By lex, on January 13th, 2004
Any airplane that doesn’t come with an ejection seat, isn’t powered by jet engines (turboprops don’t count) and isn’t explicitly designed to blow stuff up qualifies as a bug smasher. It’s equally correct to call them puddle jumpers.
Fighter guys pretty much universally believe that there is a hierarchy in naval aviation. At the pinnacle are fighters, and those that fly them. Much psychological (and no small amount of physical) blood has been shed between F-14 crews and FA-18 pilots as to which is the best fighter, but both allow as how the other is no lower on the food chain than the next lower rung. Next closest rung belongs to anyone who drops ordnance of any kind. Below that are carrier aviators in general, tailhook pilots.
After that comes helo pilots, prop pilots and the US Air Force.
These fine gradations are implicitly understood among fighter guys, even if rejected categorically by everyone else. Everyone else thinks we’re arrogant for even believing such a thing.
Well, at least it’s an honest arrogance.
After finishing the boat school (otherwise known as the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD, 21412), but before I started flight school, I took lessons from an instructor in the Cessna 152 at the Naval Academy flying club. The 152, although I didn’t realize it at the time, was definitely a bug smasher.
As I recall, I had two goals in mind: 1) try to get familiar with my chosen professional environment, in order to get a leg up on eventually selecting jets, then fighters, and 2) make sure I didn’t get air sick.
In ground school they told us you only needed two things to fly: airspeed and money. As a fresh-caught ensign, money was a serious issue of concern, and I only got about five hours of instruction before I realized that (a) I would have to make do with the skills God gave me, and (b) I didn’t get airsick… at least in a Cessna.
After a summer in France spent on a language scholarship (this Navy gig is great!) I finally made it down to Pensacola, to start flight training.
The first plane we flew down there was a T-34C – since it didn’t have an ejection seat, and wasn’t capable of blowing anything up (except for itself, if poorly handled) it pretty much qualified as a bug smasher. The guys with lots of prior civilian time loved it because it had retractable landing gear, a turboprop engine and could cruise at 170 kts.
Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?
Many years later I got in the back seat of a T-34, on the way home from a weapons detachment in Fallon, Nevada. It seemed like a toy, after 15 years of fast jets.
Apparently it felt that way to some of the other guys who shared time in both the FA-18 and the T-34, a couple of whom lost their lives in quick succession, goofing around. Maybe it felt like a toy, but the lesson I learned was that it could still kill you graveyard dead.
Now fast forward a few years, 4000 hours and 750 arrested landings later, and I’m out of the game, flying a desk. Gak.
To keep my wits sharp and my hand in the game, I start taking lessons in Cessna 172, taught by a very earnest guy who looked like he needed a permission slip from his mom to be there. He was a great instructor though; give that ol’ devil his due.
To say the airplane was underpowered is to admit the possibility that the sun may rise tomorrow. Sure it sprung off the ground quickly enough, compared to a fighter, but once airborne it couldn’t seem to make its mind up whether to climb, or just hang around there at 300 feet for a while.
When you first start flying the Hornet, it is at first a struggle to level off after takeoff by 6000 feet. In the C-172, it was a struggle to get to 6000 feet. Forget about blowing through any altitude restrictions, not a problem.
We finish the first familiarization ride, and it’s gotten dark, so we set up for a straight-in approach to land at the Navy base. The lights are on bright at the field, and I’m about ten miles on final approach, well set up. Doing about 100 mph with the flaps up, could lower the flaps to a half and do an approach at 80 mph. Or not. Wasn’t required.
Carb heat up, look to lower the landing gear. Which you can’t because they’re always down.
Finish the landing checklist, twiddle my thumbs for a bit, and there’s the field – now it’s about 9 and a half miles away.
It felt like I was driving a car to the airport. It felt like a simulator on “freeze.”
It felt wrong.
It tickles me a little bit, so I talk to the instructor on the intercom – “Man, it all seems to happen so fast!”
He agrees, earnestly. Then looks at me and says, “You were kidding, weren’t you?”
Yes. Yes I was.
Tomorrow: How to get lost in an airplane going 100mph! Have no idea where you are! Learn to respect people who actually do this for fun!