If ever you hear that the people in our military are pampered and overpaid, instead of the truth - grossly underpaid and under appreciated - send them a copy of this article:
For those unfamiliar with carrier operations, the barricade is a huge net, 20-feet high that stretches across the flight deck to 'catch' planes that must land in extreme circumstances, such as the one described below. How rare is a barricade incident? A skipper of the USS Eisenhower stated, “I watched 36,000 landings in three years - and none required the barricade.” When it does occur, however, it can be a deadly experience.
This pilot's report is described in aviation and shipboard lingo unfamiliar to the average person. But with the editor's occasional parenthetical assists, it is discernible by most readers as a dramatic, well-told tale.
NAVY PILOT'S ACCOUNT OF A BARRICADE RECOVERY
Sent by 1stAdmPAO. Pilot's identity not included.
Greetings Slacker Landlubbers!
This is to share with you the exciting night I had on the 23rd. It has nothing to do with me wanting to talk about me and 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 in a hot seat for the 2030 launch about 500 miles north of Hawaii. My bird was parked just forward of the nav pole and eventually I was taxied off toward the island where I did a 180 (degrees of turn) to get spotted as the first one off the cat (catapult). There's another Hornet from our sister squadron parked ass over the track in about a quarter of the way down the cat.
Eventually he gets a move on, 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, 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 in the rest. I hate to say this, but the Hornet cat shot is pretty impressive, equivalent I would say to a gassed-up KA-6. As the cat fires, I stage the afterburners 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. Somewhere in here I raised my gear which is interesting since it is not a Hornet “off the cat” boldface. It is however, if I recall correctly, an Intruder boldface. Oops! The throttles aren't going any farther forward despite my Schwarznegerian 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 4,500 pounds in all, are black Pacific bound. The airplane leaped up a bit but not enough. I'm now about a mile in front of the boat at 160 feet and fluctuating from 135 to 140 knots. The next comment that comes out of the ether is another one-worder: “Eject!” I'm still flying so I respond, “Not yet, I've still got it.”
Our procedures call for us to intercept on speed which is 8.1 alpha and I'm fluctuating from about 8-1/2 to 11, or so. Finally, at 4-miles ahead of the boat, 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 “Arnold” thing. I bring it back out of afterburner to mil. About now I get another “Eject!” call.
“Nope, still flying.” CAG (carrier air group commander) was watching and the further I got from the boat, the lower I looked. At 5-1/2 miles I asked tower to please get the helo headed my way as I truly thought I was going to be shelling out (ejecting).
At some 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 regarding dumping while in burner. After a second or two I decided, “Screw that,” and turned them on. Major “Big Wave” Dave Leppelmeier joined up on me at one point and told me later that I had a 60-foot Roman candle going.
At 7 miles I eventually started a very slight climb - a little breathing room. CATCC (air control) 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 Scott “Fuzz” McClure's voice. I tell him, “OK Fuzz, my gear's up, my left motor's off and I'm only able to stay level with minimum burner. Every time I pull it back to mil I start about a hundred feet per minute down.”
I just continue trucking downwind trying to stay level and keep dumping. I think I must have been in burner for about 15 minutes. At ten miles or so I'm down to 5000 pounds of gas and start a turn back toward the ship. I don't intend to land but don't want to get too far away. 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.
Fuzz is reading me the single engine rate of climb numbers from the PCL based on temperature, etc. It doesn't take us long to figure out that things aren't adding up. One of the things I learned in the RAG was that the Hornet is a perfectly good single engine aircraft. It flies great on one motor. So why the hell do I need blower to stay level? By this time I'm talking to Fuzz (CATCC), Deputy CAG on the flight deck, and CAG on the bridge with the Captain. We decide that the thing to do is climb to 3,000 feet and dirty up to see if I'm going to have any excess power and so be able to shoot an approach.
