Showing posts with label Carrier Operations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carrier Operations. Show all posts

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Artifacts Part 1

These are things that I have laying around here from my past that are interesting and mainly speak to my days in the Navy.

My Flight Deck Cranial Helmet.

This first one is a "special" done for me by one of the Shop First Class that was a budding artist. I can't remember his name right now and I am not inclined to dig it up as he turned out to be an assHat. He once responded to my comment about getting stabbed in the back that he only put "sugar coated" knives in my back. Now, he did caricatures for many of us in the shop and in the squadron. I was known as kind of both a geek and a warmonger. I was in love with the Nuke, felt that it was not used enough (still do by the way). This helmet shows both, I was the Squadrons go-to-man for Computer repair, it was the single most complicated piece of gear in our jet and really made it possible for us to do with 4 crewman what the P-3 did with 16. I wore this helmet for quite a long time making numerous cruises onboard the USS Independence but when we first went onto the USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) these helmets were banned because of the famous "Eat Pussy" affair.

This is the helmet cover I wore after that:

Now, you want to know what the "Eat Pussy" affair was all about. Well, when we were onboard the Eike we had a lot of VIP's come aboard to you know look around the newest and most advanced ship in the Navy. One of these, not sure if it was SECNAV or SECDEF was taking a free ride in one of our S-3's which was a big deal since we had two full sets of flight controls so you could put a real pilot on and take a VIP out and actually let them fly the plane. So we saw a bunch of them, VIP's, we even had a special crew that would fly with VIP's all specially screened and good looking like. To make a good impression. Well, this one day we are launching this VIP out on a quick flight and we do our thing. The Cat Hook-up guy strolls up to hook the mighty Viking to the Catapult and here he is wearing on his helmet in great big letters "Eat Pussy". That's reflective too oh by the way, you could see it 20 feet away in the dark!
Well, this VIP gets on the radio and says something like "That's something you do see every day!" and before he returns for his obligatory arrested landing the Ship has come out with a proclamation regarding helmet markings. And we had to change them post haste. The funny thing is that the Boat thought it was one of us in the Squadron with the 'offensive' helmet and only mandated those of us in VS-31 change out, all the while the Cat Hook-up guy strode around advertising his favorite shish kabob meat (how else do you cat). Anyway, several VIP's later and he was toast too.
This is the last surviving Flight Deck Jersey I own, this is a green one. You can see how they fade in the laundry and the black stripe that meant we were members of a Squadron, not Ships Company. Of course the great big VS-31 helps with that id as well. I also wore white ones with a checkerboard on it but none of the survived. You will please note without comment on the size, no way will that fit on me today. Same for this next item:
Genuine gabardine navy pants. Original buttons too. Size, well let's just say they are way smaller than me today.

This is a "Piddle pack".

Used by male aviators that have to relieve themselves while flying. You can see the long neck and the compressed sponges to absorb and contain the uh, fluid. I kept this one, it was part of my small flight back that I kept for when I went flying (still have the flight suit but we have seen enough items that don't fit me). We actually had a storage box in the aircraft to store these. Once Females started flying in high numbers the Navy got rid of these, issuing instead these things that are by all rights and intent – adult diapers.

This is my TL-29 with belt holder.

The TL-29 was a wireman's knife and had the screwdriver blade (which is deployed) and an actual knife blade. We used these pretty much every day. They came out later with an improved version, the TL-31 but I never changed over. I was happy with the old one and carry to this day a knife on my hip; a Leatherman Serge along with a flashlight and my cell phone. Some habits you just don't shake.

Next item is a Hook Point. This is the business end of the tail hook of an S-3 Viking. The thing is huge and very heavy. They are actually removed after every 100 traps and tossed out, so they are big collector's items. Problem is they are very heavy maybe around 50 pounds. I put a slide rule in the picture for scale. You can see the abrading that occurs by the arresting wire in the maw of the hook, the braiding pattern is actually scored into the metal.

Finally, here is my Journal.

This was given to me on the evening I graduated High School by my Folks. They knew I would be leaving and that I loved to write. It was the perfect gift, it went to boot camp, Memphis and technical training, Jacksonville Florida and it survived all the many trips to sea (two different ships) and even the big move to Pennsylvania. It is more than three quarters full with my many stories, little notes, ad's I clipped from newspapers and notices that struck my fancy.

The last entry is immediately before I got married back in 1982. Nothing since.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Navy Ground Pounder - My Longest Day of Work

The following are excerpts from my Journal during the Month of June 1977 while deployed aboard the USS Independence (CV-62). We were in the Mediterranean Sea conducting National Week Exercises against the USS Saratoga (CV-60) and her battle group and select NATO participants. These were Blue versus Orange Forces and we along with several Spanish and Turkish ships were the Orange Force. The Blue Force was our opposition and in general our two Battle Groups were going to fight each other. War at Sea.

These next 10 days we would work non-stop putting aircraft in the sky. This long event would become the longest single work day of my life.

Day 1

40*41'N x 11*16'E Steaming South - Somewhere between Sardinia and Naples

The war starts; we had 24 hours to get away from the anchorage at Taranto and we hauled ass all day and night. We started our first flying day under the "War rules" at 0430 with the launch of 2 of our Vikings. We had 9 events in 20 hours sending out 14 aircrafts total for the day. Not sure what they were doing out there because we were busy getting aircraft cleared off the Hanger bay. They have promised to let us join in on a couple of Alpha Strikes but we have to continue our normal work load of 2x1 sorties. So everything in our inventory has to fly.

