29 September 2006

Flightdeck Friday!

Ryan FR Fireball

In 1942 the Navy was less than impressed with the state of jet-powered development. Hedging its bets, it comissioned construction of two "composite-powered" aircraft -- the Grumman XTB3F-1 (last week's Flightdeck Friday subject) and a fighter from a little known company, Ryan, who had not previously built an aircraft for the Navy. Ryan won the contract as it, of 9 companies, showed the best appreciation for the problems involved with the design.

On Feb 11, 1943 Ryan was authorized to construct 3 flying prototypes and a fourth to be used for static testing. The XFR-1 was a low-wing, flush-riveted fighter, and powered by the Wright R-1820-72W radial engine with a GE I-16 turbojet in the rear fuselage. Breaking convention, the XFR-1 would also be a tri-cycle configuration because of the jet engine. Later that year, the Navy placed an initial production order for 100 FR-1 Fireballs -- a good 6 months before the first flight. Another 600 were ordered in January 1945 for a production total of 700 (this was subsequently cut by 634 post VJ-day).

First flight occured 25 June 1944, but it was on piston power only (as would the next flight). Later flights with the jet-engine installed showed the FR-1 to have demonstrably good flight characterisitcs. Unfortunately, the first prototype disintegrated in mid-flight near the end of its testing. The problem was traced to the flush rivets on the wings. A fix was instituted that consisted of doubling up the number of rivets, but in the interim the remaining two prototypes also crashed.

Although 634 had been canceled, the remainder of the FR-1s were delivered to Fleet squadrons -- first to VF-66, which was stood-up for the express purpose of evaluating the FR-1, and when VF-66 was dis-established in October, 1945, to VF-41. VF-66 conducted the initial carrier qualification of the FR-1 and VF-41 later operated the FR-1 off USS Wake Island, USS Bairoko and USS Badoeng Strait, flying up through 1947. The FR-1 was withdrawn form service shortly thereafter.

One significant modification was made by replacing the piston engine with a turboprop, creating the XF2R-1 Dark Shark. Although it showed substantial improvements over the FR-1, by this point the Navy was more interested in further developing the pure jet.

One interesting footnote to the development of the FR-1 is that it was the first jet-powered aircraft to be tested in a full-scale wind-tunnel. The team studying the FR-1 was quite interested in a number of novel items, not least of which was the embedded jet engine. One team member went so far as to investigate the use of vectored thrust to control the aircraft, using vanes inserted in the jet exhaust. The concept, controlling an aircraft's flight path through the use of vectored thrust, was written up in a research paper that, in the author's words, gathered dust until the space age arrived, when it was dusted off and the principals of vectored thrust applied to space- and aircraft. Again, in his words, this may have been the most important contribution of the FR-1...

Today, few examples remain with the best preserved found in the "Planes of Fame" museum in Chino, CA.


  • Swanborough, Gordon and Bowers, Peter M. United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. Naval Institute Press, 1990.
  • http://www.conway.com/cdi/ryan.htm "The Navy's First Jet by McKinley Conway."

28 September 2006

Another Cold War Closeout

While your faithful scribe does not hail from the VP community, he still nonetheless has spent time in Kef (and has the arrested field landings to prove it), most notably when E-2Cs replaced E-3's during the late 1980-spring '81 timeframe. 'twill be the subject of a future "Reflections."

Last U.S. Servicemembers to Leave Iceland Sept. 30
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2006 - A 65-year segment of history ends Sept. 30, when the last American servicemember based in the country leaves Iceland.

U.S. servicemembers will continue to work with, train with and operate with their NATO ally, but troops will not be based in the island nation, said Thomas F. Hall, assistant defense secretary for reserve affairs and the man who negotiated the U.S.-Iceland agreement.

Hall said the last American servicemembers will take down the U.S. flag at Naval Air Station Keflavik at 5 p.m. Sept. 30 and then depart.

The United States will continue to defend Iceland as part of the 1951 Defense Agreement between the two nations and as as a NATO ally. An attack on one NATO nation is considered an attack on all.
In March 2006, the United States announced the decision to close American facilities on the island and reassign the servicemembers. Since then, U.S. and Icelandic officials have been working together to craft the new relationship.

At one time, Iceland had more than 10,000 U.S. servicemembers based there. Then, the threats came from first Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the threats have changed and come from new directions: terrorism, international crime, and drug trafficking, Hall said.

The United States is stepping up its coordination with Iceland to help maintain the security of the country and the region against such emerging threats. U.S. forces could go back into the country quickly if conventional threats re-emerged, Hall said. The assistant secretary said there will be at least yearly exercises and U.S. ships will visit the nation on a regular basis.

