Again, most folks are real, one callsign and one real name are changed for obvious reasons.
Enjoy. If my grammar is poor, please don’t tell my mother. Thanks.
We lost two events recovering from the emergency pull forward. If it were up to the handler, we would have cancelled rest of the day’s flying and just started anew tomorrow.
Handlers like no-fly days.
We had a quick planning meeting in Strike Ops and Ice, our strike ops officer, convinced the ship that we needed at least one night event just to keep our pilots current. A tailhooker needs a night arrested landing every seven days or he loses currency. Going over seven days is not the end of the world, but the further they are from “current” the harder it is for the squadron, the wing, and the ship to get the back up on step. We sold the Boss on the fact that he would only have to spot for one launch and the airborne jets would make room for cleaning up the mess on the flight deck, and he sold the Handler.
In our original plan for the day, Shaggy was going to be on the platform for event nine, the last cycle of the day. I told him I would take it since he would be busy for the next couple of hours. His aircraft had suffered serious damage and, for now, the squadron safety officer wanted to cover his bases and call it a “mishap.” When a pilot is involved in a mishap, there are several things that have to happen in a relatively short period of time. Blood and urine samples must be taken to determine line of duty status and ensure there are no “chemical factors” which contribute to the mishap. The pilot must account for everything he did in the 96 hours prior to the mishap to help determine if there were any psychological or physiological factors.
It was no big deal for me to take the recovery, I had nothing else to do, and the lone night event was nothing more than an “airborne respot.” It made it easier for the Handler to clean up the flight deck after today’s mess. They would start the recovery almost as soon as the launch was complete. The handler would have a half loaded deck to work as the launch finished and the recovery began, and we would maintain currency on about 20% of our pilots.
Aside from my morning flight, and the excitement of the emergency recovery of Shaggy and Sewp in 104, it had been pretty much a boring day for me. I decided to go up to the flight deck early. It would be a short cycle and I’d have jets in the chute almost as soon as the handler and his guys got the landing area clear. I left CAG operations and made my way aft.
Night recoveries are always controlled by the ship’s carrier air traffic control center or CATCC. (Pronounced “Cat-see”), so before a night recovery, I always stopped in to see what was going on. Walking aft on the starboard side of the ship, I passed through the naugahide curtain and entered the Flag’s area of the ship. The door to the Flag mess was open and I could see the staff finishing up what was left of their dinner. Looked like MS2 Harmon, one of the Admiral’s cooks, had made his famous chocolate chip cookies. The staff were enjoying their cookies and tall glasses of milk. Obviously the Flag mess got their milk form somewhere other than the ship’s Supply officer. We had run out of fresh milk on the third day of cruise and had switched to the boxed and often warm Parmalat, which I think is French for “Fake milk.”
I entered Air Ops. The room was darkened and Charlie, the Assistant Air Ops officer was on the phone. It sounded like he was checking the status of the divert fields. He was much better at doing his job and the Air Ops officer’s job at the same time than the Air Ops officer was at just doing his own. Lucky for AirOps, he had a great assistant and a great CATCC officer. I nodded at Charlie and he smiled and flipped me a bird. Lots of love in the ship-Air Wing team. I made a quick scan of ISIS to see who was flying. ISIS was the Intigrated Ships Information System, it had replaced the grease boards that had been in use for about 200 years. I noticed that Taz a Tomcat nugget who was having a less than stellar start to his career behind the ship was in 106. I took out my pen and wrote “106” in big numbers on the back of my hand.
I went in the door to CATCC and found Barb and her controllers performing their pre-recovery brief. Barb was the most squared away CATCC officer I have ever seen. Her radar room was always quiet and controlled. Her people were professional and very, very good at what they did. There was a humming above us that grew steadily louder. I glanced at the Pilot Landing Aid Television (the “PLAT”) and saw that an E-2 was being taxied into position on CAT 3, almost on top of our heads. They finished their brief and manned their positions. Barb and her Chief came over to say hi.
“A little fun out there today, huh sir?” said Chief Polk.
