Sea Stories…

This one courtesy of JP, and too good not to share…

Here’s a personal story of an F-18 Hornet’s set up for an o’dark thirty barricade recovery .  .  on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific’s middle.

[ Note : the barricade is a 20 foot high net that stretches across the carrier’s deck to ‘catch’ bad airplanes during extreme emergencies.]

“Oyster, here.

This note is to share the exciting night I had not that long ago.  It has nothing to do with me wanting to talk about me.  But it has everything to do with sharing what will no doubt become a better story .  .  as the years zoom by.
So .  .
There I was, as they say .  .  ‘ manned up’ a hot seat for the 2030 night launch about 500 miles north of Hawaii.  I was taxied off toward the carrier’s island where I did a 180 to get spotted and be the first off #1 Catapult.
They lowered my launch bar and started the launch cycle.  All systems were ‘ go’ on the run up.  And after waiting the requisite 5 seconds to make sure my flight controls were good to go, I turned on my outside lights.
As is my habit, I shifted my eyes to the catwalk and watched the deck edge dude and as he started his routine of looking left .  .  then to the right.
I put my head back against the head rest.
The Hornet cat shot is pretty impressive.  The cat fires, I stage the afterburners and I am along for the ride.
But just prior to the end of the stroke .  .  there’s a huge flash .  ..  and simultaneous .  .  B-O-O-M !
And my night world is now .  .  turmoil!
My little pink body is now doing 145 knots .  .  100 feet above the black Pacific.
And there the airplane stays — except for its airspeed .  .  decaying below 140 knots.
I raised my gear.  But the throttles aren’t going any farther forward despite my Schwarzze-negerian effort to force them further ahead.
From out of the ether I hear a voice speak one word : “JETTISON!”  I rogered that!  And a nano-second later my two drops and single MER [ about 4,500 pounds in all ] are bound to black Pacific .  .  close below.
The airplane leapt up.
A bit.
But not enough.
I’m now about a mile in front of the boat at 160 feet with airspeed fluctuating from 135 to 140 knots.
Next comment out of the night ether is .  .  another one-worder :
I’m still flying .  .  so I said back : “Not yet .  .  I’ve still got it.”
Finally, at 4 miles ahead of the boat, I take a peek at my engine instruments and notice my left engine .  .  doesn’t match the right.  [ Funny, how quick glimpses at instruments get burned into your brain.] The left RPM is only at 48% even though I’m still doing the Ah-Nold thing on its push lever.
I bring everything out of afterburner, but allowed both throttle levers to remain against extreme forward detent .
And I get another call from the boat:
“Nope!  It’s still flying,” I told them.
At 5 1/2 miles I asked Tower to please get the helo headed my way as I truly believed .  .  I was going to be ‘shelling out.’ At some point, I thought it would probably be a good idea to dump some gas.
But as my hand reached down to the dump switch, I actually remembered that we had a NATOPS operation prohibition against dumping fuel now because the after burners .  .  WOULD IMMEDIATELY TORCH THE POURING FUEL!
BUT .  .  after a second or two [contemplating the threat of landing an unnecessarily heavy fighter on the night deck] I turned the fuel dump switches ON .  .  any-way.
Immediately [I was told later] .
At 7 miles I began slow climb to get a little breathing room.  CATCC control chimes in giving me a downwind landing pattern heading.  And I’m like: “Ooh .  .  what a good idea” .  .  and throw down my tail hook.
Eventually I get things headed downwind at 900 feet and ask for a Tech Rep [Manufacturer’s Technical Representative].  While waiting, I shut down the flaky and threatening port [left] engine.
In short order, I hear ‘ Fuzz ‘ McClure’s voice.  I tell him the following: ‘Okay Fuzz, landing gear’s up .  .  left motor’s off .  .  and I’m only able to stay level if I use some afterburner.
And every time I click off the ‘blower’ and reduce to 100 % military power on the starboard [right] engine .  .  the airplane wants to ‘start down’ at about a 100 feet a minute.”
I continued trucking downwind .  .  trying to keep it level .  .  kept dumping off fuel.  .  and dumping off fuel.
I think I must have been in and out of afterburner for about a quarter hour.
I’m ten miles out and down to 5000 pounds of gas.  Start to turn back.  My intention was not to land the thing.  I just didn’t want to get too far away from the boat.
Of course, as soon I as I stuck in a little 20 degree bank .  .  the crippled F-18 began falling like a stone.  So I ended up doing a shallow bank to stay within a 5 mile radius.
Fuzz is reading me the single engine rate of climb numbers from the ‘book’ based on temperature, etc.  And it doesn’t take us long to figure out that things aren’t adding up.  One of the things I’d learned about the F-18 Hornet is that it is a perfectly good single engine aircraft.  And it usually flies great on one motor.