This was the start; I was assigned to the Flight Deck from the AT Shop along with two other technicians. We would work together on any aircraft that went to the Flight Deck with the shop responsible for the aircraft staged in the Hanger. This meant that the 10 guys per shift in the shop would take care of maybe only 3 or 4 jets a day while the 3 of us on the flight deck would tackle the rest; we owned 11 aircraft on this deployment. It was an uneven playing field but no one worked the Flight Deck for free, since it was a hazardous place you only went up there if you were going to be paid extra. Flight Deck Hazardous Pay was all of $55.00 before taxes (yeah, they taxed that too) and our shop was only allowed three "skins". The ground rules were the three of us on the Roof would work our own schedule as needed, covering all the launches and recoveries. We would work any gripes on a jet that stayed on the Roof; if it was moved to the Hanger it fell to the shop to fix.

Day 2

38*39'N x 6*45'E At Sea - North of Constantine, Algeria

Another busy day, 11 events and 17 aircraft sorties. We are down to a single Hanger Queen (705 of course) but we are told it should be out for a check flight in the morning. Went to my rack for a change of clothes, did not sleep there, I have been getting short naps in the Gun Tubs.

Our sortie rate and aircraft per event is a big deal within the Air Wing. We generally have a launch event every two hours or so depending on how many total aircraft are in the "event". We do a 2x1 in that the first event of the day is a two aircraft launch, the next is a 1 aircraft event and we cycle like that all day. We send aircraft out on every event because we are used to scout ahead of the Battle Group and to search for the enemy. As soon as a launch cycle is complete we do a recovery. Once on deck we start fixing what is broke and we prep the aircraft for the next event. If it's a two aircraft event we have to scramble to get two aircraft configured for the mission set assigned. ASW aircraft are configured differently than a SSSC mission (Surface Search Surveillance and Classification) versus a Mine-EX aircraft, versus a purely bomber mission.

Day 2

40*41'N x 2*30'E At Sea - South of Barcelona, Spain

Full flight schedule today we maxed out on flights. 11 events and 21 aircraft sorties, every one of our jets flew. We will be mining tomorrow so we are busy helping with the ARMCOS systems. I guess AO's are not issued brains, they do everything by repetition. "Repeat after Me – Hand and Feet CLEAR" - don't have to tell me to get my hands and feet clear of the big heavy exploding thing! No rack time today. Note to self: powdered eggs don't go with fresh hash browns, you really need a good egg yolk to eat with fresh hash browns. Still on water hours.

I have a long and checkered history with the BB stackers. Normally not heavily tasked in our squadron but for exercise such as this one they were quite busy. The chow is always a big deal on the ship, we would only have fresh food for a few days after leaving port (week to 10 days at most) so we all got used to powder eggs. Let me tell you, with a lot of tobacco you can eat a heaping large quantity of them!

Day 3

42*55'N x 6*39'E East Bound Off Toulon, France

We did a huge Mine-EX today, twice we sent a 4-ship out to mine some harbor, I think it was over near Barcelona but where ever it was, it left a ghost town on the ship for S-3's. We had the 4 on the Mine-EX, and 4 others on missions and left us with only three jets twice today. What fun. Still no rack time, we have been sleeping in the wheel wells because of the rain. They can't seem to keep the ship out of the storms; well until it's time to land then they steam out into the sunny skies. But as soon as recovery is done we go back into the storm. Sick bastards! Cut my left hand open on a copper bonding strap, took 5 stitches to close. Shots and an order for pain med but I declined the med. They gave me extra gauze pads to use in my gloves in case of bleeding.

You can still see that nasty little that scar on my left palm and as usual, I would not take myself off the flight deck even though the Corpsman were more than happy to give me a light duty chit.

Day 4

41*09'N x 6*32'E Steaming South - West of Sardinia

We are back to a regular flight schedule. 11 events and 17 aircraft sorties. All in the open ocean we were heading east back across the Med. I heard we are winning the war games, have not yet seen "enemy" aircraft. Was back at the rack to put away mail and get fresh socks. Still wearing the same outfit for two days. Since I was in the rain so much yesterday the shirt does not stink so much so I kept it on. We are still on water hours so we won't be getting laundry. Have to stretch out what I have in the way of green shirts and pants. Sea Rats or PB+J on toast for dinner, I did the PB+J.

Fresh water was a major problem on the Indy during this cruise. She had trouble brewing fresh water so whatever she made went to operations first, what little was left allowed for showers only two hours a day. Once at 1800 hours and again at 0600 and if you were not lined up you were SOL for getting a shower. We actually had "Shower Police" whose job it was to time and make sure everyone took genuine "Navy Showers". The lack of water also meant that we had rather bad chow since it took a lot of water to make meals especially since most of the menu included a lot of dehydrated foods. Laundry was done by division and you could expect fresh cloths only once a month unless we pulled into port. Then you simply took your laundry to the nearest NATO base and washed it yourself.

Day 5

39*09'N x 11*46'E At Sea - South East of Sardinia

11 events 18 aircraft sorties. One of our jets was caught out by the Blue forces and "shot down". They were scouting around the area where we were yesterday when they were caught. The ship pointed south and took off. We got our jet back after it did penalty time in Naples. Still no rack time, I only came to the rack to journal this. My left hand is throbbing. Back to work.

The rule in this exercise was that aircraft that were "shot down" were required to go to some neutral airfield and land before they returned to their home ship. As I recall this aircraft was actually sacrificed to fool the Blue force into looking for our Battle Group in the wrong area. It worked as we were able to get below them and then reset the space we were fighting since the Blue was supposed to cover south of Sardinia and Italy while the Orange force was supposed to cover the western Med. Getting south of the Blue force allowed us to make attacks directly on their fleet, from a direction they were not expecting.

