We were assigned the yo-yo tanker for the early morning wasex (war at sea) launch. We being me and Joe.
One might ask what the heck is a yo-yo tanker? Well, a yo-yo tanker is either a good deal or a bad deal, depending on the viewpoint one wants to adopt.
A yo-yo tanker is usually the first jet launched off the carrier, in this case the USS Constellation. The tanker has a full load of jet fuel, climbs to on station, and awaits the strike force which will launch after the tanker.
The tanker quickly passes all the fuel he can to the fighters and bombers and sends them on their merry way to whatever target or adversary is out there and is the subject wanting the attention of so many of the Navy’s finest.
Once all the fuel the tanker can afford to give away is gone, the tanker goes right back down to the pattern and traps on the ship. Then the tanker hot pumps (is refueled on deck while still running), taxis to the nearest catapult, and is launched again to be available to the returning fighters and bombers who have burned up all of Uncle Sam’s precious fuel–being the purveyors of destruction and fast flight that they are.
The good deal part of all this is the tanker crew gets to bag two cat shots and two traps whilst the other mortals on the same launch get just one apiece.
The bad deal part of all this is the tanker crew is just that, a tanker crew. The other planes have left on a mission, they are going to practice dropping ordinance on some target and chasing bad guys around the pretend hostile sky. Droning around with a fuel hose out the back end is not the epitome of coolness. You have to adopt an attitude that works for you.
On this day Joe and I punched off the pointy end of the ship in our KA-6D while it was still dark. There was a pinkish edge to the horizon, which was an absolute bonus thing to see as the tanker accelerated off the bow into what could have been the deepest of dark black places in the sky. You take all the help offered, a horizon is always good for the soul.
Joe and I climbed up to about 20,000′ in the direction of the target and took up a left orbit. Soon the fighters showed up and one by one they sucked up all the fuel we could give for the moment. Calculating how much fuel to give away is an art and a survival tactic. The art part comes with giving away as much as you possibly can to those who will really need the fuel to accomplish the mission. Typically the fighter guys, F-14′s in this case, will take every ounce a tanker will give. If it weren’t for safeguards on the tanker the turkeys could suck out all the fuel the tanker owns and leave it in a flameout. The survival part is conniving as best as one can the anticipated time the tanker will land back on the ship. Give away as much fuel as possible but still have enough to loiter around until the ship has a clear landing area. Miscalculating and being too conservative means the strike force leaves with not as much fuel as they thought they would have. Being a liberal with the fuel give away might up the pucker factor greatly when the ship relays that it won’t be ready to recover aircraft when you thought it would.
On this occasion the ship let us know that it would at least 20 minutes or so longer than we anticipated before we could recover. And they let us know before we gave away that 20 minutes extra fuel. Nice.
So there we were, droning around in the sky all our own. Everybody else had left. Joe and I were simply enjoying the quiet interlude as we waited for the deck to be ready.
The pinkish twinge on the horizon turned to a bit of orange, and then a glorious burst of orange, Joe and I got to watch a spectacular sunrise at sea. The rim of the sun came out of the sea and mist with all the majesty Our Creator can muster. As sunrises go, this one was a lollapalooza. Just flat awesome. Aviation gives us bonuses once in a while.
Joe remarked that we had just seen one heck of a sunrise, he wished he could see it again.
Sometimes you get a request you can grant.
I rolled the jet over, pulled the nose down, and we dropped about 15,000′ or so quickly, then started a climb. Our descent had put us below the horizon relative to the sun.
As we climbed upward we got to watch the beautiful sunrise all over again.
Remembering that morning still makes me smile.
Author Archives: Busbob
We were assigned the yo-yo tanker for the early morning wasex (war at sea) launch. We being me and Joe.
It was a dark and stormy night. Nah. It was dark. I remember that distinctly.
We had been at sea for a couple of weeks and flying exercise after exercise. Crews were tired, the pace of operations was taking a toll on man and metal.
Joe and I were in the ready room as the alert tanker crew. There was only one tanker left in an up status, the other three had died of various ailments during the day. We were sitting in an empty ready room, sharing the space with the duty officer. It was late, the movie was over. The denizens of Ready Four had moved on to other habitats, a game of cards, letter writing, maybe a grease burger in the forward mess. Maybe an early rack time, perchance to score a full night’s rest without interruption, a rare event during workups.
Joe was new to the boat, the USS Constellation, new to our A-6 squadron. I had shared with him his first daytime trap not too long ago, and he had yet to be exposed to the nether world of night ops. We briefed the flight as if we were going to launch in the next few minutes. Never can tell when the call will come. Joe already had the daytime experience, albeit just a few day traps. Night ops were a different game, and I tried my utmost to pass on all the knowledge needed to fly and survive on the dark side.