“Yeah Chief. You guys did a great job getting all the goodies turned on in a hurry.”
We talked quickly about the recovery – the ramp time, the time when the first aircraft was supposed to be crossing the ramp, was in about 35 minutes. We bet $10 on whether the deck would be ready or not.
I looked at the back of my hand and told Barb “Do me a favor, if you are doing training on final tonight, that’s cool, but when 106 shows up, keep a good eye on him and help him as much as you can.” She glanced at her ISIS screen in the front of the room, saw Taz was in 106 and nodded knowingly.
I went back out into Air Ops and sat on one of the benches in the back. The squadron representatives were beginning to filter in. Every squadron that had an aircraft flying was required to have a rep in Air Ops for night launches and recoveries and in the tower for day ops in case something happened. When a plane had a problem, they would call for their rep to discuss options and to get a backup on their NATOPS procedures. I sat and jawed with Chachi, who was the E-2 rep for the launch. The 1MC sounded six bells and I instinctively looked at my watch. 1900, time to launch ‘em. The jets on Cat 1 were still getting spotted and the Hummer on 3 was just getting hooked up. Late again, as usual.
“I wonder what time the 1900 launch is?” Chachi said to me.
I giggled, smacked him lightly in the back of the head and said over my shoulder as I got up to leave, “Need to be a team player and stop looking at the bad side of everything Chach, why don’t you get on board for the big win?”
Down the starboard p-way to the back door to ready room 8, the Tomcat ready room. I walked in and saw Otis, the Diamondback’s OpsO.
“Otis, my man” I said in my best Animal House voice.
He came over and lowered his voice. “Taz is in 106 tonight. Don’t let him get stupid on you guys.”
I held up my hand, showed him my “106” and he nodded in approval. I made a mental note to myself to wash that off before I saw Taz.
Out the front door, grabbed a pair of yellow foamies from the box sitting on the Maintenance Control counter. Quick left turn, quick right turn and I was at the hatch that lead to the gallery deck. I stepped outside, dogged the hatch behind me, and stood there.
Nothing. I could see absolutely nothing. Nice. I rolled the foamies and stuffed them in my ears, then threw the paper carton over the side. I stood there for about a minute waiting for my eyes to adjust, but they really didn’t. I took my mag light and twisted the head. White lights were not cool on the flight deck, so I had a yellow filter on mine. The dim yellow light lit up the catwalk under my feet, but I couldn’t see far enough down to see the warm gulf waters passing below me.
I turned right and slowly made my way forward. There was a fuel hose still laid out on the catwalk, I stepped over it and made my way to the ladder. Before taking my first step up the ladder, I instinctively looked up to make sure there wasn’t anything parked over my head. All clear, a couple of steps up and then I peaked my head up to flight deck level. If there was a jet with engines turning nearby, I didn’t want to stand up into their jet blast. Still clear. There was a Hornet on elevator four just to my left. To my right, just aft of the LSO platform was a Prowler, to his right a Tomcat and a Hornet sat side-by-side on the fantail. A couple of Hornets were pointed at me from across the landing area on the starboard side of the ship. Everyone’s engines were turning. I was really coming up too early, but I like to get up there, let my eyes adjust, and enjoy the almost dead quiet after the last jet launches. Right now it was loud. Very, very loud. I looked forward and saw a Hornet climbing off of the bow cats.
I also noticed it was pretty windy.
The VLA guys were setting up the platform, the blast shield was coming up and Tanner, the tall grimy gear guy was plugging in his sound powered headset. I slowly made my way back to them. I stepped over the combing onto the LSO platform. The VLA guy nodded at me and reached down for the hand controller that raises and lowers the hud. The hud started its slow hydraulic ascent from below flight deck level. I went to Tanner, who had saved us all from possible catastrophe earlier in the day. I grabbed him by the shirtsleeve and pulled him to me so that my mouth was right next to the earcup on his cranial helmet.
“GREAT JOB TODAY. THAT COULD HAVE BEEN UGLY”
He nodded and said “Thanks sir.” Or maybe he said “Pound sand.” I couldn’t hear a thing.
