On The Line 7.2

by Steve on December 21, 2009

Back to 7.1

With Ted off the flight schedule Commander Hart paired Cheryl with Alan.  He was not as experienced as the CO would have preferred but Cheryl had proved herself as a skilled aviator around the ship.  Normally senior flight officers flew with junior pilots and vice versa to keep a high skill level in each cockpit.  It was part of the continuing education of fleet aviators.  The XO agreed that Alan flying with Cheryl was a good pairing of two junior aviators proficient beyond their accumulated flight hours.

So it was that Cheryl and Alan found themselves briefing a tanker hop with no adult supervision.  Both realized the compliment to their professionalism and yet it felt like dad had just thrown them the keys to his sports car for the first time.  They carefully covered all contingencies saving lateral hard-over procedures and ejection parameters for last.  After checking 702’s current gripes in maintenance control they headed for the deck.  Cheryl took longer than usual to complete the external preflight.  While she opened panels, checked the landing gear, and automatically did all the correct things she had been trained to do the recesses of her mind were rehearsing the sequence of events that had to take place in order for her to get 702 safely airborne.  Ted watched from “vulture’s row” up on the island as Cheryl disappeared through the crew hatch.  You’ve done this hundreds of times, today is no different Ted offered as silent encouragement.  But it was different.  It always was after a mishap.  The stress levels in all phases of the evolution, from maintenance to the deck crew to the aircrews, were spiked.  Nobody wanted to lose another jet, another aviator.  The Captain, the Air Boss, the squadron CO’s all knew what was at stake.  This ship and air wing needed a successful launch/recovery to finally put Mac’s death behind them.  The young crew members were nonetheless professionals and they took Mac’s loss personally.  They needed to prove to themselves that they could still go about the business of slinging airplanes into the air and then catching them again.

The loudspeakers blared above the din of starting engines, “Prepare for flight operations.”  A few minutes later the helo launched and the dance began.

Cheryl started the number one engine, flipped the left generator on line and the number one hydraulics servo.  With power supplied by the number one generator, Alan started the inertial navigation alignment and began rapidly flipping switches and punching buttons to power up radios, avionics, and the radar.  Ted watched one of the brown-shirts pull the safety pins from the landing gear and arresting hook then quickly walk toward the front of the jet, the wind and exhaust blowing down the deck rippling his clothing.  With the three gear pins poking out between the fingers of one hand and the larger hook pin in the other, the brown-shirt thrust his hands above his head outside Alan’s canopy and waited.  Alan looked up from his checks, counted four pins in the young brown-shirt’s hands and gave him a thumbs up followed by the signal to close the hatch.  A few seconds later the pins were stowed and the hatch closed and latched.  The noise level inside the cockpit improved considerably.  Following the signals from her plane captain, Cheryl hit the number two starter, waited for the bleed air from the number one engine to spool it up to the appropriate speed then brought the throttle forward to introduce fuel into the spinning turbine.  Good light-off, starter disengaged.  Switch on the right generator and the number two hydraulic servo.  It all happens so quickly. She checked the spoiler switches, cycled both bleed air switches, and bumped each throttle up then pulled them back to idle to ensure idle speed didn’t drop below parameters.  Both aviators were engrossed in the rituals required to take a Viking flying, heads buried in the cockpit, and failed to notice the plane captain flailing his arms.  Alan heard a change in the roar of idling engines outside, the distinct sound of propellers biting air, and looked up from his panel.

“E-2’s moving toward the cat.”  He noticed the plane captain attempting to get Cheryl’s attention, “You ready to break it down?  PC’s calling for chocks and chains.”

“Roger.”  Cheryl looked up from her checks and gave her plane captain the appropriate signals.  Several brown shirts bolted under the aircraft and began removing the tie-down chains and chocks that secured the jet to the flight deck.

Alan keyed the radio, “Boss, 702’s up and ready.”

“Copy 702.”

Alan continued with the remaining checklist items as Cheryl taxied forward under the direction of the plane captain who quickly handed her off to one of the directors.  A relay of yellow-shirt directors moved 702 into position behind the jet blast deflector on cat one.  Even behind the protection of the JBD, Cheryl could feel the prop wash from the E-2 at full power in tension.  A few seconds more and the E-2 was gone, JBD down, taxi forward into the shuttle.  Spread the wings and lock, flaps to take-off, check speedbrakes in, trim set, wipe out the controls, check the flight control test panel, EHP switch on, roger the weight board.  So much, so fast.  The final checkers were under the jet checking the hold back fitting, checking the wing lock pins, checking everything that might go wrong.  Shooter giving the power-up signal.  Throttles forward, check the gauges, wipe out the controls one more time, one last look at the engine instruments.  All within normal limits.

“Ready?” she asked.

“Ready when you are,” Alan replied.

Head back, salute the Shooter, he looks forward, looks aft, reaches down with his extended arm and touches the deck, snaps back into the classic crouching point and time seemingly stands still.  Just for a second.  The button is pressed and high-pressure steam screams through valves, slams into the pistons, pressure builds for a nanosecond, the hold-back fitting shears and forty-two thousand pounds of twenty-year-old metal accelerates to one hundred twenty knots in less than three seconds.  Airborne.  Just a hint of a settle off the cat and then… positive climb rate.  The acceleration of the cat was so sudden that the end of the shot always felt as if the jet was actually decelerating.  It had taken her a while to get used to that feeling.  Up to angels five and orbit waiting for a Hornet driver to check the tanking package.

The sun reflected off the waves with clouds of cotton forming a scattered layer just a thousand feet above the Viking as Cheryl settled into her orbit.  Alan fiddled with the radar attempting to duplicate a problem that the previous crew had noted in the maintenance log.  Her thoughts wandered to Mac.  What had he thought and felt as his broken jet accelerated down the cat?  Why him?  What if…?  The harsh reality of this business was that no matter how hard you trained, briefed, or anticipated, you could not know for certain how you would react to a situation until it was in your face.  She prayed that when the day came that she would survive it.

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