The call to man up came just about the same time I was running out of pertinent items. Grab the helmets, kneeboards, and nav bags, head for the flight deck, might be time to launch.
Our KA-6D was spotted just forward of the island on the starboard side. Rather than being right on the flight deck edge with the tail jutting out over the ocean, the plane was tied down inboard somewhat, with the nose pointed right at the landing area. We preflighted the bird with our red lensed flashlights. No white lights on deck. Night vision is precious.
We preflighted the ejection seats and strapped in. The maintenance chief appeared at the top of the boarding ladder and passed on to me what the gouge was. There was only one airplane left to recover from the last launch of the day, an F-14, and he boltered on the first pass. No other tankers, we are to be insurance if the lad continues to have problems.
No sweat. One bolter doesn’t tell the story, odds are we won’t even start up. We close the canopy and look around us, our eyes adjusting more and more to the night world.
The blackness was…black. Can’t describe it any other way. An overcast sky took away the stars. Joe and I could see the landing area ahead of us in the dim red light and not much more. There were Intruders on either side of us, the ones closest showing vague details of the big nose and trademark refueling probe, the ones farther away sharing less and less conformity with our aircraft, morphing into yellow grey blobs toward the bow and stern.
To our left we heard and then saw an F-14 in the last seconds of his landing pass. The big turkey looked good for a three wire. A cinch, I thought.
Then the big jet appeared to stop his descent and went long over the wires, missing the 3 and 4 wire, dragging his hook in a rooster tail of sparks down the centerline of the landing area and then off the deck and into the blackness again. Bummer. Too much power in close, this guy’s adrenaline is pumping.
I shared my observation with Joe. He didn’t have much to say in response. This was his first time on the carrier deck in the dark.
A few minutes later the F-14 emerges out of the darkness on our left again. Good pass, I think, and then the mysterious too much power over the wires happens again. This time the turkey’s main mounts and hook barely touch down near the end of the landing area. Again the F-14 rotates and disappears into the dark of the night.
What the hey? That was a bit worse than the first pass we saw. What’s going on with this guy?
Joe and I discuss what we had just seen. While we are talking I pick up the lights of the SAR (search and rescue) helo aft of the ship beyond the LSO platform. The helo is doing odd things, going up and then down, up and then down. Weird. Must be bored and doing some sort of drill. I point this out to Joe and he looks at the same lights going up and down.
Then Joe asks me, “Isn’t the helo stationed on the starboard side of the ship? Behind us?”
Holy crap. Joe is correct, I’m not thinking. The lights I am looking at belong to the plane guard destroyer aft of the ship! Why is he going up and down like that?
Then the neurons in my brain pan kick in and make connections. A glance at the VDI, the main attitude indicator on the instrument panel in front of me, confirms what I had not picked up on. The Connie was moving. Up and down. As I watched the attitude indicator we went left wing down, then left wing up, then left wing down again. Crap, a pitching deck. I point to the VDI and let Joe in on my sudden revelation. As we go left wing down the plane guard’s lights climb up in the blackness, then back down as the Connie’s bow goes below the horizon.
We watch the VDI. The F-14 returns for another pass at the deck. Joe and I scan the F-14 and the VDI at the same time. The F-14 is just about to touch down and the VDI display shows us in an increasing right bank. The deck falls away from the F-14 as the bow of the Connie plunges, the tail hook passes over the 3 and 4 wires with room to spare. There is another brief shower of sparks from his tail hook as he barely touches the end of the landing area and then the Tomcat flies away into the night.
The plane captain’s wands light up, one of the yellow cones point at my left engine, the other cone points upward and the plane captain makes the light twirl with his wrist. Time to start engines and get ready to go. We light off both engines and make sure all systems are online. We wait for the light signals to undo the tiedown chains and taxi to the cat. It’s showtime for us. I tell Joe it looks like we are going to have to launch into the night and be in position to pass fuel to the Tomcat, he can’t have much left.
We are ready. The plane captain’s wands are crossed above his head, stay put with the brakes on is the signal.
Joe comes up on the ICS. “Bob,” says Joe. “If we are the only tanker left, who will give us fuel when we can’t get aboard?”
Ya know, Joe was smart. Perceptive. Thinking ahead. He voiced what I hadn’t even thought about. Now I was a confident fellow, sure of my abilities, but a pitching deck adds so much to the pudding of uncertainty.
Joe had a point. I thought for a second or two, not quite so sure of myself in light of (or in dark of!) what I had just seen and what Joe had said.
There was an answer. “Joe,” I said. “This is where we pray for the guy in the F-14. Pray that he arrives when the deck isn’t on the way up or down and that he grabs a wire on the next pass.”