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 moon above which was really, really cool. I 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. I jam it back into AB and after three or four huge compressor stalls and accompanying decelerations the right motor comes back. I'm thinking my blood pressure was probably up there about now and for the first time I notice that my mouth feels like a San Joaquin summer. That would be hot and dusty for those of you who haven't come to visit.
This next part is great. You know those stories about guys who dead-stick crippled airplanes away from orphanages, and puppy stories and stuff and get all this great media attention? Well, at this point I'm looking at the picket ship at my left, 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 out of here in a second.” I said it very calmly but with meaning. The LSO's (landing signal officers) 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 min blower and my 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! I'm thinking that I'm gonna end up punching (ejecting) and tell Fuzz at this point “Dude, I really don't want to do this again.” Don't think everyone else got it but he said he chuckled. I
leave it in mil 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 barricade.”
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 out of 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 calmer than I probably was, I call, “Paddles, you up.”
“Go ahead” replies LT “Max” Stout, one of our CAG LSO's.
“Max, I probably know most of it but you want to shoot me the barricade brief?”
After the fact, Max told me they went from expecting me to eject to my asking for the barricade brief in about a minute and he was hyperventilating. 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 milesI 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 figure.
OK, we're on a 4-degree glide slope and I'm at 800 feet or so. I intercept glide slope at about a mile and three quarters and pull power. Flash/boom. Add power out of fear. Going high. Pull power. Flash/boom. Add power out of fear.
Going higher, I mentally flash back to LSO School: “All right class, today's lecture will be on the single engine barricade approach. Remember, the one place you really, really don't want to be is high. Are there any questions?”
The PLAT TV video is most excellent as each series of flash/booms shows up nicely along with the appropriate reflections on the water. “Flats” Jensen, 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” (wave-off) lights; very timely, too. With visions of the A-3 dancing in my head 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 eject 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 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 downwind.”
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 fly the DAY pattern and I lose about 200 feet in the turn and like a total dumb ass I look out as I get on centerline and that night thing about feeling high gets me. I descend further to 400 feet.
I got kinda pissed at myself then as I realized I would now be intercepting the 4-degree glide slope in the middle. Flash/boom every several seconds all the way down. Last look at my gas was 600-and-some pounds at a mile and a half.
“Where am I on the glide slope Max” I ask, and hear a calm “Roger Ball.” I know I'm low because the ILS is way up there and I call “Clara.” Can't remember what the response was but 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 my mind said to me, “Do what he says Oyster” and I pulled it back to idle. The reason I mention this is that I felt like I was a long way out there, if you know what I mean. My hook hit 11 Oyster paces from the ramp, I discovered later. The rest is pretty tame. I hit the deck, skipped the one, the two and snagged the three wire and rolled into the barricade about a foot right of centerline.
Once stopped, my vocal cords involuntarily yelled “Victory!” on button 2. The 14 guys who were listening in marshal said it was pretty cool. After the fact, I wish I had done the Austin Powers' “Yeah Baby” thing. The lights came up and off to my right there must have been a gazillion cranials.
Paddles said that with me shut down you could hear a huge cheer across the flight deck. I open the canopy and start putting stuff in my helmet bag and the first guy I see is our flight deck chief, a huge guy named 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. The first guy up the boarding ladder is CAG Paddles. I will tell you what he said over beers someday. It was priceless and in my mind one for the ages.
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 14 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.
You're probably wondering about the engine problems. When they taxied that last Hornet - the one that was ass over the cat track, they forgot to remove a section or two of the cat seal. The (safety) board has not finished yet but it's a done deal. As the shuttle came back it removed the cat seal, which went down both engines during the stroke.
Left engine N1 basically quit, even though it is in pretty good shape. It was producing no thrust, and during the wave-off one of the LSO's saw “about 30-feet” of black rubber hanging off the left side of the airplane. The whole left side, including inside the intake is basically black where the rubber was beating on it in the breeze. The right engine, the one that kept running, has 340 major hits to all stages. The compressor section is trashed and, best of all, it had two 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 General Electric! By the way, ECAMS data showed that I was fat — had 380 pounds of gas when I shut down.