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The Clanging of Big Steel Spheres

“Here’s what’s happened…. the flight deck was initially blocked by plane taxiing or slow getting away from landing zone.

“The next Hornet called in on the radio but was still in the clouds so the LSOs ( Landing Signal Officer) reminded the pilot to turn on the bright landing light. The LSO spotted the light and gave the pilot some corrections in the last seconds “ Power, Power!” The pilot touched down early or short but still caught the arresting wire. Pilots always go to Full Power upon touchdown hence All of the spray. The deck was Fouled or blocked by that plane that landed, hence the repetition of calls by the LSO looking backward and arms held high acknowledging this. The arresting wire got stuck being retracted back into position, that’s why the Motor Cart and others went to pull out the kink so to speak. The LSO graded the landing by telling the guy hunched over as he wrote down the plane ID # 500 and the summary of the landing- “ High Start, Drifted left, over corrected n descended too low”.  That’s why LSO stated “Power.”

Raconteur Report: Large, Clanking, Steel, 16#@  Quite another thing to do it in driving rain, with visibility down to シ mile, if that.

“So, coming in at 160 knots (184mph) you’re going to land a gray airplane on a gray ship, in gray seas, on a gray day, in a gray fog. Got it?”

There are four arresting wires to hit in a sweet spot only 50 yards long from #1 to #4, and after that, it’s “BOLTER! BOLTER! BOLTER!” slam the throttles forward, and go around for another try. This guy just managed to get back aboard after catching the #4 wire.

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  • John Venlet May 10, 2022, 11:00 AM

    Watched that the other day at his place. Impressive, and yes, clanging of big steel spheres.

  • Jack May 10, 2022, 11:39 AM

    I was assigned to VF-41 during the early 1970s as a black shoe but I spent as much time as possible watching air ops. Those LSOs are the meat and potatoes of operational safety during flight ops and everyone of them that I ever knew were pilots and not RIO’s or weapons system officers. If you are in trouble they will get you down when God Himself could not.

    That said, I’ve been topside and aft when foul weather ops like this are being flown and it is an incredibly exciting thing to experience; there is nothing in the world like it and the AF guys, while all good fighter pilots, are not within a stone’s throw of this kind of skill.

  • azlibertarian May 10, 2022, 12:09 PM

    Here’s a funny (to me, at least) story that I’ll tell third-hand……

    Years ago, when I was working, I flew with a guy who lived in San Diego. He had retired from the Navy as a S-3 pilot. He had this great story….

    My First Officer said that he ran into a Navy friend of his at a McDonalds who gave him the inside story of getting President Bush out to the USS Lincoln for that whole “Mission Accomplished” thingi.

    As I recall the story, the idea began in the White House (and obviously, I paraphrase)…..“Hey. It looks like this Iraq thingi is working out(Remember that this was in 2003, before the real problems in Iraq had manifested themselves). We should do something to get some political capital out of it. Maybe put 43 in a flight suit and have him fly out to a carrier or something. Let’s put him in one of those two-seater F-18s.”

    But before I continue, let me digress a minute….putting a President onto a Navy airplane was a BIG DEAL. We don’t even think about it anymore, but when the President is on an Air Force airplane, that plane is given the callsign “Air Force 1”. There have been entire movies based on this idea. And you don’t have to pay much attention to know that when the President is travelling between the White House and Andrews or Camp David, he travels on a Marine helicopter, which goes by “Marine 1”. Putting the President on a Navy airplane had never happened before, and this was the Navy’s first (and probably only) chance to have someone say “Navy 1” on a radio. Mucho prestige was on the line here.

    Back to my story…..
    To which the Secret Service said, “Not only NO, but HELL NO!!. There will always be a Secret Service agent within reach of the President, no matter what you want him to do. You are not strapping this, or any other, President into a fighter cockpit and then having him fly away somewhere. THIS IS NOT NEGOTIABLE!”