I reached inside my floatcoat to my left pocket where I kept my candy, pulled out a couple of Jolly Ranchers and pressed one into his hand. I slapped his back and turned and handed candy to the VLA guy who had just set everything up. One for me too. Watermelon.
Up forward, I heard a jet go into tension, its engines roaring. I didn’t bother to look forward, too many planes parked around us to get a good view.
The Fly3 director came back to the Hornet that was on EL4, went to the pilot and asked with his hands if the pilot was ready. The pilot gave a thumbs up and the plane captain and his squadronmates scrambled under the jet to pull the tie-down chains off and the chocks out. Another director came back and joined us at the platform. He tapped my on the shoulder pointed at the Hornet and made a twirling motion with his index finger like an umpire signaling a home run. When they brought it out, it would have to taxi straight ahead until its tail was clear of our blast shield, then make a left turn to taxi forward. When he made the turn, he was going to sweep us with his jet blast. I nodded and made sure Tanner and the VLA guy saw what was coming. The Fly3 director started the Hornet forward slowly standing off to the pilots right so he could see the director who was back with us. When the tail was clear of us, the director on the platform made a circle motion with his yellow wand and the Fly3 director immediately pointed his right arm forward while still giving the “come ahead” signal with his left. The jet started its left turn and we all turned our backs and huddled. The jet blast was hot and it almost knocked the VLA kid over. He dropped to one knee and grabbed the grating that we were standing on to anchor himself. The Hornet turned further left and we were clear.
The deck was starting to clear, and we could see more of what was going on up forward. They were using Cat 1 on the bow, and 3 and 4 on the waist. There were Hornets parked on the “four row” which put them on top of Cat 2 and blocked it from use. All the jets aft that were going flying were broken down (had their chocks and chains removed) and were ready to go. One by one they were pulled out of their position by the Fly3 director or his buddy that had been with us. They got them up to about the 1 wire and then passed them off to other directors up forward. Other jets that were not part of the launch were being hooked to tractors and towed forward to be parked on the bow as the deck cleared.
Cling and one of the junior LSOs came up, followed by Paps, the Tomcat LSO. I did the LSO high five with everyone as they arrived at the platform. Hand up like a normal high five, but just before you clap hands you bend your arm backwards and pat yourself on the back.
We were so damn funny.
I pointed at Cling and then at Paps. Cling nodded. I wanted them on the pickles tonight – they were the two most experienced guys on the team. We usually tried to do some training on the junior guys on each recovery, but it was our first day out of port, it was a dark night, and I just didn’t want to tempt the fates at all. The rest of the team meandered up as did the hook spotter, a kid from the tower who was responsible for reporting who was next and that their configuration was correct.
Cling handed the grade book to BEGWI (Big Ed Garrett from Whidby Island), he would be the writer for tonight, the basic starting position for a new guy. You didn’t get to wave until you knew how to write. The landing area was clear, four or five more to launch. It was starting to get quieter. Paps wandered out onto the flight deck, walking slowly away from the LSO platform. He walked to the middle of the landing area, stood on the centerline, and raised his flashlight over his head and pointed it forward. Cling looked down at the PLAT on the HUD and saw that Paps’ flashlight was on the crosshairs of the PLAT. Everything was aligned, so we could use the PLAT as a centerline reference. Cling made a circle with his flashlight to signal Paps that the check was good and Paps started back.
The 1MC rang out. “MAN ALL RECOVERY STATIONS, MAN ALL RECOVERY STATIONS.” I was standing on the edge of the flight deck with my left shoulder against the edge of the blast shield, looking forward. I looked back over my shoulder to the hook spotter, who had just plugged in his sound powered headset. I gave him a thumbs up, and he nodded and spoke into his mouthpiece. The LSO platform was manned and ready.
Paps came over to me. “You know Taz is flying tonight?”
“Yep, don’t screw it up” I said.