Day 6

34*45'N x 13*30'E At Sea - North of Tripoli, Libya

We are having problems now keeping enough aircraft out, the proximity to Libyan airspace means we have to keep our eyes on what is going on with their air force. They don't come out to international waters but both fighter squadrons, the E-2's and at least one Viking have to stand off and watch all the while we are still fighting the Blue force. More rain, it is very warm out so the rain feels good. I actually washed and dried a couple of tee shirts in all the rain. Almost beats laundry service. 11 events, 26 aircraft sorties.

Yeah our friend Muammar Gaddafi was throwing stuff at us while we steamed just north of the "Line of Death" as he called it. The two fighter squadrons made several air-to-air intercepts of MIG aircraft thrown at us but they never went hot or came over the ship.

Day 7

34*50'N x 17*30'E Standing off - North East of Tripoli and North West of Benghazi, Libya

We have been living in a stalled front of two day, all rain. My fingers have wrinkles they have been wet so long, gloves are soaked. I have changed socks 8 times today, before almost every launch cycle I was changing socks. We/I lost an ESM POD over the side, wind got it from me and it went OB. Sponson 8 looks like a laundry with all the cloths hanging out there drying. Still no rack time, had to change my pants though, I had that pair on for 4 straight days and I may have to toss them they are so worn. No COD service today, we are trying not to show our hand to the Blue forces by giving them the chance to follow that old slow plane back to Indy. 11 events, 22 aircraft sorties.

The easiest way to hide an aircraft carrier is to steam it into a rain storm. As I remember we hung out in this storm with our screening ships pulled close, they wanted to get as much of the Battle Group inside the storm. It must have worked because we stayed in there two nights and three full days. Losing the ESM receiver was a big deal; they were still classified back then so there was a lot of paper work. It was lost partially because we were replacing it in the wind and rain at Oh-Dark-Thirty, it was a case of dropping it or both me and the POD falling off the wing. I can remember watching it cartwheel down the flight deck and right off the fantail, antenna's flopping around on their little coax cables. We were sure it sank but they had a tin can look for it just in case. The Sponson referred to was one of those little work platforms scattered around the boat and are open to the fresh air, some of them like #8 are under cover of the flight deck. This one was used for trash disposal.

Day 8

33*55'N x 19*11'E Standing off - North of Benghazi, Libya

I was asked to go to a briefing in the Ready Room, they want to do a lot of Data Link but I fell asleep in the chair. I was asked to stand for the rest of the Brief. I apologized to the Div-O and told him I had not been to my rack for sleep since the start of the EX because of the lack of flight deck skins. That was too much for him because I guess after I left he started to draw up "Manning" charts so that we could get us some sleep, but you can't put an AE up there to work RADAR or give them Data Link to fix. They should have stripped all the spare skins before we stared the EX. Phil 'treated' us to dinner; he made a point of getting me, Lipps and Wall together for dinner. Told me about the fiasco with the Div-O and the charts he had made and that we would be doing a corrosion stand down when the EX was done. We would be exempt. He thinks only another day or two and we will win the war and stand down.

The three of us were now taking turns sleeping, usually in an aircraft that was on the schedule or down in one of the Gun Tubs. The Gun Tubs were old Anti-Aircraft batteries that were mounted around the flight deck but the guns had been removed leaving a huge space for us to hang out in. Since it was on the catwalk level you were right there on the flight deck but out of the action. Each gun tub could sleep a dozen sailors! The issue with the Flight Deck skins was a big deal. There were shops that had more than they needed and simply cycled them from person to person whether they went up to the deck or not to simply use the money. This always burned us because we had so much work but only three skins. If we had even one more skin we could have worked 12 on 12 off. But the shops sat on their skins and when ever questions were asked you would see someone who you knew did not belong up on the roof in a bright clean jersey and float coat because they were used so infrequently. They would only make an appearance up there to keep the skin. $55 bucks was a big deal back in 1977!

Day 9

35*46'E x 21*45'E Steaming South of Greece Mainland

Huge day today, large Alpha Strike they took 6 of our jets. At the same time we had three out on missions which left us with only two on the whole boat. COD came back and had almost 800 pounds of mail most of that was parts or other supply stuff, why bother. More BP+J but for dinner I had a couple of cans of the mystery meat hash in the sea rats. The biscuits in the can are pretty good especially since the boat still has real butter. Got yelled at for sleeping in a copilot seat, some Bos'n pounded on the canopy and wanted me to come out, there were 4-others in there with me so he gave up when we all piled out, like clown car only in an airplane.

Alpha strikes were great fun for the AO's, not so much for the rest of us. The S-3 has the two wing station but the two bomb bay's gave us more capacity than one realized, we could carry up to 18 MK-82 500 pounders. We were slower than the other attack aircraft but no one could hear us coming! The Sea Rations was kind of a funny thing; they would break them out if they could not cook. You would get your tray and then go down the serving line getting little cans of this or packets of that plus those little can openers. I remember fruit cocktail being a favorite and this corn beef hash that was pretty good too.

Day 10

36*14'E x 22*59'E At Anchor - Kithira, Greece

In the dead of night she came to me, to us all actually. A voice, a sweet voice of a woman, the voice of an American woman. At first I thought it was only me, but everyone around me was reacting to that voice. We were all left to fill in the image that went with that voice as she talked us through the pre-start check list. Oh what a voice. It perked us all up for the final events of this EX. We quit flying at 1200 and put into an anchorage. There will be a steel beach and swim call. I will shower and sleep. I'll eat tomorrow too tired for food.

