After about 10 hours of daylight operations, the darkness came to the flight deck. It makes you think about your mortality more than ever and I was 19 years old. The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is not all lit up so you can see well, it’s very dark and no white light is used…flashlights are red, yellow, green, blue, depending on your function, but no light that you can see well with.
On what they call Carrier Qualifications, the West Coast Navy operates in what is called SOCAL OPS Area. These are the waters from Point Conception to the Mexican border and out 200 miles are heavily used by the US Navy for air, surface and sub-surface operations including training exercises and maneuvers, live fire demonstrations. The weather here, in my experience, is overcast, misty to rainy and colder that you might think for Southern California.
So, the night time came for the USS Enterprise in the SOCAL Ops Area. There were three launches that night for me and my aircraft, 311. Different pilots working on their night time qualifications. My first Pilot was Lieutenant, Junior Grade Humphrey, he had about the same amount of time in the Navy as me , it seemed that way anyway, and we were both worried about not getting killed that night. Some say the most deadliest job in the world is crab fishing in Alaska and the second is on the flight deck of a Aircraft Carrier. I’d say the Carrier is the most dangerous, they just have less casualties because of the intense training and safety practices. But it’s very dangerous…
I strapped the pilot in, hooked up all the tubes for oxygen, radio and G-Suit. We get the word from the Air Boss over the 5MC, start all engines for the 2010 “Go“….clear the deck of all unnecessary personnel…it’s just us now to do the job. If you clicked on the “Go” link, you can hear the Air Boss announcement and the F14 Tomcats starting up in the background. The announcing system is called the 5MC…the Air Boss seems to be the loudest thing on the flight deck
Got my helmet on that has hearing protection and my goggles are down. It starts to rain, wind is less, about 30 knots. We are all getting wet while we start up and its now cold because of the wind and it’s biting.
My job as Plane Captain is to mirror the flight control surfaces with arm movements as the Pilot moves them methodically to verify that all is working well before he launches. That is, checking the Ailerons, Rudder and Horizontals and other items to check that they are tracking properly. I do just a horrible job and the Pilot is pissed…we both just blow it off…he has to get qualified for night traps and he has no choice and I’m little help and I am questioning my abilities.
LTJG Humphrey launches and recovers successfully…he’s happy with his sucess and does not bust my chops. Thankfully, and possibly a miracle, aircraft 311 goes down for maintenance for the rest of the flight operations. So, I’m in my aircraft near elevator 2 with the canopy down all fogged up too, aircraft continue to launch and is shaking my jet with every Cat Shot off the catapult…CAT One to be specific.
So, finally to the point after all this stuff. I was so very scarred that night and I reflected on what the hell have I got myself into. Working in the paper mill in my home town would not get me killed. I was so happy my aircraft was down…I was not getting my job done…and was reflecting on maybe this is not for me. As a 19 year old, you usually don’t have to think too hard on what you should do with your life…the flight deck will change that thought process for you…..see you on the next story……..cheers.