(From the Pilot) Hey, I felt the need to share with you all the exciting night I had
on the 23rd. It has nothing to do with me wanting to talk about me. It has everything to do with sharing what will no doubt become a better
story as the years go by.So, there I was… Manned up a hot seat for the 2030 launch about 500 miles north of Hawaii (insert visions of many Mai-Tais here). Spotted just forward of the navigation pole and eventually taxied off toward the island
where I do a 180 and get spotted to be the first one off cat I (insert foreboding
There’s another Hornet from our sister squadron parked
ass over the track about a quarter of the way down the cat. Eventually he
gets a move on and they lower my launch bar and start the launch cycle.
All systems are go on the run-up and after waiting the requisite
5-seconds or so to make sure my flight controls are good to go
(there ‘s a lot to be said for good old cables and pulleys), I turn
on my lights. As is my habit, I shift my eyes to the catwalk and watch the
deck edge dude, and as he starts his routine of looking left then right,
I put my head back. As the cat fires, I stage the blowers and am along for
the ride. Just prior to the end of the stroke there’s a huge flash and a
simultaneous boom and my world is in turmoil. My little pink body is doing 145
knots or so and is 100 feet above the Black Pacific. And there it stays –
except for the airspeed, which decreases to 140 knots. The throttles aren’t
going any farther forward despite my Schwarzzenegerian efforts to make them do
so. From out of the ether I hear a voice say one word: "Jettison."
Roger that! A nanosecond later, my two drops and single MER – about 4500 pounds in
all – are Black Pacific bound. The airplane leapt up a bit, but not
I’m now about a mile in front of the boat at 160 feet and
fluctuating from 135 to 140 knots. The next command out of the ether is another
one-worder: "Eject!"I’m still flying so I respond, "Not yet, I’ve still got it."
Finally, at 4 miles, I take a peek at my engine instruments and
notice my left engine doesn’t match the right (funny how quick glimpses at
instruments get burned into your brain). The left rpm is at 48% even though I’m
still doing the Ah-Nold thing. I bring it back to mil. About now I get
another "Eject!" call.
"Nope, still flying."
Deputy CAG (Carrier Air Group) was watching and the further I got
from the boat, the lower I looked. About 5 miles, I asked tower to please get
the helo headed my way as I truly thought I was going to be shelling
out. At this point I thought it would probably be a good idea to start
dumping some gas. As my hand reached down for the dump switch I actually
remembered that we have a NATOPS prohibition reg arding dumping while in burner.
After a second or two I decided, "hell with that" and turned them on. I was
later told I had a 60 foot roman candle going.
At 7 miles I eventually started a (very slight) climb. A little
breathing room. CATCC chimes in with a downwind heading and I’m like: "Ooh.
Good idea," and throw down my hook. Eventually I get headed downwind at
900 feet and ask for a rep. While waiting I shut down the left engine. In
short order I hear "Fuzz’s" voice.
I tell him the following: "OK Fuzz, my gear’s up, my left motor’s
off and I’m only able to stay level with min blower. Every time I pull it to
mil I start about a hundred feet per minute down."
I continue trucking downwind trying to stay level and keep dumping.
I think I must have been in blower for about fifteen minutes. At ten miles
or so I’m down to 5000 pounds of gas and start a turn back toward the ship.
Don’t intend to land, but don’t want to ge t too far away, either. Of
course, as soon I as I start in an angle of bank, I start dropping like a stone
so I end up doing a 5 mile circle around the ship. Meanwhile, Fuzz is
reading me the single engine rate-of-climb numbers from the PCL based on
etc. It doesn’t take us long to figure out that things aren’t adding
up. So why the hell do I need blower to stay level!?
By this time I’m talking to Fuzz, (CATCC) , Deputy CAG (turning on
the flight deck) and CAG who’s on the bridge with the Captain. We decide that
the thing to do is climb to three thousand feet and dirty up. I get headed
downwind, go full burner on my remaining motor and eventually make it to 2000
feet before leveling out below a scattered layer of puffies. There’s a
half a moon above which was really, really cool. Start a turn back toward
the ship, and when I get pointed in the right direction, I throw the gear down
and pull the throttle out of AB.
Remember that flash/boom! that started this little tale? Repeat it
here. Holy shit! I jam it back into AB and after three or four huge
compressor stalls and accompanying decelleration, the right motor comes back.
This next part is great. You know those stories about guys who
dead-stick crippled airplanes away from orphanages and puppy stores and stuff
and get all this great media attention? Well, at this point I’m looking at
the picket ship at my 11 o’clock at about two miles and I say on
departure freq to no one in particular, "You need to have the picket ship hang a left
right now. I think I’m gonna be outta here in a second." I said it very
calmly but with meaning. The LSO’s said that the picket immediately started
pitching out of the fight. Ha! I scored major points with the heavies
afterwards for this. Anyway, it’s funny how your mind works in these situations.
OK, so I’m dirty and I get it back level and pass a couple miles up
the starboard side of the ship. I’m still in minimum blower and my fuel
state is now about 2500 pounds. Hmmm. I hadn’t really thought about running
out of gas. I muster up the nads to pull it out of blower again and sure
enough…flash, BOOM! Damn!