Cling walked over and joined us. “Winds are a steady 37 knots, want to get the Hornets to half flaps?” He was good. When the wind was over 33 knots, we put the Hornets at half flaps to improve their performance on the ball and their waveoff ability. I glanced aft, there was not much of a wake which meant the wind was natural.
“Yeah, and I’m gonna tell the boss to bump the glideslope up.”
He nodded. With higher winds, the apparent glideslope went down so we raised it up by ¼ degree to keep the hook to ramp clearance acceptable. I went to the J-dial phone and dialed the tower. 7FLY. I asked the petty officer who answered for the Air Boss.
“Hi Boss, it’s Nose. I got $10 with the CATCC guys about whether we will have a ready deck at ramp time. Am I gonna win?”
“Nose, this is the best flight deck in the Navy. We will be ready five minutes early.”
“Ooooookay. Sounds good. Sir, I’m showing a steady 37 down here, I’d like to go 3 ¾ on the glideslope.”
“Okay, you got it.” Click.
Next I called Barb in CATCC. 7CCA.
“Barb, put out a call on Marshall for me please, I want the Hornets at half flaps.”
“I’ll do it. And I think you owe me $10”
“Not yet, and I remain hopeful. Thanks.”
We hung up and I went over to the HUD, picked up one of the handsets, and rolled the frequency selector to “16”, the Marshall button. A couple of minutes later, I heard the call I had asked for. “99 Hornets, Paddles passes half flaps on approach.”
The last couple of jets were on the Catapults and the yellow shirts were dragging everything else forward and out of the landing area. I stepped out into the landing area to watch. The ramp time was in about seven minutes and I wanted to see if I was going to lose ten dollars. The arresting gear shivs had been raised and the Arresting Gear Officer was walking all four wires checking with his flashlight for any problems.
An S-3 launched off of CAT 3, and I watched it climb out. One hornet on the bow to launch.
5MC: “WRAP THE WAIST. WRAP THE WAIST.”
They were done with the waist catapults, and began securing them for the recovery. The Hornet on CAT 1 went into tension, his power came up and a few seconds later, his external lights came on. He rolled down the cat and suddenly, it was silent on the flight deck. For the first time since coming up, I could hear something besides jet blast.
“LAUNCH COMPLETE. LAUNCH COMPLETE. WRAP THE BOW AND MAKE A READY DECK. FIRST AIRCRAFT IN FIVE MINUTES.”
I looked over at the platform. Cling had his LSO gouge book out and was going over the pre-recovery checks and brief with his team. Cling was a great LSO, if he stayed in and wanted the job, he would be a CAG LSO for sure. The rest of the team had wandered up, along with a few others who just came up to watch. I generally didn’t care how many people were on the platform, and encouraged our guys to bring up their troops when they could.
“ON THE FLIGHT DECK, FIRST AIRCRAFT IS TWO MINUTES OUT, MAKE SURE YOU REMAIN IN THE COMPLETE AND PROPER FLIGHT DECK UNIFORM.”
I wandered back to the platform and out of the wind. The ISIS was now on and I could see that the first jet was a hornet. Cling had switched the radios off of the Marshall frequency and over to Final A, one of the two channels we used for recoveries.
Paps was controlling, Cling would be the back-up LSO. The controlling LSO was usually the one you heard on the radio. He rogered the ball call, and was primarily responsible for keeping the landing aircraft from hitting the ramp. The back-up LSO stood behind the controlling LSO and was responsible for everything the primary LSO had, plus line-up and deck status forward. Usually the most experienced LSO was the back-up, but sometimes we trained with a more junior guy in the back so he could get the experience. Paps was a great LSO and be a team leader soon, I would not have cared if he were backing up tonight.
First jet was now at about two miles.
“ALL DOWN HORNET” Shouted the hook spotter.
“GEAR SET HORNET 360, FOUL DECK!” Shouted Tanner. It was his job to call out the deck status to us. The closer the jet came to landing, the more emphatic he would be.