Oh Yes the voice. We do this verbal pre-start check list prior to every launch cycle; the Air Boss reads it off a card. It's the flight deck mantra, I can recite it even today and I have not been an active member of a launch crew since 1979! But this one time, after we had all been working for so long and so hard someone played a tape of this woman reading off that check list. I am sure it was some one's wife or girl friend but it did not matter, it was wonderful to hear that check list read off in a sultry way.

Day 11

36*14'E x 22*59'E At Anchor - Kithira, Greece

I got out of bed only once in the last 18 hours to hit the head. I even slept through laundry delivery, the cloths were piled on top of me, I never heard them. Phil came by to check muster, make sure I was alive. I got up then and decided to find some chow. There were burnt sliders and tube steaks on the port side forward but fresh eggs to starboard. I had them, many actually with fresh goat milk. They must feed these goats clover or something because the milk was quite good, much better than what we got in Italy. It was very quiet on the mess decks, Lips and Wall were in a card game (naturally) but they both confirmed they had plenty of sleep. My hand is infected and the leaking puss smells bad, so I'll have to go down to medical and let them clean it out, more stitches. Rumor is we are going to do another exercise before we pull into Naples, ASW Week they are calling it. Great more crap for us.

The ship would buy fresh food where ever we went; local cuisine was always a crap shoot. We would get fresh veggies with little bugs in it or milk that was rather "unusual" so to say. Eggs were another bingo item, sometime great sometimes, yuk! A bunch of times we had rabbit and a few times it was goat. The soda (Coke mainly) was very different than what we were used to having, it was very sweet. We did leave Kithira and go right into another week long exercise that was dubbed ASW week. It would only be 6 days at work but it re-shaped my thinking on the S-3 and all its wondrous equipments for finding submarines. Up till then I had misgivings about packing all that state of the art gear into such a small plane and it working, but ASW Week 1977 would change all that. But that is a different story.

For the Record:

"Lips" is AT3 Mike Lickens from Dallas, Texas

"Wall" is AX3 George Stanley Wall from Republic, Ohio

"Phil" is AX1 Phillp Turner from some where in Idaho. One of the best supervisors you could ever want covering you and someone I learned so much from especially the people watching, his speciality.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Last Starfighter

"Rig the Barricade, Rig the Barricade!" boomed the Boss over the 5-MC. We were all ready for it, waiting in place along the starboard foul line and behind the Island. We were briefed by the AG-O (Arresting Gear Officer) who stood on a tractor to tell us how he wanted this to go, it was more important to get it right than fast. We would have only one try at grabbing this aircraft and it was important that everyone understand that. We did.

The aircraft in distress was an F-4 Phantom from VF-33, the Starfighters as they were called. This one some 20 minutes earlier had been involved in a Ramp Strike. That is to say that it came in too low and struck the back of the ship, ripping off the port main landing gear and a portion of the left wing (the part that folds). We had spent the intervening minutes cleaning up all the FOD and getting two tanker configured KA-6B's into the air. We also landed several aircraft, getting as many down safely as we could.

But the F-4 was a handful and the pilot needed to get the plane on deck or alongside and ditch. Ditching was apparently ruled out or would be tried if the Barricade failed. We were conducting "Blue Water" operations, meaning that there were no Bingo fields or auxiliary land bases to fly to, it was back home to the steel deck or you go into the sea, blue water. And it was late, sometime after midnight and it was raining with very poor visibility, which I am sure helped with causing the accident in the first place and I am sure weighed on those deciding on using the Barricade first over simply ditching the aircraft.

The tractor pulled out a brand new barricade from the below deck locker. Not that almost black color the practice barricade was, all those times it was hauled out across the greasy dirty flight deck. This one was bright white. We followed the tractor on the forward side, waiting to take the top part and stretch it forward. On the aft side Blue Shirts carried the deck plates that would be latched together to form the ramp that the plane would drive up and into the barricade.

In a very deliberate way we moved, taking our time but doing the job correctly. We pulled out the upper side and carried it forward where Green Shirted AG men connected the upper cross brace to the tops of the lowered stanchions. We pulled and slapped the slack out of the barricade all the while additional Green Shirted men tied into the 5th AG Engine the cross deck pendant. When we were done we retreated and they raised the stanchions.

I stood along the foul line looking at the barricade in the reddish gloom of the flood lights from off the Island. They were turned up to full bright and bathed the Landing Zone in an pall that mixed with the falling rain. The wind was starting to kick up as the ship increased in speed. I turned to retreat to safety when I was pulled to man a fire hose. They wanted two sets of fire teams in place and the one I was 'volunteered' to man would be aft of the Island just beside the Landing Zone, slightly forward of the actual barricade. I would have a front row seat for the landing and if we were lucky the aircraft would go straight into the barricade. If things went south and the jet hammered into the ramp again, there would be debris and fire directly in front of us. We would be the first responders.

"On the Flight Deck, Starfighter is now 3-miles back, make a ready Deck, prepare to land aircraft, clear the foul line, clear the catwalks aft." We knelt down holding the hose low, waiting. It was only now when I felt the coldness from the rain, it was only now that I started to think about what we were doing. When something happens and you react in real-time you operate off training instinct. Now that we were going slow to go fast, I could think this all through.

"One mile out, Starfighter is now 1-mile out." The Boss advised. We braced, it would take an F-4 mere seconds to cover a single mile. I watched aft into the reddish gloom streaked with the rain. The Boat was hustling through the water, making up for the high approach speed of the wounded F-4. I stared into where I thought the Phantom would appear at any second. And there it was.