    So the White House politicos went back to the drawing board with a new mission: Find a plane that could go out to the carrier with at least 3 seats in it: One for the pilot, one for the President, and one for the Secret Service. Enter the S-3 Viking….a 4-place Navy plane used primarily for anti-submarine warfare. Its not quite as cool looking as a F-18, but cool enough for the political purposes that were driving this whole idea.

    Then the question became: Which pilot gets to fly with the President? Answer (which this video illustrates): The first and most obvious choice is the guy with the best landing scores. Swell. Unsurprisingly, it turned out that the guy with the best landing scores was the guy who lands all the time…..some 28 year old o-3 (Lieutenant, in Navy parlance). The politicos had to stop right there….“Are we really going to put the President of the United States in a plane piloted by a guy who was writing a term paper just a few years ago?” Maybe that wasn’t a great idea after all.

    OK. Scrap the Lieutenant. Let’s put his Squadron Commander in the seat.

    Nope. That didn’t work either. It turned out that the Lieutenant’s Squadron Commander was a Naval Flight Officer (a non-pilot flying position).

    Alright. Never mind. Let’s find a whole new S-3 squadron, this one with a pilot as a Squadron Commander. Enter our hero.

    So they found this new guy….a guy with enough age (which equals “gravitas”…..remember that word?) who could reasonably sit next to the President of the United States and get him out to the carrier for this political stunt.

    As I understand, the S-3 has an AHRS system…..where AHRS is an acronym for Attitude Heading Reference System. It is an inertial system that generates signals to the planes instruments that tells the pilot what his attitude is (“Am I straight and level or in a turn”) and his heading. The thing about AHRS systems, as well as Inertial systems in general, is that they can sometimes tumble….leading you to inaccurate readings. It isn’t a big deal, as there are ways to reset the system, but it is an annoyance.

    They got Bush, the Secret Service agent, and Andy Card (Bush’s Chief of Staff occupying the fourth seat) all dressed up and on the plane. And on the taxi out for take off, of course, the AHRS tumbled. And of course, everything needed to reset it was in front of the seat that Bush was in. So the Squadron Commander had to reach across the lap of the freakin’ President of the United States to reset the AHRS….all the while hoping that the Secret Service guy in the back seat wasn’t going to shoot him for touching his President.

    Unsaid so far is that the S-3 is a combat Navy plane and everyone wears a helmet, which includes an oxygen mask (and/or microphone) and headset. Somewhere in this whole evolution, the cord connecting Bush to the intercom came undone, and there he was sitting there in silence, not knowing what was going on (insert your own Bush metaphor here). So the pilot had to figure out why the President wasn’t responding to him, and once he’d done that, get him reconnected to the intercom, again, hoping that the Secret Service wouldn’t shoot him.

    After all this, the got the airplane (and the President) airborne. I’m going to give Bush some credit here….he does have some ancient experience in fighter-type airplanes. Yeah, he was a Senator’s son, and probably less serious about his job in the Texas Air Guard than he should have been, and at the time Guard flying was really just a paid flying-club, but he was a pilot none-the-less. So on his time in the S-3, he knew how to do a barrel roll, or how to hold straight-and-level, or where the throttles were. The pilot allowed Bush to do whatever he wanted to do (within reason) as they were headed out to the carrier, where it would be his turn to shine.

    So remember, this pilot is a Squadron Commander. He’s a late-30’s, early-40’s guy whose job is to manage the guys who are really flying airplanes for a living.

    And on this day, when the entire world, not to mention his colleagues in the Navy, were watching his landing, he went out all the way to the 4-wire to grab that S-3. Can you imagine the shit he would have caught had he boltered?

    So when I see that picture of Bush with that shit-eating grin right after he was landed on the Lincoln, I think that he knew all that his staff and the Navy had gone through to get him aboard.

    I relay this story with my utmost respect for my Navy pals. I’ve landed jets on short runways, dirt runways, snowy runways, and once in a hurricane, but landing a jet on a carrier on a good day is a challenging event, and their job is to land at night and frequently enough, in bad weather. These guys are awesome.

    • Gordon Scott May 10, 2022, 2:49 PM

      Agree on what it takes to land on a carrier.