What I didn’t say was pray that we don’t have to cat off the pointy end of this boat into nothingness to help someone and then hang around until he gets aboard. Then try to outsmart the pitching deck ourselves.
Don’t know that Joe prayed or not, we were silent for a while. I mentally had a short and sincere one way talk with the One In Charge Of Things.
The F-14 appeared above the stern again, a ghostly image in the dim red lights of the deck. I looked at the VDI, we were wings level.
The turkey hit the deck and came to a stop just in front of us, his engines howling against the stopping force of the arresting wire caught in his tail hook.
The plane captain dragged one of his wands across his throat. The shutdown signal. I pulled back the throttles past the idle detent and around to the shut off position.
We weren’t going to have to answer Joe’s question tonight.
Now the race is on and here comes pride in the backstretch, heartache goin’ to the inside…
I first heard this George Jones tune in a fraternity brother’s room. It was the late 60′s and country music was not “in” the way it is today. The Rolling Stones, the Mamas and the Papas, the Beatles, the Monkees, and many other pop groups took first place in the music world.
Don’t know why the lyrics to George’s song stayed with me all these years. I can still picture my fraternity brother’s room on the campus, it was never a bastion of neatness. Drew was never a bastion of anything but party on, brother. His focus in life was golf and beer. Or was it beer and golf?
Maybe that’s why George Jones’ death brought back thoughts about life and what it brings to us, and what it doesn’t bring. George lived a life that was out of control at times. Drew was the same, and he beat George to the finish line.
Drew was an alcoholic. Took me three tries with the spell checker to get that word right. I didn’t know he was one, most everybody in our fraternity would not know the difference between an alkie and an average college kid in the 60′s. We partied, partied a lot, drank heavily. Most of us saved the party part until the weekends. Drew didn’t. Anytime after noon or so you could find Drew in his room, an open beer bottle on the desk and George Jones records lettin’ loose tune after tune on the stereo. The door was always open, there was always a beer in the fridge. George and Drew had something in common. Booze and a life out of control at times. The story of Drew driving home for a holiday once was legendary. He was pulled over for erratic driving, turns out he had consumed more than a few of the beers in the case he bought before leaving school to go home. The sheriff bluntly told him he’d been drinking. Drew’s candid response (“No #$%*, sheriff!”) caught the sheriff by surprise, so much so that the sheriff didn’t give him a ticket but instead escorted Drew all the way into the next county. Home.
Could it be that our generation was faced with Viet Nam and the implications that falling out of college meant in those days? Flunk out, lose the college deferment, go to the front of the line for service in ‘Nam. Not a popular war, not a popular topic amongst the college crowd, and a source of fear to many. Could it be that the pressure was there to perform, keep the grades on the passing side, keep the army out of the picture, no matter what? Was that the reason for the liquid dependence?
Or could it be that just the pressure of life was too much for some? Maybe for Drew?
I don’t know. Lost track of him after college, only to have his name come up one day 40 years or so later, when a friend of ours mentioned they were from a small town in Texas. Drew’s home town. Where? I asked, I have a fraternity brother from there, did you know Drew?
Yes, same high school class, was the response, followed by did you know about him and his life?
No, what happened, I asked.
Maybe I shouldn’t have asked, the story was tragic. Too much alcohol, lost jobs, a stint as high school coach, a bank robbery, or maybe it was just an attempt, prison time, a lost and dissolute life, a wreckage of a family, and finally a lonely death on a New Year’s Eve a decade ago. His death went unnoticed for days, no one went looking for him.
No one missed him.
I passed the news on to my fraternity brothers five years after his death and not one of them knew of his passing on. Most of us go in one direction, our lives are predictable, we don’t know or understand what hurts inside others and makes life misfire. I wonder what demons turned Drew down the wrong road.
George Jones’ death made me think of Drew again.
Now the race is on and here comes pride in the backstretch, heartache goin’ to the inside…
…and the winner loses all…
There we were at Fallon again, on one of the endless dets before actually going to sea. The earth around NAS Fallon has to be the richest iron earth in the world, what with all the practice bombs and occasionally real bombs being rained down on the various targets over and over again until the bombers get it right or too close to really matter any more.
We practiced section flights, then division flights, then threw in all the attack guys (A-7′s and A-6′s), then made our way up the learning curve to a full blown strike, with the attack pukes, fighter guys (F-14′s), recce dudes (the RF-8′s), and the EA-6B’s on top with the E-2′s helping us out. Baby steps to elephant steps, one bomb at a time.
The baby steps included some basics that I didn’t think about until my name showed up on the skeds along with Tom, my trusty B/N, for a tanker launch. Single tanker, it says, brief with F-14 before launch. What was this all about? A few questions later we learned that there was an F-14 driver in one of the two F-14 outfits in the air wing that needed to learn how to tank, and we, Tom and I, were going to brief the F-14 guy on the tanker procedures, take off, meet him overhead the NAS, and teach, no, that’s not it, fly a stable tanker pattern while the fellow attacks the air refueling drogue. Piece of cake, suitable for a j/o and below. Presto, the assignment is all mine.