“PADDLES, LENS IS ON AND YOU HAVE CONTROL. THREE AND THREE QUARTER DEGREE GLIDESLOPE, TARGETING THE THREE WIRE. ON THE FLIGHT DECK, MAKE A READY DECK, FIRST AIRCRAFT HORNET, 404, ON ALPHA, STAY CLEAR OF THE FOUL LINES, STANDBY TO RECOVER AIRCRAFT.”
I took my spot, just to the right of the HUD. During the daytime, I was more realaxed, and often stood towards the back of the platform with just a pickle in my hand, but at night, I stayed close to the HUD and used both a pickle and a radio handset.
The deck status light in front of us changed from red to green. The AGO had looked forward up the foul line and it was clear, so he squeezed his dead man switch. If anyone stepped over the line, he would release the switch and the light would go red again.
I checked the pilot’s name on the ISIS, it was Size, the Sidewinder’s XO. Great guy, great stick. Gear, winds, lens, crosscheck, deck. CATCC was just getting ready to drop this guy on us.
“404, slightly right of course, on glidepath, three quarters of a mile, call the ball.”
“404, Hornet Ball, six six, auto.”
“Roger Ball, Auto. 37 knots.” Replied Paps. The “auto” call meant that Size was using auto-throttles which adjust the Hornet’s power settings automatically in response to changes in the angle of attack. I didn’t normally like to have guys fly auto passes in higher winds, but Size was good so I decided to let him continue.
Cling leaned up towards Pap’s ear, “He’s a little lined up right, correcting.”
Paps nodded. As Size got the jet on centerline and corrected back to the right, the jet settled below the glideslope slightly, which he corrected by gently moving the nose up. The increase in AOA made the auto-throttles add power. He touched down just left of centerline and just before the three wire.
Paps leaned over to BEGWI and graded the pass.
“OK Pass. Little lined up right start, little settle on line-up in the middle, little flat at the ramp.”
BEGWI transcribed the pass into the book in LSO shorthand:
OK (LURX) (S.LUIM) (BAR) 3
I was out $10.
The phone talker was next, “NEXT AIRCRAFT, HORNET 310, ON BRAVO”
BEGWI reached over to the Radio controls and switched both LSOs to Final “B.”
“ALL DOWN HORNET”
“GEAR SET 360 HORNET. FOUL DECK!”
Paps and Cling both raised their pickle switch over their heads, showing everyone else that they knew the deck was foul. Cling looked back over his shoulder and called out “100 Feet.”
We had two waveoff windows for a foul deck. If there were personnel or equipment in the landing area, a waved off aircraft had to pass 100 feet above the highest obstacle. If the LA was clear, we could take them pretty close, we only needed 10 vertical feet of clearance.
I slid to my left and looked backwards up the LA. Size’s jet was not yet even clear of the arresting gear. The cable had wrapped around his hook and they were manually pulling it off. We were not going to get 310. I caught Cling’s eye and gave him the umpire “you’re out” signal. He leaned forward and said “No Chance” to Paps.
“310, three quarters of a mile, on and on, call the ball.”
“310 Hornet ball, six eight.” Paps turned on the waveoff lights. They both dropped their hands.
“Waveoff Foul Deck.” Paps called on the radio. The jet began an immediate climb and as he flew over us, I could see the landing gear retracting.
That sucked. Flying behind the ship at night is pretty much a lot of work and to bring it all the way to the ball call and get waved off was like salt in the wound.
CATCC Jumped in, “310, take angels one point two, turn left to the downwind heading one five zero.”
“310” was the only reply.
“NEXT AIRCRAFT 207 HORNET ON ALPHA”
“ALL DOWN HORNET”
BEGWI switched the radios back to Alpha. When a jet is “on the ball”, a period of about 20-30 seconds, no one except the LSOs are allowed to talk on the radio. There are so many aircraft moving around, those required moments of silence would make it difficult to keep all the aircraft going where CATCC wanted them to go. The solution is to run the recovery on two different frequencies, with half of the aircaft on the Alpha side and half on BRAVO. There were two sets of controllers and two different final approach radars. While we were on the ball on ALPHA, the BRAVO side controller were free to keep giving directions.