SO .  .  WHY do I need ‘blower’ [afterburner] to hold me up in the air right now?
By this time, I’m talking to Deputy CAG on the flight deck.  And boss CAG who’s on the bridge with the Captain.
And we decide that the thing to do .  .  is for me climb to 3,000 feet and ‘dirty up’ with wheels and flaps down .  .  then check to see if this messed up bird has enough power to do a night approach and landing without slamming into the barricade.
I go full burner on my remaining motor.  And eventually make it up to 2,000 feet before going level below a scattered puffy clouds.
The ‘puffies’ are silhouetted against a half a moon.  And part of my busy mind thought was .  .  really, really cool.
I start a turn back toward the ship .  .  threw the gear down and ‘clicked off the ‘blower.’ Remember that flash/boom .  .  that started this little tale?
[Repeat it here] B-O-O-M!
I jam it back into afterburner.  And after three or four huge compressor stalls [and accompanying deceleration] the right motor ‘comes back.’ I’m thinking my blood pressure was probably ‘up there’ about now .  .  my mouth had no saliva.
This next part is great.
You know those stories about guys who deadstick crippled airplanes away from the orphanages and puppy stores and stuff and get all this great media attention?
Well, at this point I’m looking at the running lights of a picket ship in front of me, at about two miles.  And I transmit to no one in particular:  
“You need to have the picket ship hang a left right now.  I think I’m gonna be outta here in a second.”
I said it very calmly but with meaning.
The picket immediately pitched out of the fight.  Ha!  I scored major points with the heavies afterwards for this.  Anyway, it’s funny how your mind works in these situations.
OK, so I’m dirty and I get it back level and pass a couple miles up the starboard side of the ship.  I’m still in minimum blower and my fuel state is now about 2500 pounds.  Hmmm.  I hadn’t really thought about running out of gas.
I muster up the gonads to pull it out of blower again and sure enough…  flash, BOOM!  I’m thinking that I’m gonna end up punching out and tell Fuzz at this point: “Dude, I really don’t want to try that again.”
Don’t think everyone else got it .  .  but ‘Fuzz’ chuckled.
Eventually I discover that even the tiniest throttle movements cause the ‘flash boom thing’ to happen so I’m trying to be as smooth as I can.  
I’m downwind a couple miles when CAG comes up and says, “Oyster, we’re going to rig the barricade.”
Remember, CAG’s up on the bridge watching me fly around doing fiery blower donuts in the sky.  And he’s also thinking I’m gonna run outta JP-5 fuel.
By now I’ve told everyone who’s listening that there a better than average chance that I’m going to be ejecting.  So the helicopter ‘bubbas’ – God bless ’em – have been on an invisible leash .  .  following me around.
“Paddles, you up [listening]?”
“Go ahead” replies “Max” Stout, one of our LSO’s.  “Max, I probably know most of it, but do you want to shoot me the barricade briefing?”  
So, in about a minute .  .  Max went from expecting me to ‘punch out ‘ .  .  to my asking for the barricade brief [so he was hyperventilating].  But he was awesome to hear on the command radio though .  .  just the kind of voice you’d want to hear in this situation.
He gave it to me.  Then at nine miles I say: “If I turn now will the barricade be up when I get there?  I don’t want to have to go around again.”
“It’s going up right now, Oyster.  Go ahead and turn.  And turning in, say the final bearing.”  “Zero six three,” adds the voice in CATCC.”
“OK, I’m on a four degree glide slope and I’m at 800 feet.  I will intercept the final glide slope at about a mile and three quarters.  Then reduce power and hold it there.”
When I reduced power: Flash/boom!  [Add power out of fear].  Going high!  Pull power.  Flash/boom!  [Add power out of fear.] Going higher!
[Flashback to LSO school…  “All right class, today’s lecture will be on the single engine barricade approach.  Remember, the one place you really, really don’t want to be is high.  O.K.?  You can go play golf now.”] I start to set up a higher than desired sink rate the LSO hits the “Eat At Joe’s” wave-off night lights.”
Very timely too.
I stroke the AB and cross the flight deck with my right hand on the stick and my left thinking about the little yellow and black ejection handle between my knees.
No worries.  I cleared ‘it’ by maybe .  .  ten feet.
My fuel state at the ‘ball call” was showing low at 1.1.  As I slowly climb out I punched the radio button saying .  .  again to no one in particular:
“I can do this.”
I’m in blower still and CAG says: “Turn downwind.”  After I get turned around he says: “Oyster, this is gonna be your last look at the boat [in the dark below] so you can turn in again as soon as you’re [feeling] comfortable.”
I flew the DAY pattern and I lost about 200 feet in the turn and like I’m a total dumb ass, I look out of the cockpit as I get on centerline. And that ‘NIGHT THING’ about feeling that I’m too high “GRABBED ME!” 