I leave it in military and it seems to settle out. Eventually, I
discover that even the tiniest throttle movements cause the flash/boom thing
to happen so I’m trying to be as smooth as I can. I’m downwind a couple
miles when CAG comes up and says "Oyster, we’re going to rig the
Remember, CAG’s up on the bridge watching me fly around doing blower
donuts in the sky and he’s thinking I’m gonna run outta JP-5 too. By now
I’ve told everyone who’s listening that there a better than average chance
that I’m going to be ejecting – the helo bubbas, god bless ’em, have been
following me around this entire time.
I continue downwind and again, sounding more calm than I probably
was, call paddles. "Paddles, you up?"
"Go ahead" replies "Max," one of our CAG LSO’s.
"Max, I probably know most of it but you wanna shoot me the
barricade brief?" (Insert long pause here). After the fact, Max told me they
went from expecting me to eject to me asking for the barricade brief in about
a minute and he was hyper-ventilating. He was awesome on the radio though,
just the kind of voice you’d want to hear in this situation. He gives me the
brief and at nine miles I say, "If I turn now, will it be up when I get
there? I don’t want to have to go around again."
"It’s going up now Oyster, go ahead and turn."
"Turning in, say final bearing."
"Zero-six-three" replies the voice in CATCC. (Another number I
remember – go
OK, we’re on a four degree glide slope and I’m at 800 feet or so. I
rcept glide slope at about a mile and three quarters and pull
power. Flash/ boom! Add power out of fear. Going high. Pull power.
power out of fear. Going higher. (Flashback to LSO school….All
right class, today’s lecture will be on the single engine barricade
Remember, the one place you really, REALLY don’t want to be is high.
Are there any questions?) The PLAT video is most excellent as each
series of flash/booms shows up nicely along with the appropriate reflections
on the water. "Flats," our other CAG
paddles is backing up and as I start to set up a higher than desired
sink rate he hits the "Eat At Joe’s" lights. Very timely too. [note:
wave-off lights – a guts-ball decision]
I stroke AB and cross the flight deck with my right hand on the
stick and my left thinking about the little yellow and black handle between my
legs. No worries. I cleared that sucker by at least ten feet. By the way my
state at the ball call was 1.1. As I slowly climb out I say, again to no one
in particular, "I can do this."
Max and Flats heard this and told me later it made them feel much
better about my state of mind. I’m in blower still and CAG says, "Turn
Again, good idea. After I get turned around he says, "Oyster, this
is gonna be your last look, so turn in again as soon as you’re comfortable."
I lose about 200 feet in the turn and like a total dumbshit I look out as I
get on centerline and that night thing about feeling high gets me and I
descend further to 400 feet. I got kinda pissed at myself then as I realized
I would now be intercepting the four degree glide slope in the middle.
No shit fellas, flash/boom every several seconds all the way down.
at my gas was 600-and-some pounds at a mile and a half. "Where am I
on the glideslope Max?" I ask ask and hear a calm, "Roger Ball."
I know I’m low because the ILS is waaay up there and I call "Clara."
Can’t remember what the response was b ut by now the ball’s shooting up
from the depths. I start flying it and before I get a chance to spot the
deck. I hear "Cut, cut, cut!" I’m really glad I was a paddles for so long because
said to me, "Do what he says, Oyster," and I pulled it back to idle.
reason I mention this is that I felt like I was a LONG FRIGGEN WAYS
OUT THERE – if you know what I mean (my hook
hit 11 paces from the ramp, as I discovered during FOD walkdown
The rest is pretty tame. I hit the deck, skipped the one, the two,
and snagged the three and rolled into the barricade about a foot right
centerline. Once stopped my vocal chords involuntarily yelled
"Victory!" on button 2 (the 14 guys who were listening in marshal said it was
After the fact I wish I had done the Austin Powers’ "Yeah Baby!"
thing.) The lighghts came up and off to my right there must have been a ga-zillion
cranials. Paddles said that with my shutdown you could hear a huge
cheer across the flight deck. I open the canopy and start putting my shit
in my helmet bag and the first guy I see is our Flight Deck Chief, huge
Chief Richards and he gives me the coolest look and then two thumbs
up. I will remember
it forever. Especially since I’m the Maintenance Officer. I climb
down and people are gathering around patting me on the back when one of the
boat’s crusty yellow-shirt chiefs interrupts and says, "Gentlemen, great
job but fourteen of your good buddies are still up there and we need to get
them aboard." Again, priceless.
So there you have it fellas. Here I sit with my little pink body in
a ready room chair on the same tub I did my first cruise in 10 years and 7
months ago. And I thought it was exciting back then!
P.S. You’re probably wondering what made my motors shit themselves
almost forgot to tell you. Remember the scene with the foreboding
When they taxied that last Hornet – the one that was over the cat
they forgot to remove a section or two of the cat seal. The [flight
board’s not finished yet, but it’s a done deal. As the shuttle came
removed the cat seal which went down both motors during the stroke.
the waveoff, one of the LSO’s saw "about thirty feet" of black
hanging off the left side of the airplane. The whole left side,
inside the intake is basically black where the rubber was beating on
the breeze. The right motor, the one that kept running, has 340
to all stages. The compressor section is trashed and best of all, it
pieces of the cat seal -one about 2 feet and the other about 4 feet
long, sticking out of the first stage and into the intake. God Bless
P.P.S. By the way, the data showed that I was fat – had 380 pounds
when I shut down. Again, remember this n umber as in ten years it
be claiming, FUMES MAN, FUMES I TELL YOU!
– – – –
This is a good story that describes what most of us don’t see/hear
from those out there on the pointy tip of the spear. Sleep well at
because the good guys are out there keeping things safe for us here