Category Archives: Tales Of The Sea Service

Part LIV Epilogue

The ship’s Captain stood by his chair on the bridge in his Service Dress Blues, his binoculars fixed on the channel marker just outside the carrier turning basin at Naval Station North Island, California. He briefly suppressed, and then just as briefly gave in to the temptation to sweep the pier with the binos, looking for his wife and children. Seven months. It had been such a very long seven months. There were thousands of people thronging on the pier, waving flags and signs – “Welcome Home, Son!” and “We Missed You Mommy!”

The civilian harbor pilot stood just to his right, in amiable but meaningless conversation with the Officer of the Deck – this was an experienced crew, and the pilot’s main purpose was to control the three tugboats that brought the great warship alongside the pier after it had made its final turn, gliding in.

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Part LIII The End

The JG looked forward in the ready room to see his squadron CO and XO break from a closely whispered conference – his CO looked him in they eye even as the JG tried to answer the questions of his brother JO’s. The old man pursed his lips, narrowed his eyes, raised his chin pugnaciously – and then nodded, almost imperceptibly. Nodded at him. Well done.

Turning his smiling face back to his brothers, it was all the young man could do not to weep.

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Part XLIX A night approach, the world awaits

Oh, I’m ready to land, am I? the wingman thought grimly. I guess I’d better be. Anyway, ready or not, here I come.

“311 flight break-up now,” a new speaker, the smoothly cool voice of an air traffic control petty officer, “These will be vectors for a Mode II approach, turn left heading 175 for downwind, descend and maintain angels one-point-two.”

“311 roger, left to 175, angels one-point-two.”

“311, approach, final bearing 005, Gold Eagle altimeter two-niner-niner-five.”

“Copy two-niner-niner-five,” too quickly, it was all happening too quickly, the JG thought, scrambling to catch back up on his penetration and approach checklists, feeling the cockpit start to press in on him again.

His lead’s voice on the aux radio now, cheerily, “Lead’s detaching. See you on deck.” Everyone’s trying to buck me up, the wingman thought. Wish I could be as optimistic as he’s pretending to be.

“See you on deck, skipper,” the JG replied, trying to sound confident, mentally adding, “I hope.”

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Part XLVIII  Tanker rendezvous, and troubleshooting

Down in CATCC, the XO gathered himself before speaking into the UHF radio handset, “Good news, Skipper – we’re taking you guys first – you need to head down to angels six to take a couple hundred pounds off the tanker – if that doesn’t unstick 311’s drop tank, have him stop transfer on the left. The trapped gas there will put him back in asymmetric limits for the landing. Worst comes to worst, he can use that gas after he bolters on the way to Shaikh Isa.”

“304, roger,” replied the squadron CO before switching to his aux radio. “Good news, pard – they’re taking us first.”

“311, roger,” answered the wingman, suddenly realizing that in the gloomy tension of his cockpit, his right hand had been “squeezing the black juice” out of the control stick while he had been waiting for the invisible and unknowable forces that governed his fate to come to a decision – any decision – about the next half hour of his life. Or maybe, he reflected, about the rest of it. “Good news.”

“Let’s head for the tanker.”

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Part XXXVII Attack pilot introspection

It’s 0200 and the young lieutenant from Nebraska lies in the middle tier of a three-stack coffin rack, eyes wide open in the darkness as his roommates sleep, seeing nothing but the ephemeral shooting stars one’s imagination creates when he stares into the darkness and there’s nothing to see, nothing there at all. Of sounds there are no few by contrast, the gentle snoring of the JG in the top rack, the heavy breathing of his best friend and liberty buddy in the bottom rack, the working of the hull in a gentle sea. Just outside the stateroom door is the more or less continuous sound of footsteps, the occasional slam of a hatch, bluff and hearty voices inappropriate to the hour, but for whose owners the day is just starting, bubble up and then fade away. And always there are the mechanical sounds, a warship at sea never truly sleeps – there is the tireless tintinnabulation of a hammer striking something on the flight deck, the wheeze of hydraulic pumps and air circulation ducts. Worst of all were the sounds of the re-spot going on over his head, the weary yellow shirts moving the jets from the last recovery into position for tomorrow’s first launch. They’re coming to the end of it by now, almost ready to turn in for the evening and get their four to five hours of rest before it all begins again – they at least will not have trouble sleeping. The straining groan of the aircraft tractors towing jets from the bow to the fantail has been replaced in order by the ghostly swish of tie down chains dragged aft and finally the ritual spiking of eighty-pound tow bars to the flight deck. This last is the worst of it, and the lieutenant has come to half believe over the course of the deployment that there is a cross-hair mark directly above his stateroom with blocks of text beside it indicating “Slam tow bar down here.” It is probably untrue that exhausted and envious yellow shirts conduct this ritual every evening as a kind of class warfare tactic, with the express purpose of waking up the pampered and privileged pilots slumbering right below the flight deck, but there is a sizable minority of aviators that isn’t quite sure that it isn’t so.

