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Launch the Spare!

Launch the Spare!

Whizzer sez TINS!

It was fun, wasn't it? Here are memories from the flight deck and night ops.

Do you remember the yellow shirt’s yellow wand coming up to your airplane at night - a black arse night with a slippery deck, ten sea state giving you the "whittling" signal to breakdown the chains holding you securely to a wobbling, slippery deck? Lightening going off every 5 seconds or so. Watching a Phanthumb go into burner . . . burner goes off . . . phanthumb pushed off the cat and parked off to the side. You are standing the SDO (Squadron Duty Officer) watch in the Ready Room with one eye on the PLAT video of the flight deck and the other watching the progress of the acey-duecy game with the RRDPO (Ready Room Duty Petty Officer).


AAAAARRRGGGH! Its a scene out of a Keystone Cop film. Cutting to the flight deck from the Ready Room - - - this after turning the SDO over to the RRDPO, because Ensign Pulver couldn’t be found. It was early in the Vietnam War (October 1964) and everybody was scratching for missions. Besides, the a/c was a spare and wouldn't go anyway.

The trip to the 'roof' was an adventure in itself but that’s for another day. Knee bleeding through my flight suit (part of the Ready Room to the flight deck story), I stuck my head above the non skid deck and looked into the bowels of a F4 just starting to turn up. Skidded under it hoping the pilot wouldn't drop his 'boxcar' of a tailhook during startup I caught the full force of the wind and rain rolling down the deck. Not wind from the ship's speed but wind from the weather.

Squinting into horizontal rain that sounded like a class of unruly kids bouncing tinfoil balls against your hard-hat, I saw a shape that resembled an A-4 in the darkness enveloping the flight deck. There was a boarding ladder stuck in the hole beside the cockpit --- it must be my bird? By now soaked to the skin and remembering the sailor's line "any port in a storm" I climbed inside and started hooking up.

"Bang, bang bang" outside the canopy a yellow shirt was trying to get my attention with his glowing wand and banging on the fuselage with his fist. "What!!!?", I hollered. Fair, trusty and faithful yellow shirt made a side to side 'wagging finger' sign and repeatedly pointed to another A-4 two planes down the line. Through the darkness I was barely able to make out the fading orange VA-94 Shrike painted on her fuselage, I nodded, gathered up my 'stuff' and climbed out of the dry warmth and metal bound security of a 4 point tie-down and into the rainy gale. The Air Boss announced over the bullhorn:


Squishing my way to the right Skyhawk the Plane Captain greeted me with a,

"Isn't this exciting . . ."

Yeah, sure, right, you bet. Feeling was coming back from the cut on my shin and it hurt like sin. The rain had let up a bit but the lightening was still hopping around the water near the Boat. I thought it would be funny if it hit the Ruesky trawler that had been sniffing our backside all day long.

Hooked up and starting, the canopy was cracked and I noticed a change in the wind. The Boat has started turning into the wind; 8% rpm - around the horn - a soft reassuring "WHUMP" as the engine lit off and a disconnect from the huffer. I settled back in my office.


I had an incredible seat for the late night matinee unfolding outside. Like a combination of cheerleaders and matadors the plane directors alternated between gentle encouragement for the pilot to move their aircraft to impatient jerks of the wand to emphasize a

move out smartly . . . NOW!

Side stepping wings and sucking engine intakes the yellow shirts twirled aside to pass each a/c to the next yellow shirt then back to the next a/c to get them 'in line'.

"G" forces and a little vertigo from the turn made the signal to take the chains off the aircraft a tad surreal. Clamping down on the rudder pedal brakes to the point of legs cramping it felt like the airplane was sliding toward the edge of the flight deck. The Plane Captain gave me the 'thumbs up' -- easy to do when you’re not in the aircraft and you don’t have to launch. The yellow shirt started moving the wands from side to together and I started taxing toward the pointy end of the boat. Still in the turn and by now with a healthy case of vertigo made it feel like the director and I were in a 45 degree left wing down and he was turning me for a long uphill run to the cat. WHOOOSHHH . . . . . was the sound of launching a/c and


was the feeling throughout the whole ship when the shuttle hit the water brake.

By now adrenaline had taken over and the wind, rain, lightening and other unidentifiable sounds and sensations were concerns for a lesser man. Up and over the shuttle, the pain in my leg had gone and my heartbeat matched the rpm of the Cat Officer's twirling wands.

Stable and tugging at the hold-back, lights on just as a huge bolt of lightening hit the water off the port side. The pause of eternity before the big "push" and off . . . Airborne . . . Wingman Teach somewhere off to my right . . . We're off to make the world safe for Democracy.

At a thousand feet, scratching for altitude, using the lightening flashes to find a path between the towering clouds between the ship and feet dry the ship comes up on guard:

"No high speed targets approaching us"
"Repeat - - - THIS IS A DRILL - - - Contact Showboat on button 19 for Charlie."

Well, 'grunt' I thought passing 5000'. Nothing to do but unhook the mask, take out a cigarette, light up and look for Matechak. My leg started hurting again.

page | by Dr. Radut