“GEAR SET 360 HORNET, FOUL DECK!”
Gear, winds, lens, crosscheck, deck. Size was taxiing clear now, we should be able to get this guy.
Paps looked back “100 feet, clearing.”
“207, three quarters of a mile, on course, slightly high, call the ball.”
“207 Hornet ball, auto.”
“Roger Ball Auto thirty five knots”
I looked at the ISIS. 207 was Libbo, one of our Marines. Not a problem child but I didn’t want him on Autothrottles. “Paps, manual” I shouted.
“Go manual” Paps immediately said on the radio.
“Manual” replied Libbo. He clicked a thumb button on his inboard throttle and he now controlled the throttles directly.
“CLEAR DECK!” Both hands came down.
Still a little low.
“You’re a little low” called Paps in a very calm voice. Nice. Didn’t need to scare him.
Libbo put power on the jet, maybe a little too much but not too bad. He was still on glideslope going just a little flat when he passed us. His hook landed right on top of the three wire but didn’t catch it, sliding the additional 40 feet up the landing area and getting the four.
Paps leaned over to Begwi, “Fair pass, too much rate of descent on the start, overcontrolled low in the middle, fly through up in close to at the ramp. Ticked the three.”
(OK) TMRD.X ocLOIM /IC-AR T3 4
“Next Aircraft 106 Tomcat on Bravo” It was Taz.
“ALL DOWN TOMCAT”
“GEAR SET 5-4-0 TOMCAT. FOUL DECK!”
Paps looked at me and held out the pickle and handset. Taz was a problem child and Paps wanted to know if I wanted to wave him. I shook my head, it might be better for Taz to hear Paps’ voice than mine. CAG paddles usually only waved when it was an emergency aircraft or a problem child who was having a problem. Don’t want to get in Taz’s head if we don’t need to. I was looking down at the ISIS screen when I heard Cling on the radio.
“At a mile and a half, you are low” I looked up. Hell, he was low. Nice call.
“One Oh Six, One mile, below glidepath correcting, left of course.”
“One Oh Six” replied Rat from the backseat. Aside from the squadron’s XO, Rat was the senior RIO in the Diamondbacks. He was the adult supervision tonight.
“One Oh Six, on glidepath, slightly left of course, three quarters of a mile, call the ball”
“One Oh Six, Tomcat Ball, Six Five” Rat sounded bored, but that was just for show.
He was on glidepath, but only for a moment. In correcting for the low that Cling called him for, Taz had left the power on too long and was now going high.
“Roger ball, 36 knots, don’t go any higher” Replied Paps. Most really bad passes don’t result from guys who fly low, they are guys that fly too high too long and try to fix it too late. Taz now had about two seconds to start making a positive correction back to the glideslope or he was gone.
“Left, correcting” shouted Cling to Paps.
The engines wound down slightly. He had made the positive correction, and the jet would start down in a second, the next step was to arrest the extra rate of descent he was getting ready to create.
Almost everyone on the flight deck wears “Cranials” which are a combination of a hardhat and hearing protection. LSOs don’t wear cranials. We only wore foamies, and Taz was about to demonstrate why. The Tomcat’s engines have a distinct sound on approach. It is almost a whistle, and you could tell what the pilot was doing with the power by listening.
The sound stayed the same.
“A little power” I said into the microphone and instinctively tightened my index finger on the pickle switch. He was already too late and if the power didn’t start coming on in about another second, he was gone. My call to him was what we call an “imperative” call. He had to respond.
It came on, it came on a lot. The jet flattened out on the glideslope and went by us well above where it should be. As I turned to watch it go by, I saw one of my LSOs, back in the peanut gallery waving goodbye to the jet. He knew what was coming. So did Paps.
“Bolter, bolter, bolter! Power back on!” Paps called on the radio.
Taz touched down about 50 feet past the four wire and rolled down the landing area. When the deck disappeared beneath him, he was flying again.