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Part XXXIII High Holding

“Marshal, 405, 407 checking in on your 340 for 50, low state base plus two.”

“405, Marshall, continue, call ‘see me’ at 10 miles.”

“405″

Closing in on the ship, the wingman stays in a defensive combat spread formation, close enough to easily maintain sight of his lead, far enough away, to keep his own radar and visual scan moving. The airspace around the carrier is “uncontrolled,” and they are responsible for their own separation from the next launch in the cycle. Other flights are returning, either from their cap stations in country, or from training missions around the ship. He checks his fuel state again, double checks proper transfer from the external tanks – sometimes fuel gets trapped in one or the other externals, causing problems in useable fuel for recovery and potentially putting the aircraft out of limits for landing asymmetry.

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T.I.A.D. – repost

Posted by lex, on July 15, 2006

 

A couple of years ago, I had the idea that I’d post stories from “times I almost died.” T.I.A.D., in short.

I didn’t have that many, as it turns out – you don’t get that many chances to “almost die” before completing the act, and then someone else gets to tell stories about you. So the thread didn’t last very long. But it wasn’t an entire waste of time. And it is the weekend, and the world’s on fire and I’m not up to getting my noggin wrapped around it right now.

So. A repost.

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Lost opportunities, IV

Posted by lex on June 10th, 2007

When the no-fly zones were first instituted following Saddam’s brutal suppression of the Shia in the south, Navy and Air Force fighters filled the counter-air lanes more or less continuously – a needlessly wearing pace of operations, especially after 1992 when the Iraqi Air Force stopped tempting fate by trolling around below the 32nd parallel. By the late 90’s, operations had become routinized, almost to a fault, with large force packages of anywhere between 8 and 20 aircraft assembling for fixed lengths known and “vul windows” and then returning either to airbases in Saudi or back to the aircraft carrier(s) at sea in the Arabian Gulf.

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News from the fleet

Posted by lex, on September 5, 2006

ABOARD USS ENTERPRISE — Aircraft assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) One stationed aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) provided support to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops on the ground as part of Operation Medusa in Afghanistan that began Sept. 3.

In concert with coalition air forces, F-18C Hornets from the “Sidewinders” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 86, based in Beaufort, S.C., conducted precision strikes on a known Taliban position near Kandahar.

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Good for him!

Posted by lex, in May 14th, 2007

Although in his heart of hearts, I bet he just wished he was being recognized for the excellence that got him there, rather than for the fact that he is some way a “first”:

USS JOHN C. STENNIS, At Sea – Cmdr. Muhammad Muzzafar F. Khan relieved Cmdr. Timothy Langdon as commanding officer of Sea Control Squadron (VS) 31 during a ceremony held at sea aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) May 13.

Khan is the first Muslim to take command of an operational aviation squadron in the U.S. Navy.

The “Topcats” of VS 31 are assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, embarked aboard Stennis, and currently deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations (AOO).

“I am absolutely thrilled and honored to be placed in that position of stewardship,” said Khan. “It’s an honor and a tremendous feeling.”

As a child in Pakistan, Khan grew up around aviation. His father served in the Pakistani air force for 21 years and then flew commercial airplanes after that for 24 years.

“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a pilot,” he said. “There is a Naval Aviation Museum poster with a little boy holding a toy airplane and looking up at the sky. That little boy was me.”

I was that little boy too.

Congrats to CDR Khan, and enjoy it while it lasts, pard. It’s over far too quickly.

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