Thursday, November 3, 2011

From the boat...

Here is another post from A.J. coming straight from the boat. This is a real account of something that happened to him the other night. All is well and everyone is safe, but it makes for an interesting read. Enjoy!

As promised a little story about a day in the life of “a pilot, that’s right a Naval Aviator.”

Today started out like any other day on the boat. Got up at a gentlemanly time of 0930 for my flight, reasonable yet still a little early for our taste. Anyway, we briefed for our Annual-Ex (Yearly international Exercise with Japan) flight to protect the carrier via a cap (Combat Air Patrol). We took off for what should have been an hour and a half flight….I believe there was a TV show about something like that and they ended up on some island…foreshadowing? Anyway, some tankers went down and were unable to launch so we had no gas available for us, which makes a 1+30 flight a little painful for us but doable with good weather and a close eye on the fuel gauge. So we proceeded to hang out overhead Mom at our assigned position until relieved and ready to recover. Now Mom is notorious for finding the worst possible weather to launch and recover aircraft so she succeeded yet again this afternoon.

So as our happy section of JO’s checked back in through all of our agencies and got ready to come home, much to our surprise and chagrin we found that the weather was bad and we were using the night/bad wx approach to the ship. This should make things easy since it becomes a straight in, like an airliner, to the boat. However it requires a higher fuel state because the process is slower than our normal day recoveries which eats up gas airborne. Thus instead of being about a thousand pounds of gas over our fuel ladder, we were 500 below. Not a big deal we can make that up in the descent if we are good about our approach. So as the CAP guys, we were the last to come down for our approach. This is when things get fun.

As we started we heard guys in front of us having a hard time seeing the ship and the LSO’s telling us to turn our taxi lights on to help them pick us up earlier as we punched through the clouds. The weather was around 600 feet or so, meaning we won’t see the ship until about a mile our or roughly 25 sec to trap. So we were ready for the craziness but still relatively low on gas for the weather. Well about 4.5 miles from the boat, we get the call that she is gonna turn about 20 degrees, which at 5 miles away, having your runway shift 20 degrees of heading change is a ton, so massive correction in to get back to center line in the weather. No worries, standard boat stuff so we just fly the ILS and Tacan and get home. Then things get bad. All of a sudden, ILS isn’t keeping up with this turn and we look way off where we should be headed, the radios go silent as the boat induces its own loss of transmitting abilities and the 4 jets still airborne cannot talk to anyone on the boat. So now I am on my way down the approach, about 1000 feet. Cant see the water, mom, can’t talk to anyone, and I have no idea where the guys in front of us are. So my WSO and I decide to keep trying to get back to center line and maybe well get there, but we are way high and not gonna make it so we elect to take our own wave off, usually a no no, but inside the ball call, no boat in sight and no one on the radio to say they see us. Were out like a fat kid in dodge ball. So as we stat flying away, we see a small hole in the clouds and fly right over the boat, so at least a warm fuzzy that things are still kind of working and we can get aboard on the next lap.

We start trying other freqs and finally get the boat up on the radio again, and they stat vectoring us around for another approach. At this point we are at the on deck fuel state for normal day good weather flying and its crappy. Starting to get a little concerned, but we still have another look at the boat before we have to think about a bingo to the beach. So we get sent back around and are about 3 miles out when they tell us to discontinue and expect to divert, so we get ready to head to our divert, using the emergency fuel profile. (Get ridiculously fast, climb to the moon, limp to a descent point and idle all the way in) But they keep pushing us out away from the divert, burning us lower and lower until we are at the no shit, we have to leave now to make it numbers and finally get signal divert. So, I jammed the throttles to mil and we bat turn around the corner to start getting some speed for the climb when they tell us to maintain a lower altitude, which we ignore since we are on an emergency profile.

As we start to climb though we realize it’s a no shitter, we need to be tight on our profile to make it comfortably. So we get the climb started, when suddenly a little stroke of luck. As we break out of the clouds on top of the storm, we get a call from one of our tankers who had just launched on the event after us, to see if we could use a drink. Absolutely, so as we climbed out, he was already in front of us and joined and we were in the basket in about 2 minutes of getting the call to leave. Number 4 of 4 jets that had to divert, declare emergencies and run towards a little island in the pacific…sounds eerily familiar. So then things became a little less stressful. We plugged into the tanker at about a 2.5 or 2,500 lbs of gas. Good enough for about 30 minutes of flight time hanging on the blades, very slow flight if we are gear up. But it’s a 2o minute min flight to the beach, so hence the emergency climb profile to make it all count. We would have landed with about a 1.0 or about 15 min of gas left as we are supposed to based on the profile. With the gas help we were able to let a flight of F-15’s that had to wait for the other guys to land go before us because they were now in a fuel shortage. Once we finally got on deck, it hit me how crazy we all are or are we.

Things worked like they are supposed to. We had the gas we needed to get to the beach and tankers were airborne to give us more. I was actually surprised that they didn’t just tank us all and come back, but with a divert close, the boat radios temporarily out, it was the safe choice. So once we got to the beach, and parked, we got some much needed gas for the jets, food from and American food court, and a few essentials for ready room morale; quality reading for the ready room as is custom if you ever get off the boat during cruise. We then piled ourselves back into the jets for the race to make it back for the next recovery and lucky us a night recovery. Fortunately the trip home was woefully uneventful and would have been great had I not crushed the ace. Thus ending my streak of 10 straight OK passes with a terrible No Grade. Oh well, I am still a 3.5 ball flier this line period, much improved from last year and the summer. So I find myself back on board, writing the schedule for tomorrow’s day of fun and missing the beach again already.

I leave you with a few consumables for the day:

Total flight time 3.5 hours at a cost of about 5k per hour.

Total Gas used: 25,000 lbs or about 4,000 gallons

Dinner for 4 dudes, only I had a credit card: 30 dollars

Morale for the squadron: 35 dollars

Everyone outside of my jet trying to kill me: Standard mantra

Avoiding the swim to shore thanks to a little help from my friends: priceless

In all reality, everything worked like it was supposed to AFTER they diverted us. Until then, things were the standard boat shenanigans, but bingo profiles work and that’s why we have tankers airborne for every launch and recovery. They go first and come back last. Though not sure I will forget this, my first cruise divert. They are rare and special. Just glad my 3 hour tour ended the same day and not with me marooned on a little island in the pacific.

Hope you all enjoy this. Well see you soon.

Love you,


aka Backbeard

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