• There I was . . . .

Here's the straight skinny on an "interesting" (and short) F/A-18 flight that launched from the USS Constellation (CV-64) circa 1999. If you're easily offended by sailor language don't read it. It's as authentic a description as you'll read of carrior ops when things go to hell in a hand basket. The story is told by the pilot in an e-mail to his buddies ashore.

Greetings Slacker Landlubbers (except for you Dell) Hey, I felt the need to share with you all the exciting night I had on the 23rd. It has nothing to do with me wanting to talk about me and it has everything to do with sharing what will no doubt become a better story as the years go by. So....

...There I was. Manned up a hot seat for the 2030 launch about 500 miles north of Hawaii. (insert visions of "The Shore Bird" and many mai tais here) Spotted just forward of the nav pole and eventually taxied off toward the island where I do a 180 and get spotted to be the first one off cat I. (insert foreboding music here) There's another Hornet from our sister squadron parked ass over the track about a quarter of the way down the cat.

Eventually he gets a move on and they lower my launch bar and start the launch cycle. All systems are go on the runup and after waiting the requisite 5 seconds or so to make sure my flight controls are good to go (you know, there's a lot to be said for good old cables and pulleys), I turn on my lights. As is my habit I shift my eyes to the catwalk and watch the deck edge dude and as he starts his routine of looking left, then right, I put my head back. I hate to say this but the Hornet cat shot is pretty impressive - equivalent I would say to a gassed up K. (You agree Gato?)

As the cat fires, I stage the blowers and am along for the ride. Just prior to the end of the stroke there's a huge flash and a simultaneous boom! and my world is in turmoil. My little pink body is doing 145 knots or so and is 100 feet above the Black Pacific. And there it stays - except for the knot package, which decreases to 140 knots.

Somewhere in here I raised my gear which is interesting since it is not a Hornet "off the cat" boldface. It is however, if I recall correctly, an Intruder boldface. Oops!

The throttles aren't going any farther forward despite my Schwarzzenegerian efforts to make them do so. From out of the ether I hear a voice say one word: "Jettison." Roger that! A nanosecond later my two drops and single MER - about 4500 pounds in all - are Black Pacific bound. The airplane leapt up a bit but not enough. I'm now about a mile in front of the boat at 160 feet and fluctuating from 135 to 140 knots.

The next comment that comes out of the ether is another one-worder: "Eject!" I'm still flying so I respond, "Not yet, I've still got it." Our procedures call for us to intercept on speed which is 8.1 alpha and I'm fluctuating from about 8 1/2 to 11 or so.

Finally, at 4 miles I take a peek at my engine instruments and notice my left engine doesn't match the right. (funny how quick glimpses at instruments get burned into your brain) The left rpm is at 48% even though I'm still doing the Ah-Nold thing. I bring it back to mil.

About now I get another "Eject!" call. "Nope, still flying." Deputy Cag was watching and the further I got from the boat, the lower I looked. At 5 1/2 miles I asked tower to please get the helo headed my way as I truly thought I was going to be shelling out. At some point I thought it would probably be a good idea to start dumping some gas. As my hand reached down for the dump switch I actually remembered that we have a NATOPS prohibition regarding dumping while in burner. After a second or two I decided, "fuck that" and turned them on. (Major "Big Wave" Dave Leppelmeier joined on me at one point and told me later that I had a 60 foot roman candle going) At 7 miles I eventually started a (very slight) climb. A little breathing room.

CATCC chimes in with a downwind heading and I'm like: "Ooh. Good idea and throw down my hook." Eventually I get headed downwind at 900 feet and ask for a rep. While waiting I shut down the left engine. In short order I hear Scott "Fuzz" McClure's voice. I tell him the following: "OK Fuzz, my gear's up, my left motor's off and I'm only able to stay level with min blower. Every time I pull it to mil I start about a hundred feet per minute down."

I just continue trucking downwind trying to stay level and keep dumping. I think I must have been in blower for about fifteen minutes. At ten miles or so I'm down to 5000 pounds of gas and start a turn back toward the ship. Don't intend to land but don't want to get too far away. Of course as soon I as I start in an angle of bank I start dropping like a stone so I end up doing a 5 mile circle around the ship.

Fuzz is reading me the single engine rate of climb numbers from the PCL based on temperature, etc. It doesn't take us long to figure out that things aren't adding up. One of the things I learned in the RAG was that the Hornet is a perfectly good single engine aircraft. It flies great on one motor. So why the fuck do I need blower to stay level!?

By this time I'm talking to Fuzz (CATCC) , Deputy (turning on the flight deck) and CAG who's on the bridge with the Captain. We decide that the thing to do is climb to three thousand feet and dirty up to see if I'm going to have any excess power and will be able to shoot an approach.