So in error I pushed further down further to 400 feet [above the invisible water now close below.] I got kinda irked at myself, then as I realized I would now be intercepting the four degree glide slope in the middle .  .  with a flash/boom every several seconds all the way down.
Last look at my gas was 600-and-some pounds [100 gallons] at a mile and a half astern.  “Where am I on the glide slope, Max?”, I ask.  And I and hear his calm reply: “Roger Ball.” I know I’m low because the ILS [needle] is waaay up there.
By now the “Ball’s” shooting up from its depths.  I start flying it.  But before I get a chance to spot the deck I hear: “Cut, cut, CUT!”
I’m really glad I was a ‘Paddles’ for so long because my mind said to me “Do what he says Oyster!”  So I pulled it back to idle.  My hook hit the deck .  .  11 paces beyond the potato locker ceiling’s upper edge.  I hit the deck .  .  skipped the one, the two and snagged the three wire and rolled into the barricade about a foot right of centerline.
Once stopped, my vocal cords involuntarily shouted: “VICTORY!”  The deck lights came on bright.  And just off to my right there must have been a .  .  ga-zillion cranials and eyes watching.
You could hear a huge cheer across the flight deck.  After I open the canopy and the first guy I see is our huge Flight Deck Chief named Richards.  And he gives me the coolest personal look .  .  and then two thumbs up.
I will remember all of that forever.
P.S.  You’re probably wondering what gave motors problems.
When they taxied that last Hornet over the working catapult .  .  they’d forgotten to remove a section or two of the rubber cat seal.  When the catapult shuttle came back to hook me up, it removed the cat rubber seal, dragged and dropped it front of the intakes.  During my catapult stroke .  .
the rubber seal was inhaled by both motors.
Basically, the left engine quit.  And about thirty feet of black rubber was hanging down from its air intake. The right motor .  .  the one that kept running .  .  had also swallowed rubber and had 340 major hits to every one of its engine stages.  The compressor section is trashed.  And two pieces of the cat seal [one 2 feet and the other about 4 feet long] were poking out of the first stage and forward into the air intake.
God Bless General Electric!  By the way, maintenance data showed I had a little over sixty [61] gallons of gas when shutting down after catching the wire and coasting into the barricade.
Again, remember this particular number .  .  because after ten more years of telling this story .  .  it will surely be .  .  ‘FUMES MAN .  .  FUMES ..  .  I TELL YOU’!
“Oyster, out.”
[abridged from private source]

Short and sweet, he earned his flight pay that night… 🙂


Sea Stories… — 16 Comments

  1. Okay, I was wrong. This is one of the best sea stories ever. Oyster’s courage, determination, and focus during this ordeal was truly extraordinary. BZ!

  2. *snicker*

    So thanks to the irritation of a foreign object Oyster produces a pearl.


    • Hell, I’ll bet he was producing DIAMONDS with his butt!

  3. He says it will get better as time goes by – I don’t see how it could get better…

  4. Which is why Navy Pilots spend so much time in the classroom and the trainer. So they can do things like this.

  5. So, how long did it take Oyster’s butt to unclench from the seat? 😛

  6. All I could think was “Wonder who lost stripes over that screw up?”