So, it’s flat hatting stories you want, is it?
This isn’t one of my own stories, of course. Like the trip through the Omani canyons I wrote about before, this story is about someone else’s experience.
Because flat hatting is not only unprofessional, it’s also dangerous. And no one has ever described me as unprofessional and/or dangerous. That I can recall. And it sets a very bad example pour les aûtres. And I, for one, will form no part of that.
But, because you are all kind, patient, assiduous readers, I will share with you a story (or two, depending on the reception) that I may have picked up along the way. From other guys, because you know, guys talk, word gets around, you hear things. Not guaranteeing of course that every last detail is accurate, because, after all – I wasn’t actually there. Didn’t see it. And you can’t prove a thing.
First: Some definitions are in order.
Flat hatting – inf. v. ex: I flat hat. You flat hat. They flat hat. We have flat hatted.
def: The action of taking a multi-million dollar, government provided aerial conveyance and using it for a purpose that the taxpayer, the Chief of Naval Operations, and your commanding officer would never have countenanced. If only they knew. And for which, if you get caught, you could easily find yourself seeking new employment. Usually involves low altitude, high speed flight on non-approved routes. See also: Barnstorming, screwing around, having a blast.
The year is unimportant, as is the steaming carrier deck from whence our two brave heroes launched into the tropical azure sky. They are in vicinity of the Philippine Sea, the graveyard of ships and death bed of empires. They have launched to go to a floating target, just south of Olangapo. There, they are going to drop an enormous bomb.
It is just a training flight.
The bomb is known as a Walleye – a TV guided bomb, which locks onto contrast and follows it home. It has large wings for an unpowered glide weapon, but what really sets it apart is its perfectly humongous warhead. This warhead is designed to take down large buildings, with its large, star-shaped frag pattern, elements of which move (after detonation) at speeds greater than mach 10.
That’s right: ten point zero mach. Which all of you, being clever readers, will have to admit is pretty damn fast.
One of our intrepid warriors carries the bomb, carefully slung beneath his wing by his superior BB stacking ordnancemen. The other, equally trained and dangerous, carries a datalink pod, used to refine the aimpoint of the Walleye once it has been released. The first danger boy will lock the bomb on to the target area. The second will guide it all the way to the target barge. They are both very much looking forward to really blowing some stuff up.
Because heat like this? You don’t get to bring it very often.
After a decent interval, our protagonists approach the target area. Because the Walleye is so perfectly huge, they are required to do a thorough target area search prior to release. Because it wouldn’t do to maim or kill civilians.
Imagine their dismay to find a banca boat floating in close proximity to the target.
You see, the locals, who lived their lives a little closer to the bone than we ourselves are accustomed to, had a habit of hanging around target ranges, waiting for the USN to drop practice bombs. Which they would then salvage, and turn into belt buckles and whatnot, to sell to drunken Sailors on Magsaysai Street, right there in Alongapo.
But the problem for our two heroes was this: While it was quite possible for banca boat fishermen to stand close in against a floating target and wish away the prospect of taking a 25 pound practice bomb close aboard, the same could most decidedly not be said to be true for a 2000 pound Walleye with a mach 10, star-shaped frag pattern.
No. Definitely not. Uh-uh.
Our mission oriented, get-the-job-done focused aviators wondered what to do at this point. Sure, they could just scrub the mission, and dump the 2000 pound, beautiful weapon (which really only wanted something or someone to love) into the deep blue sea, and call it a day.
Or. They could try to scare the banca boat people off. So that they could drop that thang. Right there against the target. Right there.
Care to guess, constant reader, which path your servants chose?
Yeah, I know. That was an easy one.
So anyway, a few screaming, low altitude fly-bys were attempted. Afterburners were lit, wings were rocked and fists were shaken. Somewhat unsurprisingly, none of this had any effect whatsoever on the intended audience. The banca boat fishermen, patiently awaiting their rewards, remained stolidly in place. From their perspective, it was no use to wonder why the men in the FA-18′s acted the way they did. All one could do was patiently await the certainty of the soon to be delivered bounty coming from the sky.
But Mutt and Jeff really wanted to get that thing off the wing, and guide it to a shack hit, and enjoy the frisson of pleasure as their little seed blossomed into a mach 10 flower. They were not to be denied.
After a brief consultation, hero “A” (hereinafter referred to as the Bomb Boy) and hero “B” (the Pod Guy) agreed to a plan of action: Bomb Boy would get down as low, and as fast as he possibly could over the water, attempting to scare the banca boat people off. Pod Guy would take control of the (non-released) weapon, for no better reason than this was going to make some really cool video, after it was all said and done.
Bomb boy got down to 200 feet. Over the flat water, this was not particularly dangerous, but it was interesting: At that height, with no waves, depth perception (I’m told) is pretty tough. But then he squeaked it down some more – 100 feet.
This is low, for those of you who are unfamiliar. At 100 feet and 500 knots, taking into consideration one-third of one second’s reaction time, you have one-half of one second to recognize a problem and correct it. Or else don’t bother.
And then, because he wasn’t quite certain that was low enough to make the point, Bomb Boy got her just a bit lower. Fifty feet on the radar altimeter. Just a little higher than his wingspan reached from side to side. Lower than the roof of your two-story house. At nearly 600 miles per hour.
Low? Don’t breathe low. Don’t even think.
And then Bomb Boy, lined up for the banca boat, steered that baby right over the hull, going through the number as he got there. All of this (including the amazed faces of the banca boat crew) was captured on the bomb video tape by Pod Guy. Which made for much rejoicing later on, in the ready room, as the tape was played in front of a jealous and amazed junior officer protective organization (JOPA). Oh, there was much laughter and ribaldry to see the banca boat crew spill into the water as the Hornet rocked by in full blower, at fifty feet.
But the banca boat guys got the last laugh. After they went for their little swim, they climbed back in the boat and waited patiently for providence to offer up a new belt buckle opportunity. Fouling the range, and causing our heroes to fly back to the carrier in dismay. Knowing that the job had not been accomplished. Knowing that tomorrow was another day.