I get headed downwind, go full burner on my remaining motor and eventually make it to 2000 feet before leveling out below a scattered layer of puffies. There's a half a moon above which was really, really cool. Start a turn back toward the ship and when I get pointed in the right direction I throw the gear down and pull the throttle out of AB. Remember that flash/boom! that started this little tale? Repeat it here. Holy fuck!

I jam it back into AB and after three or four huge compressor stalls and accompanying decel the right motor comes back. I'm thinking my blood pressure was probably up there about now and for the first time I notice that my mouth feels like a San Joaquin summer. (That would be hot and fucking dusty for those of you who haven't come to visit) I may have said "Shit!" on the radio here but haven't listened to the full tape yet and it could have been "Fuck!"

This next part is great. You know those stories about guys who deadstick crippled airplanes away from orphanages and puppy stores and stuff and get all this great media attention? Well, at this point I'm looking at the picket ship at my left 11 at about two miles and I say on departure freq to no one inparticular, "You need to have the picket ship hang a left right now. I think I'm gonna be outta here in a second." I said it very calmly but with meaning.

The LSO's said that the picket immediately started pitching out of the fight. Ha! I scored major points with the heavies afterwards for this. Anyway, it's funny how your mind works in these situations.

OK, so I'm dirty and I get it back level and pass a couple miles up the starboard side of the ship. I'm still in min blower and my state is now about 2500 pounds. Hmmm. I hadn't really thought about running out of gas. I muster up the nads to pull it out of blower again and sure enough...flash, BOOM! You gotta be shitting me.

I'm thinking that I'm gonna end up punching and tell Fuzz at this point "Dude, I really don't want to do this again." Don't think everyone else got it but he said he chuckled.

I leave it in mil and it seems to settle out. Eventually discover that even the tiniest throttle movements cause the flash/boom thing to happen so I'm trying to be as smooth as I can.

I'm downwind a couple miles when CAG comes up and says "Oyster, we're going to rig the barricade." Remember, CAG's up on the bridge watching me fly around doing blower donuts in the sky and he's thinking I'm gonna run outta JP-5 too.

By now I've told everyone who's listening that there a better than average chance that I'm going to be ejecting - the helo bubbas, god bless 'em, have been following me around this entire time.

I continue downwind and again, sounding more calm than I probably was, call paddles. "Paddles, you up." "Go ahead" replies LT "Max" Stout, one of our CAG LSO's. "Max, I probably know most of it but you wanna shoot me the barricade brief?"

(Insert long pause here. After the fact Max told me they went from expecting me to eject to me asking for the barricade brief in about a minute and he was hyperventilating. He was awesome on the radio though, just the kind of voice you'd want to hear in this situation.)

He gives me the brief and at nine miles I say, "If I turn now will it be up when I get there? I don't want to have to go around again."

"It's going up now Oyster, go ahead and turn."

"Turning in, say final bearing."

"063" replies the voice in CATCC. (Another number I remember - go figure)

OK, we're on a four degree glideslope and I'm at 800 feet or so. I intercept glideslope at about a mile and three quarters and pull power. Flash/boom. Add power out of fear. Going high. Pull power. Flash/boom. Add power out of fear. Going higher.

(Flashback to LSO school....All right class, today's lecture will be on the single engine barricade approach. Remember, the one place you really, really don't want to be is high. Are there any questions? Yes, you can go play golf now.)

The PLAT video is most excellent as each series of flash/booms shows up nicely along with the appropiate reflections on the water. "Flats" Jensen, our other CAG paddles is backing up and as I start to set up a higher than desired sink rate he hits the "Eat At Joe's" lights. Very timely too.

With visions of the A-3 dancing in my head I stroke AB and cross the flight deck with my right hand on the stick and my left thinking about the little yellow and black handle between my legs. No worries. I cleared that sucker by at least ten feet.

By the way my state at the ball call was 1.1. As I slowly climb out I say, again to no one in particular, "I can do this."

Max and Flats heard this and told me later it made them feel much better about my state of mind. I'm in blower still and CAG says, "Turn downwind."

Again, good idea. After I get turned around he says, "Oyster, this is gonna be your last look so turn in again as soon as you're comfortable."

I'm at 800 feet and hook myself at 2.8 (remember this number as I will subtract .1 every couple years until I reach the point where I say, "It was HUGE, I flew the DAY pattern!)

I lose about 200 feet in the turn and like a total dumbshit I look out as I get on centerline and that night thing about feeling high gets me and I descend further to 400 feet. I got kinda pissed at myself then as I realized I would now be intercepting the four degree glideslope in the fucking middle. No shit fellas, flash/boom every several seconds all the way down. Last look at my gas was 600-and-some pounds at a mile and a half.

