live ordnance. From where I was I could see two MER Racks with 6, 500 pound bombs on two of the pylons on the left wing. I figured the same on the other side. And these were the olive colored ones with the double yellow bands on them. The good stuff.

The A-7 rolled back to starboard and then to port. When it hit the scupper on the starboard side the plane would stop easy, but when it rolled back to the port the aircraft would actually pitch up on its main landing gear, the nose coming up off the ground. On each rotation the aircraft worked its way slowly forward and after each hit on the port side the nose came higher and higher off the ground.

Soon it would fall over on its back into the catwalk just forward of the LSO platform. Or, it would come into contact with the S-3 Randy and I were supposed to be working. This would not do.

I stood up stripping off the TTC and Gun bags, leaving them on the tractor and I started aft, Randy came with me but I admonished him to stay back. I went back to the first of the arresting gear cables and scanned the area. There were chocks and chains laying where the aircraft had originally been parked, further aft of where the plane was at now. While the AO's were loading the aircraft they had stripped off the chains and the chock to give them room to work. That was normal, they just did not re-chock and chain the one side before they went to load the other side. I guess none of the Red Shirts thought the plane would roll away on them.

I found my own set of chocks on a trailer where there was maybe another 10 or 15 sets. I had done this before and I knew what it would take to stop the plane from rolling. A couple of Yellow Shirts joined me, one calling "first dibs". I let him go out there first.

When the plane was about halfway across the deck, doing about 4 mph he tossed the chocks at the main landing gear. They bounced off and out. The other Yellow shirt did the same. No joy either. I waited knowing I wanted the jet to stop fully and before it started back go in then. Problem was that when it was against the port scupper you would not be able to use the chocks as the wheel would be backed up against the metal of the scupper. I was going to wait for the aircraft to cross and attempt to pinch the chocks in before it could start its roll back to the port side. This gave me the landing gear unencumbered, I just had to wait for it to cross and stop.

The Yellow Shirts would have none of that though. There were now a half dozen of them all trying different ways to chock the loose Corsair. I shook my head in despair as Randy came up and stood next to me. He too had a set of chocks in his hands and that big ole Wisconsin smile. I don't know what they fed them up there but he was always quick to see the lighter side of things.

"This is like pitching shoes only without the dirt." He said, referring to horseshoes. That's what it looked like too, the way the Yellow Shirts were simply taking shots at the wheel as the planed rolled by. They were yelling at each other like it was a contest and someone was taking score.

"You want to go out and do this?" I asked Randy, even though I knew he was game for anything. "Sure, what's the plan?" he replied.

I showed him how to pull the pin on the chock and ratchet it all the way out to max wide open. I then told him when he struck it to the deck, pin it and lean into the long arm going to starboard, which would keep it from being pulled free or dragged as the plane rolled back. I told him he would take the near side and I would cross to the far side and pin the opposite wheel. We would hit the plane at the same time and wait for others to follow up with chains. Then someone could board the jet and pump up the brakes, all would be well.

We stepped out, I waved off the Yellow Shirts, they had brought out a tractor that they were discussing ramming into the aircraft and pinning it back with that.

"Stand back, we got it!" I yelled. Randy and I stepped out passed the gaggle of Yellow Shirts and I pointed to a spot where I wanted Randy to stand, he went there and waited, I trotted aft to be on the other side as the aircraft rolled by. It pitched up on its main wheels, the nose was maybe 4 feet off the ground before it started back, it actually bounced several times as it rolled back to the starboard side.

When the plane hit the starboard scupper I moved in.

"Now Randy, Hit it now, hit it!" I yelled. We both scrambled under the wings and into the gear. Before the Corsair could start back across the flight deck we were both pinning it with chocks. I could hear the gaggle of Yellow Shirts clapping and yelling.

"Chains, Chains, get some Chains." I yelled. Randy yelled at them too. They stood there.

Then the Air Boss spoke up, his booming voice scattering the Yellow Shirts like a flock of dove.

"Get that aircraft chained down. NOW" He screamed. Soon there were Blue and Brown shirts throwing chains onto the jet. I lay on the chock until I saw three sets of chains on my side and I then stood up and walked away. I joined Randy behind the A-7. No damage, no boom.

And no AO's were around either; there were no Red Shirts in sight except for the Crash Crew. I guess they knew someone's head was going to roll and none of them wanted to be even accused of being part of this. Big chickens.

Randy and I returned to the tractor where we had left our gear, we suited up and were going to go back to work when a Fly 2 Yellow Shirt came up to us. He said the Air Boss wanted us up in PRI FLY immediately, he pointed up to the glassed in area 10 floors above the flight deck.