It burst out of the darkness behind the Boat and settled directly into the sweet part of the flight deck, immediately aft of the barricade. The plane twisted to the left as it settled down onto the left wing, there being no landing gear on that side. The Phantom screeched up and into the barricade ramp throwing out the deck plates, pitching them forward and towards us. One flew by inboard and ahead of us, I looked up as it went by, I could plainly see the number painted on the bottom, marking its place in the ramp line. #13. It flew forward hitting the Island, but I was now focused back on the Phantom, it straightened out once it got into the barricade, the nylon webbing snagging the starboard wing and pulling it back to straight. I watched as the barricade wrapped around the jet and was pulled out of the arresting gear. The barricade is designed to be pulled down the flight deck with the aircraft decelerating and holding the aircraft to the flight deck.

The Phantom and the barricade soon passed out of my view, it had passed into the forward part of the landing zone on the other side of the Island structure where from our angle we could not see what was happening. As I knelt there I could hear the screeching sound of metal on metal and we could see the sparks flying up but it lasted too long. Then there was a small explosion sound, a kind of loud popping sound.

The 5-MC boomed louder than ever "Aircraft in the water Port Side": You could hear the emotion from the Air Boss as he bellowed about a crash on deck. We all stood and left our hose and moved to where we could see beyond the Island. There lying in the Landing Zone was the Barricade. It was ripped to streamers flapping in the wind. The Phantom was gone.

Then from above going aft and outboard was a parachute. Hanging from it was a crewman, he hung there limp as the chute drifted out away from the Boat. I watched as it descended down into the ocean just forward of the LSO platform. I saw several men run to the edge and throw their flashlights into the water to mark the spot. I searched the sky looking for the second crewman but saw none. The Boat soon slowed and turned back towards where the lights in the water were, the helo's were soon circling, their flood lights illuminating the froth of the ocean.

We were all called back to the business at hand. A photographer came out and took pictures of the ruined barricade before it was stripped out of the Gear and hauled away. We then did a couple of sweeps for FOD. We had aircraft circling overhead that would have to land and we needed to clean up the flight deck.

We were all dismayed by what happened, the barricade was supposed to save the jet and the lives of the men within. In this case it had done neither.

We would land most of the aircraft, the lone S-3 remained overhead using its FLIR to hunt for the missing. It found none. We would return the ship to the scene after recovery and wallow in the water hoping to find either of the men in that aircraft. A couple of hours later we would retire and proceed on our original course, the S-3 and later the two Helo's would recover aboard. Flying was suspended for the night. And the next day.

We all got to see the playback of the crash on the ships Plat and flight deck camera recordings. The Phantom had indeed ran into the barricade and it seemed to be perfectly caught, pulling it out a good 100 feet down the flight deck. But all the web strapping gave way and snapped releasing the Phantom. It's speed was reduced to a crawl and as the aircraft reached the end of the landing zone the back seater ejected. It was him that we saw in the chute. The forward seat never left the aircraft and the camera playback showed the big F-4 slip into the darkness where the light from the flight deck ended. The front cockpit was still inhabited. There was no bright flash of the rocket motor from the ejection seat for the Pilot indicating that he either did not try to eject or the seat failed. Either way he rode the Phantom into the water.

This was the third time I had helped rig a barricade on this cruise, the other two times it was to grapple the single engine A-7's. In each of those instances we had saved the aircraft and the single pilot aboard. It was an eye opener, the sure think failing. It was heart breaking. Especially because we were only a couple of weeks from the end of the deployment and these would be two of only three men lost on the entire cruise. A record low causality rate back in the day. It was also the last F-4 Cruise for this squadron, they would exchange their F-4's for brand new F-14's. A bitter end for the Starfighters.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Navy Tech – Rigging the Barricade

Whenever an aircraft has suffered a causality (a substantial system malfunction or battle damage) that necessitates recovery of the aircraft or when conditions exist that deem the ejection from the aircraft more risky than landing the Jet then we rig the Barricade. The Barricade is a huge kind of a net that is erected in the landing zone, on top of and connected to one of the arresting gear engines that serves to grapple the aircraft by the wings and the slows and stops the aircraft. It is a last resort. We practice installing the Barricade all the time while at sea and it must be pulled out of its stowage locker and connected to the arresting gear engine in 4 minutes or less.

The Barricade is made of nylon straps that are woven together at the top and bottom to form a kind of net. It is unlike a net in that the straps only go vertically, there are no connections laterally except at the very top and very bottom. This allows the aircraft nose and forward fuselage to drive through the straps with the wing actually taking the brunt of the stopping force applied using the arresting gear engine. The Barricade is held up with stations built into the flight deck that are deployed only when the barricade is deployed.

Also as part of setting the Barricade a steel ramp is set up that causes the aircraft to drive up and over the lower portion of the Barricade. This keeps the nose wheel from pushing the strapping up and over the aircraft or from tangling into the nose gear assembly and causing the aircraft to tumble. The ramp is built using steel panels that interlock into each other and lock into the flight deck. The panels are carried from storage and laid in place at the same time the Barricade is being hauled out of storage by tow tractor.
Above. Hauled out of a below deck locker, the Barricade is laid out for connecting into the AG Engine and the stanchion. (USN Photo)

4 minutes seems like plenty of time but a lot happens, the Barricade must be connected to the Arresting Gear engine at the bottom and at the top of the two stanchions, once the stations are raised, they are placed in tension pulling the slack out of the Barricade. It is usually an all hands evolution.