CATCC picked them back up “106, take angels one point two, turn left to the downwind, report abeam heading one five zero.”
Two for four so far on the recovery. Not a good way to start the night.
“Bolter, stopped rate of descent on lined-up-left start. Too much power on high coming down in the middle. Fast flat in close to at the ramp. Over the top.”
B SRD.LULX TMP.HCDIM FBIC-AR ^ B
Over the top. He had flown over all four wires. A bolter was usually a safe pass, just not a good pass. At least he had responded, that is a good thing.
I heard the phone ring and bent down to answer.
“Are you training up there? If you are, it’s time to knock it off and start getting guys aboard.” It was CAG.
“No sir, got the A team on.”
“I’m gonna want to start hearing more talking. Don’t put us in a bad place the first night out.”
“Aye aye sir.”
Click. He was gone.
Shaggy and I both subscribed to the “less is more” theory of waving aircraft. The less we talk, the more the pilots will learn to do it themselves and the more they will listen when we do talk. We did not, in general, believe in “sugar” calls, which did not make the pass safer, just prettier. We also did not like our LSOs to use “buffalo” calls, which were designed to get an overpowered jet down in the wires. Buffalo calls on our platform were reserved for CAG Paddles use. A bolter was a safe pass and if a pilot wanted to bolter, that was usually something we could live with. CAG wanted us to start being more vocal before our two for four turned into a three for seven or eight. There was never enough gas in the air and bolters and waveoffs raised CAGs blood pressure.
The next two jets, Temp in a Tomcat and Bino in a Hornet, got aboard fine. 310, our previous foul deck waveoff came back and also got an “OK.”
The Prowler was next. He drifted left in close, but a nice “Right for lineup” call from Cling put him in the spaghetti, on centerline.
106 was next. Paps looked at me to see if I wanted it this time. I pondered for a second and shook my head. I was pretty sure Paps could get him.
Taz was weaving back and forth at about a mile and a half. I looked above his jet and saw the green light of the S-3 Tanker rolling in above him and at just a bit to the right. The Tanker was “hawking” 106 and in perfect position. Taz was going to be “Trick or treat” on this pass. Either he gets aboard or he goes to the tanker. If he was sent to the tanker, on the climbout, the S-3 would be at his 1 O’Clock position and just a little bit in front of him.
Still chasing lineup at a mile, Cling had had enough. “At a mile, level your wings, you are on centerline.” Great call. Immediately, the rocking stopped.
CATCC dropped him off again, and this time I noticed it was Chief Polk’s voice. “One oh six, three quarters of a mile, slightly above glideslope, on course, call the ball.”
“One Oh Six, Tomcat Ball, Five Two”
“Roger Ball, 36 knots.”
Taz was high and going higher. He needed to make a positive correction.
“You’re high” said Paps, matter of factly.
“Clara” was the response from the Jet. “Clara” meant I can’t see the ball. He was so high, he was outside of the limits of the Meatball.
“You are high, start it down now.” Paps still sounded cool, but we were all tensing up.
Taz had to play this just right. He had to get enough power off to start an aggressive correction, then do what he had failed to do on his previous bolter, put it back on to stop the excessive rate of descent. That was a varsity play.
Taz wasn’t ready for the varsity. I heard the engines winding down and then saw the nose of the jet drop ever so slightly. Power off and nose down were a bad combination. Where the nose goes, so goes the jet.
Paps gave an aggressive “POWER!” at the same time Cling and I hit our pickle switches. “WAVEOFF WAVEOFF”. The jet continued to sink, dipping below the glideslope but the big GE F110 engines soon roard back to life and the jet started to climb.
“Lens Check – all cells OK” somebody behind me shouted. He was pointing out the fact that Taz had seen all 12 cells on the IFLOLS lens from the top to the two red flashing cells at the bottom that showed a pilot they were waaay below the glideslope. A little gallows humor.
CATCC was right back on, “106, your signal is ‘tank’. Clean up, take angels two. Texaco currently at your 1 o’clock, less than a mile. Switch button 14.”
