On The Line 6.1

by Steve on October 1, 2009

Back to 5.4

The oncoming recovery tanker was sour.  The off-going tanker had tried repeatedly to plug and receive fuel to no avail.  There was no way around it; for whatever reason the refueling store on the tanker that just launched was not operating.  Both CAG and the Air Boss were screaming for another tanker.  They had already discussed doing a hot turn on the off-going tanker but VS-28’s maintenance control had issues with the jet that precluded it from launching again before they had a chance to work on it.  The ship still needed to get a tanker airborne to cover the last recovery.  Reagan was operating too far from any friendly airfields for them to be used as an emergency divert so it was “blue water ops” for the air wing.  In other words: trap, ditch, or eject.  It was the last launch of the day which was a relative term applying to a twenty-four hour period – it was night.  Maintenance was scrambling to get a jet ready and the OPSO was looking for a crew to bail him out of a pickle.  Mac was the first pilot he found that he could throw in the seat without violating flight time restrictions so he won by default.  Not that it would have mattered, Mac would have readily jumped at the chance to bag another trap.  Ted walked into the ready room as Mac was getting his flight gear ready.

“Suit up, Flash.  I just got pegged for an add-on tanker hop and I need a right seat.”

“Night trap in marginal weather after orbiting overhead listening to everyone else make a play for the deck.  Who could pass that up?”

“Cut the crap.  Fly with me will ya?”

“OK, what jet are we taking?”

“Maintenance is getting 701 ready.  Go grab your gear and we’ll do a quick brief.”

It was strangely quiet up on the flight deck as Ted and Mac made their way to where 701 was spotted.  Usually there were ten to twenty other jets also getting ready to launch but this time it was just the lone S-3 to replace the incapacitated tanker already airborne.  Ted climbed up into the cockpit and using his flashlight checked that all was secure in the two empty back seats before checking that his own seat was in order.  He climbed in and began his preflight routine.  Every so often the beam of Mac’s flashlight would play across the cockpit as he checked the exterior of the aircraft.  Once he was satisfied that all was as it should be he joined Ted in the cockpit, closing the door behind him and checking his seat before climbing in.  APU start, electric power up, engine start, and into the checklists.  More light wand signals from the plane captain this time he was sweeping his arms in a dusting-off motion: time to break it down, remove chains and chocks.  Ted responded with his red cockpit light moving it in a circular motion.  Crossed wands: hold brakes.  The brown shirts were under the aircraft removing all the tie-downs that secured the jet to the flight deck.  There was quite a crowd gathered around 701 since it was the only jet preparing to launch.  Everyone on the deck from the Flight Deck Director down to the brown shirts scattering out from under the plane knew that getting 701 airborne could mean the difference between life or death if things got colorful behind the boat during the recovery.

The plane captain was giving Mac the come ahead signal to start taxiing toward the waist cats.  The bow was already spotted full of parked aircraft that had been pulled forward as soon as the last jet had launched just over thirty minutes ago.  Mac goosed the throttles to get the jet rolling and as soon as it started forward the plane captain saluted and pointed his light wands toward a waiting taxi director.  As soon as his signaling motion came to rest the plane captain switched his light wands off and the taxi director switched his on completing the hand-off.  The deck crew positioned 701 behind cat four.  Ted rogered the weight board and Mac lowered the launch bar as they completed the take-off checks.  The jet eased forward until the launch bar tracked up and over the shuttle.  Crossed wands again.  The final checkers gave the aircraft a final once-over as the hold-back fitting was hooked in.  Sweeping arc with one wand and the other pointed down the deck: take tension.  The shuttle was eased forward until it hooked the launch bar and was actually straining against the hold-back fitting.  Now came the throttle up signal.  The jet was in tension on the cat with both engines straining at full power.  It was time.  Mac wiped out the controls one final time to make sure nothing was binding and looked over at Ted.

“Let’s do it,” Ted replied to the implied question.

Mac flipped on the external lights, the night version of a salute.  That was the signal the shooter was waiting for.  He swung one of his light wands down to touch the deck and then snapped it up pointing down the cat.  In the darkness on the edge of the deck aided only by the faint glow from the console in front of him, the young sailor in charge of launching catapult 4 reached down and punched his launch button.  Below the deck a valve opened and high pressure steam slammed into the pistons of the catapult accelerating 48,000 pounds down the deck.



don October 2, 2009 at 20:09

Steve –

Is it a waste cat or waist cat?

Steve October 2, 2009 at 20:55

That was embarrassing. Too bad spell check doesn’t include stupid check! Thanks Don.

Bob Geis October 3, 2009 at 21:44

Nice read Steve. Brought me back to VS-32 and VS-30. The flight deck can’t be the same without them. Still the best recovery tanker out there…

Steve October 4, 2009 at 22:33

Thanks Bob. Make sure to point out any technical errors – I’m relying on 15 year-old memory cells that I haven’t taken particularly good care of!

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