In the shadow of missed opportunities, I promised myself I would contribute more to the community that sprung up around our beloved Lex. Mostly a lurker at his place I was, rarely joining the discussion and very content to read our Captain’s musings and the attendant commentary. It was suggested that I start my contributions here by telling a Sea Story, but being that yesterday was what it was I am in a reflective mood and this is what you’ll get today.
I am a former Naval Aviator. A Naval Aviator in that I flew in U.S. Navy aircraft and wore Wings of Gold on my uniform. I didn’t fly in pointy-nosed go-fast type aircraft, I flew in low, slow helicopters. I wasn’t a pilot, I was an enlisted crewman whose job it was to operate various pieces of equipment for to find submarines. One of the constants of Naval Air, is wondering how the kids these days are treating the legacy of Naval Aviation that you handed down to them. When one talks to folks who currently are on active duty doing your old job, you compare notes. Does HSL still do this? Did so-and-so pilot make Skipper? Does such-and-such aircraft still try to kill its occupants? For me, that lasted about seven-and-a-half years after I got out. Purely by happenstance I discovered that my aircraft (SH-2F) was being retired. My squadrons being disestablished. No more being in San Diego and seeing my little H-2s in the pattern at NAS North Island.
As usual, incremental changes aren’t noticed at the time, only when viewed as a whole after a number of years. Such was it that I started to notice my aircraft showing up as museum pieces here and there. The first being in 2004. I was in town for a conference, but made time to make my first visit aboard the USS Midway in San Diego harbor. What should I find when I enter the hangar deck but an SH-2F from my old squadron, HSL-33:
Holy crap! What a surprise! I had no idea anyone would be at all interested in our little airplane as a museum piece. I go on the tour, look around, and just before I leave I get someone to take my picture with this aircraft (photo taken on November 8th, 2004):
Once I got home I was showing the family the pictures I took. I was telling them that this was the type of aircraft I flew in when I was in the Navy (the H-2 was not a commonly known aircraft when it was in service and certainly not 10 years after its retirement). My son asked if I actually flew in that particular airplane. “Good question” says I, “let me check”. The BuNo (Bureau Number) is right there in the pic, easy to see. So I dig out my flight records and take a look:
Sure enough! Almost 21 years to the day after I flew in her, I find that aircraft in a museum. You can see that it was my fifth flight in the H-2 and that I had a grand total of 10.7 hours of flight time when I went up in her. Heady days for sure for a 19-year-old kid.
It has been seven years since that incident. I am no longer dismayed to find my old aircraft at museums, I am proud.