Below. Pulling the Barricade into position, this is the top of the Barricade and you can see how big the combination of the webb strapping is accross the top. Same size at the bottom. (USN Photo)

Below: Up goes the stanchion. The wire at the top is pulled tight with using an air ratchet. (USN Photo)

Below. Good Rig? You can see the area in between the straps, sized to allow the forward fuselage of the aircraft to drive through and the straps to actually "foul" on the wings. (USN Photo)

Below. Time to put the greasy monster back into its hold. (USN Photo)

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Up The Hanger Queen

The most dreaded words we could hear in my little shop while I was in the Navy. The S-3 Vikings did not enjoy a high priority for repair of avionic parts by the Intermediate Maintenance Activity on board the ship. Historically, the S-3 replaced the S-2 Tracker which had been deployed on the old CVS carriers. The CVS carriers were smaller aircraft carriers that were used pretty much for ASW, they operated in Hunter Killer packages that included Destroyers and only a few types of aircraft. The S-2 did the hard work of finding the target, A-1D's and later A-4 Skyhawks were employed to provide protection and to give the CVS some teeth. They also had a Helo squadron that did ASW as well. But as things in the Navy changed so did the thinking on ASW. The CVS's were all decommissioned and the S-2's were moved to work from the decks of the much larger CVA's, the Attack Aircraft Carriers. These were the top of the line carriers that we operate today.

The S-3 followed in to that CVA environment, an environment that is dominated by the Strike and Fighter community. If you did not go fast or carry a lot of bombs you were nobody in the CVA. Since the threat that the S-3's were employed to defeat was invisible for the most part, no one in the Strike/Fighter side cared. We were a necessary evil on and around the boat.

This was also reflected in the repair of our parts up in the Intermediate Maintenance Activity or IMA. The concept at that time was that boxes of avionic gear would be removed at the Squadron level and shipped (hand carried) to the IMA (usually through the supply system which would check to see if any were actually in stock waiting for issue) for repair. Here they used a system know as VAST and HATS to repair the equipment inside the box. The VAST concept was based on a large test stand that could be re-configured to accommodate pretty much any box that came to it and then using software which was loaded in for each part, the VAST station would diagnose the problem. Bad circuit cards were pulled out and fixed separately and then returned for re-test in the original box with the VAST station.

This is all well and good on paper. Application however is another story. In most cases the VAST stations were pre-configured to run parts for either the E-2 or the Strike/Fighter aircraft. Most of the boxes that came in for the S-3 were put aside to wait until there were no more boxes needing repair for the A-6's, A-7's, the F-4 and F-14 (when we got them). Most carriers had three VAST stations and one was always down for parts that were stripped to keep the other two VAST stations operating.

So, within the S-3 community, we got by using the time honored method of: Cannibalization.

Yes, we always had at least one aircraft that was parked in a quite out of the way place in the Hanger Bay and methodically stripped of parts to support the rest of our little air force. Sometimes it would be two aircraft down there missing so many parts that they would actually be hard to climb into because the weight on the shocks would raise the airframe up on the landing gear.

It was that bad.

So, every now and then, we would hear those words "Up the Hanger Queen" and we would crap our pants. Most of the time it would be my shop, the Electronics Branch (Work Center 210) that had the most parts stripped out of the Hanger Queen. Sometimes more than 50 individual boxes would be missing from the Queen. And for whatever reason that maintenance control deemed necessary we would have to pull all those parts out of a almost perfectly good flying aircraft and move them into the Queen.

Now, most would think that this was an easy process, simply plug in boxes into empty holes but, if it was really that easy anyone could do it and that was not the case. Each time we had to "work" the jet back to life, sometimes using up even more parts than the sacrificial aircraft had in it, making the problem worse for the other Queen. And it took many hours. We would in fact have to detail almost the entire shop to the effort of bringing life back to the Queen.

These orders always came at night while they were fleshing out the next day's flying schedule. Sometimes this was triggered by rules and regulations, the Navy had a surveillance program on all their aircraft. If any single aircraft was out of service for longer than 90 days the aircraft would be moved into a list that got visibility way up the chain of command. SPINTAC or "Special Interest Air Craft" was to be avoided like grabs or clap on liberty. And the bane of SPINTAC was that we were always cycling the Hanger Queen up to keep it out of SPINTAC, simply transferring the problem and starting the clock on a different aircraft. No one wanted to bite the bullet, let the NAVAIR HQ guys come down and ask why was that aircraft down so long, no one wanted to throw the blame back on the core of the maintainability issue. So, till the day the S-3 left service we lived with cannibalization.

Which bore the following patch, which some of us wore with pride!

Not the most politically correct patch especially in today's 'enlightened' times but back in the '70's and '80's it was how we lived.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Navy Tech – The Launch

It sounds simple enough; launching aircraft off the ship.

First you drive the aircraft to the catapult, then you hook it to the catapult, fire catapult, plane flies. Usually, most of the time they do.

But the devil is in the details and I am here to give you some of those details. Here is how it works.

The Players:

The Director – a Yellow Shirt trained in the art of precise aircraft spotting

The Cat hookup – a Green Shirt that hooks the aircraft into the Flight Deck and onto the Catapult

Final Checkers – the last Squadron Rep's who give the aircraft a once over ensuring the aircraft is ready to go, from the outside.

The Shooter – one of the Cat 'O's his job is to accept control of the aircraft from the Director, take the salute from the aircraft pilot and then signal the launch of the catapult

The Equipment:

Zipper track – a short area at the base of each catapult track that allows each different size aircraft an anchor point for well'

the Holdback – this bar is used to attach the aircraft to the ship, the bar connects into the back of the Nose Landing Gear using a holdback fitting, the other end of the bar is sunk into the zipper track, locking the aircraft into the ship.