"Where am I on the glideslope Max" I ask ask and hear a calm "Roger Ball." I know I'm low because the ILS is waaay up there and I call "Clara." Can't remember what the response was but by now the ball's shooting up from the depths. I start flying it and before I get a chance to spot the deck I hear "Cut, cut, cut!"

I'm really glad I was a paddles for so long because my mind said to me "Do what he says Oyster" and I pulled it back to idle. The reason I mention this is that I felt like I was a LONG FUCKING WAYS OUT THERE - if you know what I mean. (My hook hit 11 Oyster paces from the ramp, as I discovered during FOD walkdown today.)

The rest is pretty tame. I hit the deck, skipped the one, the two and snagged the three and rolled into the barricade about a foot right of centerline. Once stopped my vocal chords involuntarily yelled "Victory!" on button 2 (the 14 guys who were listening in marshal said it was pretty cool. After the fact I wish I had done the Austin Powers' "Yeah Baby!" thing.)

The lights came up and off to my right there must have been a ga-zillion cranials. Paddles said that with me shut down you could hear a huge cheer across the flight deck. I open the canopy and start putting my shit in my helmet bag and the first guy I see is our FDC, huge guy named Chief Richards and he gives me the coolest look and then two thumbs up. I will remember it forever. Especially since I'm the Maintenance Officer.

The first guy up the boarding ladder is CAG Paddles. I will tell you what he said over beers someday. It was priceless and in my mind one for the ages.

I climb down and people are gathering around patting me on the back when one of the boat's crusty yellow-shirt chiefs interrupts and says, "Gentlemen, great job but fourteen of your good buddies are still up there and we need to get them aboard." Again, priceless.

So there you have it fellas. Here I sit with my little pink body in a ready room chair on the same tub I did my first cruise in 10 years and 7 months ago. And I thought it was exciting back then!

P.S. You're probably wondering what made my motors shit themselves and I almost forgot to tell you. Remember the scene with the foreboding music? When they taxied that last Hornet - the one that was ass over the cat track - they forgot to remove a section or two of the cat seal. The board's not finished yet but it's a done deal.

As the shuttle came back it removed the cat seal which went down both motors during the stroke. Again, good video for someday over beers. Left engine N1 basically quit even though the motor is in pretty good shape. It was producing no thrust and during the waveoff one of the LSO's saw "about thirty feet" of black rubber hanging off the left side of the airplane. The whole left side, including inside the intake is basically black where the rubber was beating on it in the breeze. The right motor, the one that kept running, has 340 major hits to all stages. The compressor section is trashed and best of all, it had two pieces of the cat seal - one about 2 feet and the other about 4 feet long, sticking out of the first stage and into the intake. God Bless General Electric!

By the way, ECAMS data showed that I was fat - had 380 pounds of gas when I shut down. Again, remember this number as in ten years it will surely be FUMES MAN, FUMES I TELL YOU!

Look forward to getting to stage five with you all someday soon. Oyster out.

Gents, Hope this isn't too late but wanted to ask you all to do me a favor and be judicious about if and to whom you forward the email I sent you all about my experience on the 23rd. Tried to caveat it with the fact that I had no intention of it being a "me, me, me" type story but just a good story I wanted to share with you all. I read it over last evening and am concerned that a couple of things I said will be taken out of context by people who don't know me and as a result will be misunderstood. In particular I made some moronic comment about "the heavies" digging the fact that I suggested to move the picket ship. The fact is I really thought that I was going to punch and it could have happend. The picket was dutifully right at a mile or two in Connie's wake and - same as in the overhead stack - I have no faith in the "big sky, little airplane" or in this case, "big ocean, little airplane" theory. I always go through my "emergency off the cat" procedures in my head when I'm behind the JBD and did so in this case as well but the fact is that without a couple of great calls from the tower and from some guys on deck things might have been different. I know I mentioned them in the email but the "jettison" call was key and, after listening to the tape, it's the boss who suggests that I start dumping. I was on stem power and just staring at vsi, airspeed and radalt for the first four to five miles off the cat. These guys deserve a tremendous amount of credit for helping me out. I think I probably should have chopped out a couple of the "f" words too but at the time I didn't think about the email I sent you making the rounds.

Anyway, I just wanted to clear things up a bit. I think you all know me well enough to realize that I'm a pretty humble dude. I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel great to be able to bring this jet back but I also realize that it could have been anyone in the squadron - or air wing for that matter - that this happened to. It just happened to be me. If you forwarded my original one to anyone and feel the need to forward this one too I would not be opposed. Thanks dudes. You fu...er...guys still owe me beers though. Oyster.


Post a Comment