I checked ISIS, Shaq, one of my LSO’s was the tanker pilot and was exactly where he should have been. He always was.
Cling put the radio back to his ear and switched his side to 14. A minute later, he gave me a thumbs up. Taz was “plugged” into the tanker and getting gas.
I called CATCC and asked Barb to give Taz at least 4 miles on final to get himself back into the game.
212, the last jet to launch returned to the ship and flew a nice OK 3 while we were waiting. 600 came back, Lobo flew a nice pass with the FNG in the right seat, getting his last look before he had to come out tomorrow night and do it himself.
I watched as Shaq dragged the thirsty Tomcat around the pattern. At about three miles downwind I saw the two jets separate. 106 Would be back in about four minutes.
I waved Paps over. “Well, you couldn’t do it, should we call the mess decks and see if there is a free airman down there to take your place?”
“Dude! It’s not my fault! The sun was in my eyes.” We all laughed and Paps handed me the pickle and handset.
“Not your fault, Paps, I blame his squadron LSO.”
Everyone laughed, Paps was his squadron LSO.
They checked back in, “106 back on angels two.”
“106, Approach, roger, descend to angels one point two, report ready to come aboard.”
“106 descending, we are ready.”
“106 roger turn left to the final bearing three four zero stand by for needles.”
I jumped in. “106 Paddles”
“106” Rat answered for Taz.
“Taz man, you are creating a lot of extra work for yourself by not getting to a good start. Fly some good needles for me and that will make the ball flying part a lot easier. C’mon down here and we’ll buy you a bag of popcorn.”
Most of us had been in Taz’s shoes at one time or another, but we beat it. We broke the code. We were all starting to wonder if Taz was going to be able to overcome his troubles. He had already had a couple of nights like this one and his time was running out. As one of my fellow LSOs a the RAG had once told a student, “This is big-time carrier aviation, and if you can’t keep up, we are gonna leave you behind.” Shaggy and I had already had a couple of discussions with CAG about his performance and I know CAG had talked to the Tomcat skipper about him.
“All Down Tomcat.” Called the hook spotter.
“Gear set five four zero, CLEAR DECK!” shouted Tanner.
Chief Polk had him on final again and was giving him some close control, catching every deviation early and pointing it out to Taz. It was obvious that Taz was focusing on his approach – he was much smoother this time and got to a good start.
I glanced over my shoulder, the landing area was clear. All around it’s periphery, sailors stood and waited. They didn’t care about Taz’s troubles, they just knew that 106 and the tanker were all that stood between them and some sleep.
Gear, winds, lens, cross-check, deck.
We were ready, was Taz?
“One oh six three quarters of a mile, on and on, call the ball.”
“One oh six Tomcat, ball, six six.”
I took a quick look at the wind gauge “Roger ball, thirty four knots, that’s a good start.”
He was on glideslope and on speed, but I heard the engines wind down.
“Don’t settle” I said quietly into the radio. It’s all about voice inflection.
I saw Paps off to my right bend his knees and bounce slightly, trying to will some power onto the jet.
The engines spooled back up, just a bit too much, but not bad. Taz touched down on centerline, just past the four wire.
I handed the radio and pickle back to Paps. “See?” I smiled “I don’t know why you have to make it so hard.” No slack.
I put my hand on BEGWIs shoulder “Fair pass, little not enough power in the middle, overcontrol settle in close, little fast, full flat in at the ramp.”
(OK) (NEPIM) ocSIC (F)BAR 4
Paps and Cling got the Tanker, Shaq flew a nice OK 3. We left one of the junior LSOs on the platform to recover the Helo and we went below to QA our grades.
After our pow wow below the platform, Cling and Paps started the trek through all the ready rooms to debrief pilots. Every pilot got a face to face debrief for every landing.
I followed them to Ready Eight where Taz would eventually show up. Inside, Shaggy and the Diamondback’s skipper were sitting in chairs at the front of the ready room talking quietly. I joined them.
We had a long talk about Taz and his future as a Naval Aviator…