Below: The white bar with the Yellow cap is a Launch Bar. This one is for an F-18 which actually use a reusable link/coupling instead of a shear pin as the holdback fitting. (USN Photo)

While the S-3 Viking/War Hoover departs in the background, the foreground shows a selection of Holdback's. One for each type of aircraft and they are color coded to match the fitting in the nose wheel well. (USN Photo).

The Holdback Fitting – this is a piece of high strength steel, turned with a collar at both ends, precision turned to very precise specifications, these are very purposely built shear pins, designed to break at a specific amount of tension. That tension is usually the full thrust of the aircraft PLUS some amount of catapult tension, and then a few pounds. This fitting splits when the catapult actually fires thereby releasing the aircraft from the Holdback Bar. (See update at the bottom of this post for picture.)

The Shuttle – this is the visible part of the catapult, the part that sticks up above the catapult track. The front edge of the shuttle is shaped like a set of jaws which grip the next piece of the equipment puzzle

The Launch Bar – part of the aircraft, this retractable bar is shaped like a "T", when deployed it drops into the shuttle jaw.

This pictures shows the Launch Bar of an S-3 already lowered down to the flight deck, it is the white bar that reaches down to the flight deck. The use of the launch bar on the Nose of the aircraft give us the name of the catapult shot, a Nose Tow versus a Bridal, which are now all out of service. (USN Photo).


Directors at each catapult direct the aircraft onto each catapult. There is a lot of science in this because each aircraft width and length has to be taken into consideration. Before the aircraft gets to the shuttle and hooked into the ship it must be positioned as much as possible centered over the cat track. There are marks welded into the flight deck to give the Director some help, but most is done by eye.

Above, each aircraft is placed on the cat by a ships company Yellow Shirt or Director, the flight deck has welded marks that corelate to spots for the nose and main wheels of each type of aircraft. These marks allow for the precise positioning of each aircraft on the catapult. (USN Photos)

The Hook-Up

While the aircraft is being positioned onto the base of the catapult, the Cat Hook-Up Green shirt comes out and hooks the Holdback with holdback fitting into the aircraft landing gear at the one end and into the zipper track at the other. At this point the aircraft is basically attached into the flight deck. No more brakes.

Below. Here the Cat Hookup runs out from under the "Surburban" or EA-6B after a sucessful hookup and tension. Note the Holdback is pegged behind the nose landing gear and the launch bar engaged into the cat shuttle. (USN Photo)

Here is another good hookup, this War Hoover is pegged and the cat shuttle is engaged, the aircraft is at full military power awaiting the actual shot. (USN Photo)

Usually a Green Shirt carrying a weight board approaches the aircraft cockpit and holds up his board up to the cockpit. The Pilot reviews the numbers shown to him. If they are good, representing his launch weight he gives a thumb up. If not he shakes his head as if to erase and then he signals the appropriate direction the weight board should be dialed to. Again, once it is good he gives thumbs up and the Green Shirt with the weight board turns it and shows it to the men station inside the Integrated Catapult Control Station. They in turn set the catapult to the setting indicated.

Here you can see this F-18 Launch Bar is deployed to engage the cat shuttle, you can see the slack between the shuttle and the launch bar. This slack will be taken up when the Cat Hookup puts the aircraft and Cat in tension. Note the Weight Board in the background. This is the Launch weight of the aircraft on the catapult. (USN Photo)

While taxing into position, the aircraft crew deploys the launch bar which when lowered rides down the cat track as the aircraft moves forward, the launch bar rides on the top of the shuttle and down into the shuttle jaw.

You can see here the Holdback pegged into the flight deck and the Launch Bar engaged into the shuttle. The F-14 Nose Landing gear will actually squats down onto the shuttle when the launch bar is deployed. (USN Photo)

Final checks

Also while taxing into position the Final Checkers deploy doing their chores one on each side of the jet. We use two so as to cover each side, they make sure all doors and panels are secured, they check landing gear, engine bays for leaking fluid or oil, they check to make sure any linkages are not binding or frozen and they confirm locks are set the folding wings. They also verify the performance of the flight controls during the "Wipeout" process done by the pilot. This is the movement of the stick and rudder in the cockpit to confirm that all is ok with the equipment. No binding, grinding or un-due resistance of the flight controls.


Once the launch bar is firmly in place in the jaw of the shuttle, the Cat Hook-Up requests that the aircraft be placed into tension. This is a sweeping hand signal made with a closed palm in the shape of a 'C'. The Director, standing off to the side signals this to the Pilot with an open fist of one hand and with the other hand he makes a sweeping motion which the Cat Operators interpret as Tension. The Pilot advances the throttles to full military power setting, the engines screams and the aircraft tugs on the Holdback Bar. If all is well the plane sits there while the Cat Operators takes up any slack in the catapult system, placing a minimal amount of pressure on the shuttle. Again, if all is well the plane sits there straining. The Cat Hook-Up man runs free and clear of the aircraft with a thumb up in the air signaling all is well. The Director then turns control of the aircraft over to the Cat 'O' or Shooter.

Here an F-18 is almost ready to go, the Cat Hookup is complete and they are calling for Tension, the outstreched hand in the form of a "C". The cat is pre-tensioned and the aircraft goes to full military power. These two cat hookup men will confirm proper engagement of the cat shuttle with the Launch bar and that the holdback is properly pegged. Then they haul ass out from under the screaming aircraft. (USN Photo)

The Shot

In the cockpit the pilot does a quick review of his launch checklist, verifying engine instrument settings, he does wipe out and checks to make sure his brakes are not set. If all is well, he sits back and salutes the Shooter and waits. The Shooter returns the salute with the one hand and waving the other in the sky he looks around, they too have a checklist that they go over in their minds, checking clearance around the jet, he verifies thumps are up from the Final checkers and he even takes a glance up to the Island to verify that he still has a Green light for launch. And they really do have signal lights on the Island, Red, Yellow and Green indicating that the Ship itself prepared for the launch. The ship has to be into the wind and it has to be up to speed. This is all relayed to the Deck crew using the lights on the Island.