      GWB didn’t need influence to get in the TANG. They were perfectly happy to recruit a Yale grad. Typically a politician’s son got some sort of billet like Public Affairs (Al Gore). W chose to be a fighter pilot. What’s more, a pilot in a single-engine, single-seat fighter. This was not the safest billet.

      • TwoDogs May 10, 2022, 9:05 PM

        Not just single engine, single seat. It was an early Century Series fighter, the F-102. Any of the Century Series would go out of their way to kill you on the most benign flight on the most benign day. And then they sent you out in them at night at low level in the Arctic to intercept real Russian bombers in the ADIZ. Walt Bjornby posted some riveting, hair raising tales of just that in rec.aviation.military back in the halcyon days of Usenet. I don’t suppose Walt is with us anymore, although I don’t know for sure. Ed Rasimus, the other denizen of R.A.M. left us a decade ago. Blue skies to both of them.

        • Gordon Scott May 10, 2022, 10:26 PM

          I’ve heard tales about the Century series. I know that up until the 1970s, fighter pilots had great difficulty buying life insurance. GWB had little choice in aircraft, of course. He flew what his unit had. And, a young 20-something is going to enjoy the ride, not dwell on the hazards. He did volunteer for Vietnam, but things were winding down by the time he was eligible.

          I have spoken to a few fighter pilots about GWB. None thought his ANG service was anything less than risky and honorable.

          Oh, geez, usenet groups. Man, you could learn a lot of interesting stuff by hanging around some of them. In those days there were probably less than 200,000 people and really about 10,000 active people. I remember the first spam posting. It was for an immigration lawyer, and he put his ad in a whole bunch of groups. You Were Not Supposed To Sully This Beautiful Thing that way.

          • Vanderleun May 11, 2022, 9:18 AM

            I remember it too. It caused a number of office arguments and debates at the EFF. We all knew it was bad. We didn’t know how bad. And now we do.

  • Uncle Jefe May 10, 2022, 1:08 PM

    We were down to visit the USS Midway during Spring Break for the young’uns, and the best part of the visit was the presentation by a retired pilot (hilarious old boy) who showed videos of landings and explained in incredible detail all that is involved from the pilot as well as flight ops crew, while he paused and restarted videos. Great show.
    At the same time, we had several dinners with a dear friend who was a carrier pilot, who lost his great pal Lt Tom Doyle to a crash on the Midway back in 1984. Our friend explained the series of events that led to that horrific crash, and said that he believed he had found the exact spot where the A-7E struck the ramp. When we were there the next day, we too found a very large dimple to the right of center of the ramp, that when seen from the right angle with the right light, is very obvious.
    God Bless Lt Doyle and all our great folks who have served, and do serve.

  • james wilson May 10, 2022, 5:33 PM

    It looks like a whole latta white male supremacy going on in a place I would personally avoid taking my white male supremacy. Are they still trying to shoehorn women into those tasks after that girl flamed her 14 out on approach back in the day? I still recall the Koppel interview of three young carrier pilots sent on to support the narrative. Yes sir, the girls are great, sir, anything we do they do better! Never had a 14 flame out on approach before (wonder why that was.) Bad luck! They looked like frat boys pulling a prank and smothering giggles. Credit to them.
    With AA’s running warships into things like never before the flight deck seems to to be another matter.

  • John henry May 10, 2022, 10:29 PM

    What’s up with the talk about Navy “pilots”?

    The air force has pilots. The navy does not. They have Naval Aviators. Huge difference

    Needing to hit that 50 yard sweet spot, that can be moving 20-30 feet or more in multiple directions. In the dark.

    Navigating from a slightly uncertain location (before GPS) flying the mission, then finding their way back to an even more uncertain location before doing that whole landing thing.

    That’s not piloting, that’s aviating

    • Vanderleun May 11, 2022, 9:17 AM

      I take your point. Aviating it is.

    • azlibertarian May 12, 2022, 7:30 PM

      I’ve had this policy of sitting on any criticism I might offer a day or so before posting, but I’ve still got these views, so here comes my rant. Gerard, I apologize in advance for using your comments section for this.