So we meet with the F-14 crew, I can’t recall either of the names here, but I’ll call the front seater Rick. Rick was the guy, somehow he’d gotten through all the RAG training without plugging into the tanker. Never done it.
The brief was more about where to find the tanker around the ship and the hand signals utilized to start the in flight refueling once joined up on the tanker. Normally around the ship everything is done with the ship’s heading as the reference point. Picture the bow of the carrier as pointing to twelve o’clock, the port side of the boat would be 9 o’clock, and so forth. When a fighter gets airborne his first radio call is “Tanker Posit.” The tanker is circling the ship counterclockwise at a certain distance and altitude. A succinct “three o’clock” reply from the tanker tells the fighter all he needs to know to locate the tanker.
For this flight we decided to use the runway heading for today, runway 31, as the bow of the simulated ship, and Tom and I would be circling Fallon at 12,000′ at a 10 mile radius. We briefed all that we needed to brief, the F-14 was going to be airborne before us and doing something else for a while, then return to Fallon and get a few practice plugs.
Tom and I lolly gagged a bit before manning up and getting in the air to give the F-14 time to finish whatever it was he had to do. Bear in mind here that the F-14 Tomcat was brand new to the fleet. Tom and I had watched the turkeys take off and land on occasion, I had even watched one crash (that’s a really good tale all by itself, no one was hurt and boy was I close to the scene). We had no idea of the big machine’s capabilities or maneuverability.
We were about to learn.
A leisurely man up and unhurried takeoff ensued and we began our orbit about the NAS, 12,000′ and 250 knots, left hand turns. Counterclockwise. Like we briefed. The standard.
A few orbits of the field and Rick comes up on the radio with the magic words: “Tanker posit.”
“One o’clock” was Tom’s reply, he was working the radios and we were not quite directly ahead of runway 31.
After a few moments delay Rick called us in sight. Said he’d be on our wing shortly. I asked him where he was as I looked over my left shoulder and didn’t see anything.
“I’m at your eleven” was the reply. I looked forward and was surprised to see an F-14 a few miles ahead to my left going the wrong way, clockwise.
Fighter pilots, they have big watches but have no idea how they work.
I called him in sight and suggested that he pitch out and come back around to join on us from behind, as was the usual.
“Nah, we’ve got it” came the reply.
I started to get a little bit edgy at this moment, what was this guy going to do, fer cryinoutloud? What is going to happen next?
We watched as the turkey grew larger and larger, he was about a quarter mile or so offset left of our nose and a couple of miles away. He came closer and closer going the wrong way and just when I was about to key the mike and say something Rick made his move. He rolled into a 90 degree bank with his nose pointed straight at our KA-6D and pulled back on the stick.
The swing wings on the mighty turkey spread out, his nose kept tracking on our nose, great quantities of vapor appeared over his wings. The F-14 put on some serious G’s, more than I thought any airplane could do in a rational airplane world. It was absolutely mind numbing to watch. The damn big jet was pivoting about a point, I swear.
Any sound effects attached to such an arrival would be akin to Robert Mitchum’s moonshine running car screeching to an untimely death.
But no death in this story. Rick, his backseater, and this great big jet came out of this incredible maneuver wings level, 250 knots, about a wingspan or so off to our left.
I was speechless.
Tom, however, was not. He summed up all we had seen with just a few short words over the ICS.
“Hemorrhoids,” he said. “The man has got to have hemorrhoids.”
Going out on a limb here, might lose my publish permit, but I’m ready to rant.
Let’s talk about the women in combat thing. Our current leadership says we gotta have equality in everything . Wimmin on the front line, hauling’ the big pack and the 50 cal. Draggin’ the wounded out of harm’s way in spite of the smaller frame and muscle mass wimmin have. Being a grunt. One of the
men guys troops.
Oh yeah. Let’s model all of society that way.
I’m waiting to see the NFL go 50% women.
Ban the women’s professional basketball league.
Pro baseball needs to be half women. “Batting clean up, number 7, Jennnny Parker!”
Why isn’t the White House staff half women?
How many female lumberjacks are there?
Push the parameters more, why isn’t the NBA an equal opportunity employer and why hasn’t the EEO gone after the NBA? The NBA is 95% black at present, a thirteen man roster should be, to reflect the makeup of the U.S. population like our government wants the military to be, 10 whites, one black, a Latino, and one whatever. Half of those should be women. One should be gay. Or whatever. Where’s the government activism on the basketball court?
Why isn’t the Prez playing half court with women?