Seeing everything in the positive, the Shooter drops down, touching his one hand on the deck and pointing that-a-way, signaling the command to Launch. Somewhere in the Integrated Catapult Control Station someone in Yellow pushes a button and the aircraft is shot down the flight deck.

This picture was taken right at the actual shot, you can see the holdback has seperated and the pressure from that snapping shear pin or holdback fitting shots the holdback straight back, it is actually attached to a spring loaded lug. This is a shot from one of the Waist Cat's. Also note the two missiles, one a Phoenix and the other a Sidewinder are both "war" loads as noted by the yellow band around each. If these were 'duds' they would have blue bands. (USN Photo)

The Ride

When the cat actually fires it puts about 60% of total pressure on that initial start. The modern steam catapult does not hit the aircraft with a full load of steam right at the launch, rather it builds such that about mid-way down the track it hits full power. This allows the stress on the jet to build up over time instead of all at once and it keeps the crews from blacking out or getting tunnel vision (which I experienced on each of my cat shots).

Another Tomcat takes the ride. (USN Photo)

At the end of the cat track the launch bar is released from the shuttle and the aircraft can fly away if possible, sometimes it takes the great uplift of air over the bow to nudge the aircraft up into the sky.

Here a Hoover takes the ride. This is at the bitter end of the Cat track, the shuttle is behind the nose wheel and the Launch bar is in transition to it's stow position. This Hoover will leap into the air in a few moments or go swiming. (USN Photo)

A "Cold Cat" is one of those where something went wrong and the Jet most likely won't fly at the end of the cat stroke. In 5-years on the Roof I only saw this happen once. An A-7 in that case but the Escape PAC-II series ejection seat worked good!

Below: Here a War Hoover does something that is pretty rare. It was called Flying at Anchor or Flankering. The S-3's and the C-1/C-2's were capable of take off with no winds over the deck. All the other aircraft require the ship to be in movment. (USN Photo)

UPDATE: I found a picture of a Holdback Fitting. These ones are for an EA-6B the one on the left is whole and the one on the right is spent, used. You can see how it snaps. These are again attached into the back of the nose landing gear with the holdback bar that is then attached to the flight deck. These are all color coded to match both the knuckle that they attached to in the landing gear and to the actual holdback bar. The E-2 was a light blue, the S-3 was a magenta color. (Picture stolen from a website that is selling them which may be illegal, at least for the whole units, so I won't identify them, just in case.)

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Night Work - More

More night shots, I am posting these because I have so many great pictures!! Sorry, but it's true, and I can't get enough.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Hornet shot. (USN Photo)

Island bathed in red lights. (USN Photo)

Burnner launch for a Hornet. (USN Photo)

Night lites in the Hanger Bay. (USN Photo)

Below: Business on the Waist Cat's is booming! (USN Photo)

Rearming. (USN Photo)
A Yellow Shirt directing traffic. (USN Photo)

Stepping into the Mist

I think it was "Bob" a frequent commenter here that mentioned this to me, some of the things that you remember from working the Roof are those little things. I remember like Bob does, the steam or mist that comes up out of the catapult track.

Like the pictures below, stepping into the mist to do your work was always special. I especially remember working as a Final Checker and standing in the steam as the aircraft taxied over me and being completely enveloped by the steam.

And then the launch, the plane rip's down the track and for a few seconds you have to sustain the buffeting from the jet exhaust and then, there is this wash of clean air, fresh air that spills down the track laden with humidity, the feeling on your face (usually the only part exposed) was a cool sensation, no matter how hot it was. A cleansing breath as it were.

Above: The 'Air Gang' goes to work on another shot. (USN Photo)

Below: A Yellow Shirt steps into the Mist to bring another Jet into positon. (USN Photo)
Below: A Greyhound works it way through the mist and onto Cat#1. (USN Photo)

I loved being up their doing two jets in a row, taking the steam wash twice, lingering around in the bath of the mist.

Oh, to be young again.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Navy Airdale – Ground Pounder: Night Ops

Did I mention that we do all this flight deck stuff at night too!

The sun goes down and the Real Men come out to work. (USN Photo)

The real test of a good flight deck crew is to continue flight operations at the same tempo as you do in daytime, without any more casualties. It was always tougher because during the day you usually saw the bad stuff coming at you, at night it was always a surprise when something bad happened to you.

Now, I loved the night. But I have always had great night vision. One of the Native American traits in me was really good night vision, coupled with red colorblindness (the true blindness not the color dysfunction which most people have) I could see all the things that made working at night miserable. Tie down chains, boarding ladders, props or rotors, power cables and fuel hoses. All of these trip hazards I could see pretty well. Most guys that work the flight deck sport a horrible rash on their shins, known as "Tie Down Chain Rash", it comes from stumbling into chains used to tie the aircraft down. The skin being scraped off you shins, night after night after night. This was a similar rash to what is known to those who work inside the ship as "Knee-Knocker Rash". This you get from not clearing the many bulkhead cutouts in the passageways.

Below: A Viking signals its time to shoot by turning on its wing tip lights. (USN Photo)

In the trenches, the CAT crew signals launch.
Moving about the flight deck, everything is tighter at night. (USN Photo)

A Handler signals to "hold" brakes with his crossed wands. (USN photo)

Another Hoover takes the shot. (USN Photo)

It was good work when you could get it!!

BT: Jimmy T sends.