Now, I had worked for a long time on the Flight Deck and the only time us "little people" were called to PRI FLY was for an ass chewing or a demotion, usually both. It was not a place for me.

I told the Yellow Shirt we'd go right up. Randy and I walked to the Island and went into the big door where the ladder started that went up the 9 or 10 flights up to where the Air Boss lived. Once we went into the Island the Yellow Shirt stopped following us, we were on our own. I asked Randy if he felt like coffee, he looked at me odd.

"Look, they eat people like you and me up there and they don't even choke on the bones. They don't give out stripes up there, they take them. Now, I'd rather go get a coffee and let things settle down before we come back up here. They will have their hands full eating AO's anyway." I said. He agreed, however reluctantly.

Instead of going up the ladder I took us around and through a short passageway and through the ATO shop, a couple of guys sorting packages gave us looks as we crossed the space and then we went out on the far side of the Island and then down into the catwalk and off the flight deck. We returned to the shop and I told Randy not to say anything.

Sometime later I was called down to the Ready Room. There was a small crowd around the one TV that carried the flight deck video. It was bolted into the overhead and they were all staring up at it. They were reviewing the incident with the A-7. The crowd parted when I arrived and I was asked to come forward and watch the video. I was asked if I recognized the two men that finally chocked the A-7. It was plain as day the two had great big VS-31 on their float coats but you could not see their faces and our helmets were almost identical with any other squadron maintenance crew up there. I shook my head no and turned to leave.

"You sure?" it was my Division Officer. "Yes sir, I'm sure I can not make an identification." I replied. "We think it was you up there." He said and actually touched to glass on the TV putting his finger on me as I moved to the far side of the aircraft. "And we think this one is AT3 Randy." He was smiling at me, knowing I was caught.

I thought about this but for just a splilt second or two.

"No, we always have the TTC and Code Gun bags on us, you should be able to see the two sashes criss-cross the torso's or at the very least the bags hanging on them under the float coat, but we don't wear them inside. Too bulky that way. No, that's a different pair, not AT3 Randy and me." I replied.

I stared at the DIV-O, I had not sold him but he was not going to make a scene. I heard someone else say that I was right, the AT's always have that 'stuff' on over the float coasts. He nodded slightly and I turned to leave but he followed me out of the Ready Room and out into the passageway.

"Petty Officer Taylor, a moment please." He said. I stopped in the passageway and waited. In a whispered voice he said "The Air Boss wants to hand out an Atta-Boy over what happened up there. I know that was you but I can't figure out for the life of me why you are avoiding recognition."

"This is the Navy sir; no good deed ever goes unpunished." I said, He did not understand, it was a culture all of us Roof Rats lived in.

" Look," I said, " I have to work with all those guys that were tossing chocks around like horseshoes, I can't have them getting their ass's chewed for being dim wits and me and Randy getting the pat on the back. It's a small crew up there, they know it was us so, the next time I need something, like a plane moved, or an elevator run they will give me gas, tie it up over night or the next cycle. This way, well they know I passed on the friendly meet and greet with the Air Boss and they give me what I want when I want it. You can help Petty Officer Randy out if you want, take him off the watch bill next time we are in port. Endorse his Eval's or something. "

His mood changed, and he nodded his head. "I never looked at it that way. I'll say something discreetly to the XO and he can break the news top side. They'll never believe this, but. You have been around long enough to know what you are doing." We both nodded, I waited there a moment.

"Well, good night Petty Officer Taylor." And he returned to the Ready Room. I went back to the shop.

The next few weeks Randy and I were golden.

Whenever we needed even something minor from the Air Gang we got it. We even had other shops calling over and asking us to ask them for elevator runs or to pull an aircraft out of TOW (tail over water). Randy understood the first time we went for help and later when we pulled a port-o-call at St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. He found it unusual that he had all 5-days off duty free. No questions asked.

I pulled shore patrol on the first and last day. It was nice just the same.

BT: Jimmy T sends.


Bag Blog said...

I didn't have time to read this yesterday, but I knew it would be good and planned on reading it when I had time. You didn't disappoint me.

JimmyT said...

Lou, thanks. One of those time where I had time to think of the dangers. Usually things happen and you simply react. More in the mill!!

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Buck said...

You displayed a most interesting read and understanding of the culture at the end of the tale, Jimmy. Life sure as Hell was exciting on the roof, wasn't it?

Barco Sin Vela II said...

Awesome story!

JimmyT said...

Buck, I had worked up there a long time by this even (more than yars) and I had a great teacher as well, he taught me so much about human relations. I should write about him. The key to a lot of my success was knowing the angles and how to play them. That was a big part of the job.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

JimmyT said...

Barco, thanks. An adventure with those pesky Ordie's.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Reese said...

Can only echo sentiments above: totally excellent.