      So John tells me that there is a huge difference between Air Force pilots and Naval Aviators (sic). Bullshit.

      Flight decks are flight decks. Cockpits are cockpits. And pilots are pilots. If your job is to sit in a plane with access to the flight controls and throttles, then you’re a pilot. Period. Dot. End of story. If you want to insist on a difference between Air Force pilots and Naval Aviators (sic), that’s OK, but maybe you’ve changed your pronouns too.

      And to repeat myself from my above post, I get it….fighter pilots are “awesome”…..best in the business, tip of the spear.

      But here’s the thing….As a taxpayer, I want the fighter pilot (so too with the SEALs) to not just believe that he’s the biggest badass in the sky, I want him to know it. I don’t want some guy up there wondering if he’s really good enough for the airplane at his hands and the mission in front of him. When you put a guy on the “tip of the spear”, I want him razor sharp, deadly, and dangerous.

      A personal illustration: I’ve got 2 sons-in-law. You wouldn’t know it if you met him, because he is very reserved, but S-I-L#1 is a badass. He’s a pilot flying HH-60s in a Combat Search and Rescue role. https://media.defense.gov/2015/Dec/28/2001329031/-1/-1/0/151226-F-CX842-027.JPG * When somebody gets shot or blown up, his job is to get in there to pick up the injured (sometimes badly injured) into a place where he knows the enemy is shooting people and blowing shit up. [BTW, the real badasses are the PJs in back, but that’s a whole other story.]
      * When they were deployed to Afghanistan, they went by the callsign “Pedro”, and painted these giant Frito Bandito mustaches on the airframes. Most of the guys grew mustaches too.

      S-I-L#2 is a whole other story. He was enlisted in the Navy, where he spent his time repairing radios. He was never on a ship and spent his deployment to Iraq with far, far more time with a soldering gun in his hands than a firearm. After his enlistment, he got an electrical engineering degree and is now an engineer at NASA. One of the smartest mo’ fo’s I know.

      And this is the conceit that AF fighter pilots and Naval Aviators (sic) have: They strut around at the “tip of the spear”, with their collars popped, and their fighter pilot names all thinking that they’re living, breathing Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s WITHOUT EVER ONCE THINKING ABOUT WHAT ELSE MAKES UP A SPEAR!

      To continue the metaphor, a spear is made up of two components: A strong metal spear head, honed sharp as a razor….and a long, straight, equally strong, but entirely boring and completely-forgotten-about shaft. That shaft gives the spear enough mass to allow the spear head to be deadly. Without the shaft, the combat effectiveness of the spear head would be like flinging razor blades across the room….you could hurt someone within a couple of feet, but after that, the razor blade would just flutter to the floor.

      So if you’re going to come here and comment about the huge difference between AF pilots and Naval Aviators (sic), you’re going to have to explain how that tip of the spear can operate without the shaft.

      If there is one truth in warfare it is this: Amateurs study tactics. Professionals study logistics. (BTW, we’re seeing this in spades in Ukraine today). If you want to be deadly in a F-18, you better thank your lucky stars that the crew on the oiler was able to pull up next to your carrier and deliver the jet fuel necessary for your jet. You’d better think about who is going to pull your ass out from the grasp of the enemy should you get shot down. You’d better think about who is repairing your radio when it goes down. Those guys, and the tens of thousands like them in the other services, are good at their jobs too, and in my mind are equally “awesome” and deserving of your respect.


  • KCK May 11, 2022, 11:07 PM

    I respect naval aviators. Begrudgingly.

  • Sirius The Great May 12, 2022, 10:41 AM

    The conditions in the video are BAD! No question. But the really crazy sh*t always happened at night. As in “I’m still shaking and we came back aboard 2 hrs ago” crazy. It is a testament to the skills and professionalism of everyone involved in this incredible and violent ballet, and I include the aviators, LSOs, Air Boss, flight deck crews (white, yellow, green, purple, etc. shirts) that there are so few, so very few, accidents. Naval aviation is a special thing.