By lex, on Mon – August 23, 2004
Just when you think that the well has run dry, when you’ve told your last sea story, something comes along to remind you:
There is no end to tales of the sea.
Jonboy, an occasional correspondent from the bidness, sent along this tale, which I share with you free of charge! And grateful for the inspiration. It has unlocked a trove of tales that I will parcel out in due time.
I suppose your second class summer was similar to mine with a visit to Quantico to play Marine for a week, a visit to New London to ride a boomer for a few days, a visit to Providence, RI to play on a DDG or DE or FFG or whatever and sink the USS Buttercup, and a visit to PCola for a taste of Naval Aviation with a helo hop and a half hour ride in a T-2.
I had an Air Force exchange officer for my T-2 hop and his goal was to prevent me from getting airsick. Once he figured out I was game, he spent the time teaching me how to do a proper aileron roll.
Fast forward a couple of years and I’m now a stash Ensign with an A-7 squadron at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, FL awaiting my start date for flight school. I went through the training to get my back seat qual card but I haven’t had a hop yet. There was another stash Ensign named Jim in the squadron and he had already had two rides with the adversary/ instrument squadron located in the hanger with the RAG. That squadron eventually moved south to NAS Key West and may have been the predecessor of your adversary squadron.
We lucked out and were scheduled to fly in the back seat with a section of TA-4J’s. The flight lead was a big, gruff, no nonsense guy, who was also a LCDR and a squadron department head. His wingman was a mild mannered LT. The lead looked at us and barked “What are you here for?” to which we answered “A back seat ride, sir.” He just grunted and ignored us for the rest of the brief, which was supposed to have something to do with instrument flying but involved a lot of hand gestures and terms like “rules of engagement” and “hard deck/soft deck.”
I then briefed with the LT and he told me what to expect and what not to touch, etc. My buddy briefed with the lead somewhere out of sight, but not earshot.
Jim and I went down to suit up, and about halfway through getting dressed, the flight lead strolled in, put on his gear in what seemed like 30 seconds, looked at me fighting with the g-suit zippers and said, “What are you, some kind of junior giant?” and then strolled out to the flight line.
My pilot showed up and said our aircraft was down and we wouldn’t be flying. My “buddy” suggested I take his seat since he already had a couple of hops and I hadn’t flown yet. I agreed. (What was I thinking?)
I walked out to the Skyhawk and the LCDR looked at me and wanted to know what was going on? I stammered out something about the other aircraft going down and my pal letting me take his hop. His exact words were, “Well screw him. Get in.” And off he went to preflight the aircraft.
I sat down in the back seat and the plane captain helped hook me up and showed me the ICS switch and the hot/cold mike switch. I looked up at the pilot’s helmet resting on the top of the seat in front of me. It was a custom made form fit that was absolutely coal black. There was not one inch of reflective tape on that sucker. Across the back in small black letters was the pilot’s callsign “ANIMAL.” The plane captain looked at the helmet then gave me a big grin and handed me about six barf bags.
ANIMAL climbed into the front seat and soon asked for an ICS check. I keyed the ICS with a “Loud and Clear, Sir.” He went through start up and flight checks and eventually called for taxi. We got to the end of the runway and he says to go HOT MIKE. So now I sound like Darth Vader when I breathe as I try to follow him through his take off check list. We take the runway and run it up and the first thing he says is “Good oil pressure” and continues with the rest of the checks and starts to roll. Well, I’m looking at all the different gauges trying to find the oil pressure, which turns out to be a little tiny gauge I finally find right about the time we leave terra firma. Talk about being a little behind.
He comes up on the ICS and says go COLD MIKE, so I do. And that’s the last thing he says for quite a while. So I’m in the back enjoying the view, looking out at the beach and downtown JAX. He has his mask off and appears to be pulling out pubs and charts and stuff as we head to the working area over south Georgia. So far, the only things he has said to me are: 1) ICS check, 2) Go Hot Mike, and 3) Go Cold Mike. I’m listening to his radio calls to departure and center and after about ten minutes we are in the working area.
I’m looking out the right side at the beach and I feel the nose come up a bit and we do a beautiful aileron roll and I watch the world go slowly round. After the first one, there is a pause and we do one in the opposite direction, and I’m loving it. He finally comes up on the ICS and asks if I’m alright and I say, “Yes Sir.” So then he says “YOU’VE GOT IT!”
I think “What? I’ve got it?” Well I grab the stick and initially just try to keep the aircraft going in the same direction straight and somewhat level. Meanwhile he is digging around and paging through what I later learned were approach charts.
Well that’s when the Ensign got bored. I’m thinking the only thing I know how to do is an aileron roll and he did a couple before he gave it to me so why not? I wasn’t aware that the roll rate of the Skyhawk was around 720 degrees per second. And I learned to do aileron rolls in a T-2 which basically meant putting the stick all the way over. So I eased the nose up and pushed the stick over. By the way, I didn’t say anything to him first, I figured that was SOP and was just following his lead.
To my horror and quite some amazement, I saw books, pencils, papers and charts fly all over the front cockpit, and could hear him yelling over the wind noise and through my helmet even though he wasn’t wearing his mask or using the ICS.
The phrase “Dead Man” came to mind.
Jeez, what was I thinking? The obvious answer was I wasn’t thinking. He finally found his mask, even though I could clearly hear him yelling without it and didn’t really think I wanted to understand what he was saying. He came up on the ICS and asked me if I had any previous flight experience. I managed to stammer out that I had about a half hour in the T-2 as a midshipmen, to which he responded “Shit.”
He stuffed his charts back in his nav bag and proceeded to talk me through a series of aerobatics including wing overs, barrel rolls, loops, etc. Eventually he had me do a squirrel cage. I was having a ball. He rarely took the stick and let me do most of the flying. I couldn’t believe it.
We started heading back to Cecil and he would tell me where to set the fuel flow and which gauge to use for vertical descent and what to look for on the AOA gauge. I found out the hardest thing to do was fly straight and level. The level part was especially hard as I had no concept of trim. He talked me through it and I just kept concentrating on the gauges, like a big video game. He handled all the comm and would tell me what to do.
We went HOT MIKE and he talked me through slowing down and dirtying up and helped trim out the plane. Then I set the fuel flow as instructed and tried to keep the VSI at 600. In the background I hear some guy saying “On glide slope, on course” and I eventually realize he’s talking to us. I kept following the pilot’s instructions until he says “I got it” and I respond “You’ve got it” and sit up and look out for the first time since we started the descent and see the base perimeter fence go by followed by the end of the runway and touchdown.
That guy let me fly down to minimums and then took over. I couldn’t believe it. I now know that he was probably ghosting the controls, but I never felt him on the stick or throttle.
We taxi in and shut down and after we get out he looks at me with a grin and says “You can fly with me anytime.” And thus I had my first “Sea Story.”
Great story, Jonboy – thanks for sharing it.