Crusader Hairy Experience
A good F-8 Crusader aircraft naval aviation tale. It makes "sitting alert" into
a hairy experience.
I was assigned duty fighter alert although
conditions were too rough for the fleet to be
flying. Flight operations had been canceled. . . but
the On Duty Alert fighter had not.
I knew that there was no way they would launch me,
since green water was now elevating itself 80 feet
or the deck was diving 80 feet into the North
I was pulling significant plus and minus G's just
sitting in the cockpit. In addition there was a thin
sheet of clear ice that covered the flight deck
making taxiing impossible. In fact it had taken
about 10 sailors on each side of my aircraft just to
get me on the Cat. Each time the ship would roll
starboard the airplane would slide right. And each
time the ship rolled port we would slide left.
That was a helpless feeling to say the least.
Finally, with heavy chains, they tied my airplane to
the Catapult. I was sitting in there, when all of a
sudden the big bull horn sounded:
"LAUNCH THE DUTY FIGHTER!"
Hey . . you've got to be kidding!
My engine was not running and I had no electrical
power up for the command radio. But the launch crew
was already removing my 10 chain tie downs and
getting a ground starter in place. The crew gave me
a two-finger 'turn up' and pointed to my headset. I
knew this was a signal to call PRI-FLY.
Before I could transmit they were saying: "We have
an unidentified target approaching the 250 mile
circle and you must check it out. You
will be launched as soon as the ship can turn into
the wind". "Oh s---" I thought.
The waves were so high that the catapult Shooter had
to time our bow's up and down movement before he
could launch my aircraft.
Frequently, the ship's nose would be buried in a
dive. The next moment
it, would be climbing a wave and simultaneously
rolling 10 to 20 degrees
. . while POINTING UP.
After checking all engine instruments [ hoping not to find a major problem ].
I determined that all systems were go. Also there
were 3,500 troops watching to see if I was a
real fighter pilot. The Navy had bred into us to
never turn down a mission. This alert could be the
REAL ONE. And our fleet could actually be under
I saluted the "shooter" and adjusted back in my seat for
the "shot" (launch).
As the ship's bow started up the "shot" came, I was
airborne at 180 kts in 1.8 seconds. There was no way
I could keep my feet on the rudders during the
catapult. After the catapult, some of us felt like
roadrunner birds - and we'd key the mike saying,
About the time I was recovering from the "shot",
Combat Control gave
me vectors to the incoming target. And they
instructed my speed to be G-A-T-E ! WIDE OPEN
THROTTLE WITH STEREO AFTERBURNER.
Even while rapidly climbing five miles high in less
than 60 seconds, the F-8 Crusader was accelerating
supersonic. And ninety seconds later, I was at 30M
heading for the bad guys.
To aid in finding the incoming Russian bomber(s) I
tweaked my radar range out to 60 miles. But
stationed on the outer edges of the fleet, a
destroyer (DD) was able to look out even farther
with its radar.
I was turned over to the DD and I reported my
position. They responded, "Roger, Silverstep. We
have you in contact." I asked: "WHERE'S THE BOGIE?"
Silverstep: "It appears that was a false target"
[ possibly generated by a non-gyro stabilized radar
receiver due to the rough sea ].
"WOW! I had risked my life for a false target.
Now, I had to land on a boat that was bouncing up
and down like a cork."
Being literally shot up into the air and
flying to the target was routine. However, landing
on a boat being "beaten around like a puppet jerked
on a string" was not.
I was given a You are "CHARLIE ON ARRIVAL" - meaning
that I could land immediately. I had the ship to
Usually, if a bird needs more fuel the tankers are
available to give it another drink. No tankers were
up on that day. On the other hand, I did come back
with enough gas for about six (6) landing attempts.
Thank goodness I did.
When the ship is just rocking and rolling, the
visual "meatball" on the final approach glide
slope is gyro-stabilized. But, if the ship is
H-E-A-V-I-N-G AND B-U-C-K-I-N-G . . the gyro
limits are exceeded making the "meat ball's" light
& beam inaccurate.
In this situation the Landing Signal Officer (LSO)
will manually control the "meat ball" to keep you on a
desired glide slope. In other words, he puts the
beam where he wants you to fly. He can judge the
huge waves and try to get you on board when the ship
is level . . or somewhat level.
In most cases the pilot is not able to see the
ship's movement on
his approach. His thoughts are 100% focused on
staying on the "meatball." And all the way to a trap, he is saying
to himself: MEAT BALL . . LINE-UP . . AIRSPEED? This time I could
see the ship's movements . . loud and clear!
The ship would be nose high while in a roll 20
degrees to port. That would be like flying into a
wall. Now making another quick glance, and the boat
was nose low and rolling both ways. With other
glances, I could actually see the ship's huge screws
under the fantail.
I was in deep trouble. Perhaps making it impossible
to make a successful landing.
The LSO was letting me fly in as close as possible
before hitting the big red flashing lights. I was
doing everything correctly, but got the wave off on
my first 5 approaches. The LSO was not going to let
me land on those first threatening approaches
because I might destroy more parked airplanes than a
I had fuel enough for ONE more attempt. Needless to
say I was calling on a Higher Power to help me out.
Thank goodness He was watching over me.
When I felt that tail hook engage the cable, I was
the happiest man on board the USS Independence. The landing is just
the opposite of the Cat shot. No matter how tight you secured your
shoulder harness, your head is thrown forward and down. But after
moment you recover your senses and taxi out of the landing area.
But my problems were not over.
I had to taxi on a thin sheet of ice that covered
the rolling deck. Each time the ship would roll . .
the Crusader would skid in that direction.
A few days earlier, I had observed an aircraft skid
and drop overboard. Not many pilots survive. The 80
foot fall usually
knocks them out - or their injuries disable them
and they sink with the bird.
This was called "Church". When someone would ask
what happened to a pilot in an accident they would respond:
"Church" meaning that he was killed and a memorial service
Finally, the flight deck crew got enough chains and
tie downs on the bird to keep it from taking a salt
water swim along with its pilot. There was
no "Church" on that day for one happy pilot.
The ships Captain congratulated my airmanship.
The flight surgeon gave me a few ounces of brandy
and I headed to my stateroom for a little R & R. The
ship was still bucking and heaving so while laying
in my bunk I was mentally still pulling plus and
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
After my Navy flying I joined the airlines. Many
times I was very amused at the response of some of
my co-pilots complaining about how hard and
dangerous airline flying was.
I felt like I had retired when first taking the
airline job [ even though it did have many challenges
as well ]. But nothing compared to landing,
day and night, on an aircraft carrier. I had
adventures you can't buy in the civilian world.
~ Ron Knott ~
[ by: Ron Knott -- from 'Buffalos Chips' (buffalos-g-jokes.yahoogroups.com) ]
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