When you’re in overhead holding, or proceeding back to the ship for recovery, you check in through Marshall control and on to Tower, where the Air Boss awaits, ruling his airspace. If he wants you to come into the break and land, he’ll call “Charlie” on the radio – it’s the signal to buster into the pattern, break to downwind, configure for the approach – landing checklist complete – and put her down in the spaghetti.
“Charlie” is the radio phonetic for the letter “c.” One piece of apocrypha says that the word “Charlie,” when attached to carrier aviation, comes from the signature C-shaped wake of the carrier turning into the wind for recovery. True or not, when the Boss calls “Charlie” on the radio, the next words out of his mouth will be directed to the personnel on the flight deck, and will very often be “Head’s up on the flight deck, turning starboard, heel to port.” At about the same time, the bridge watch will sound one short blast on the ship’s whistle – starboard turn.
Everyone on the flight deck knows what that means: We’re about to get busy. And it’s about to get dangerous.