Even before the U.S. entry into World War II, the U.S. government vowed to defend Iceland. In 1940, Denmark, which then had sovereignty over Iceland, fell to the Nazis. British troops moved into Iceland to defend the nation, which has never had a standing military force.

In July 1941, U.S. forces landed in Keflavik and replaced the Brits. With a few short breaks, American servicemembers have provided security for Iceland ever since.

During World War II and the Cold War, Iceland was critical to keeping the sea lines of communication open. The U.S. maintained aircraft on Iceland to defend Iceland and the North Atlantic sea lanes against conventional military threats: submarines, ships and aircraft. But those threats no longer exist.

A State Department official said the new agreement builds upon "our ironclad commitment" to defend Iceland under the 1951 Defense Agreement and the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty. "The package also puts us on course to see that Iceland's security needs are met and that Iceland contributes to global security requirements in deterring terrorism and countering trafficking in drugs and persons and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," the official said.

Since the 1940s, most American forces based in Iceland were stationed at Naval Air Station Keflavik.

27 September 2006

Badgers and Bucanners and Bears...(Pt 3)

Window covers down, overhead hatch in and all harnesses locked, the crew was ready. Bluetail 602 went into tension, the throttles against their stops, the aircraft mercilessly shaking. In an instant, they were down the catapult and airborne.

As the wheels were coming up, Bird exclaimed “Hey look, we’ve got a visitor...” Straining against his straps and the binding of the anti-exposure suite the lieutenant looked to his right and aft through his tiny window. There, briefly, he caught it. The unmistakable silver and grey of a Badger C-Mod who had obviously found the carrier and was now trailing the E-2...

“Well, so much for EMCON Alpha” he thought...

“OK, let’s button up, bring the radar on and see what’s out there…”

“Flight, CICO. Skip the EMCON departure, let’s head straight to station. While we’re at it, let’s start saving gas, I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be out here for a while”

Freed from the requirement to stay low until the EMCON departure point was reached, the E-2 sprung towards the low ceiling, pulling the Badger with it.

Their seats turned to face their radar scopes, the three back-enders (“moles” in the parlance) went about setting up their displays for their respective missions – the ACO and RO on a smaller scale as they began corralling the aircraft they were to control, the CICO on a 250 nm scale to get the “big picture.” The Combat Information Center (CIC) of the E-2 was a long ways from the cramped quarters of the Grumman TBM-3W Avenger, the first carrier-based AEW aircraft which first flew 37 years ago. Now, three operators shared somewhat tight quarters in place of the one, but with access to the most sophisticated array of equipment at their command that had ever been seen in an AEW aircraft up to that time.

The heart of the Hawkeye the young lieutenant was flying, lay in a series of computers and digital processing – everything from radar to other emitters and even own ship’s navigation was converted to digital signals, processed by the main computer and displayed as special symbols on the operator’s displays. Whereas in the past, a grease pencil and straightedge was used to track targets and run intercepts, now the system generated symbology was associated (at the operator’s selection) with raw radar video or synthetically generated video. With the right set-up, the CICO could take in all that was occurring throughout the area of the battle group and beyond, and through a digital data link, pass that picture back to the ships of his and the other battle groups.

“Strike, 602, proceeding to Alpha One. 602 is Charlie Alpha” Bluetail 602 was reporting mission capable and outbound to its assigned AEW orbit point, well out from the battle group center and oriented in the direction of the greater of two threats, the expected raids coming from the northeast.

Reaching operating altitude, the pilots set the Hawkeye slightly nose up to provide the best radar picture. In the back the complexity of that picture was becoming very evident – both on the operator’s displays and over the several radios being used.

“602, 601 meet me tactical covered” The off-going E-2 was asking 601 to come up secure on the squadron’s “tactical” frequency (used for coordinating between aircraft of the same squadron).

Selecting one of the 5 UHF radios available, the CICO flipped up the cipher switch and pressed the foot transmit switch. Waiting for the synchronization tone, or beep, the CICO passes 601 is up.

“One from two here’s what we’ve got. We’re at Exercise Red and Tight. Station 1C has Tap 100 and 103; 3C has Tap 104 and Dakota 202. 5C has Dakota 205 and 207. All are 2/2/2 and state tiger. Devils 100 and 105 are on 9B – 105 is lead nose. Cupcake 04 is enroute to 9B as Texaco. 11B has Eagle 211 and 212, state tiger. Harriers should be up shortly, they’ll fill 10A. PDS is heavy between 010 and 040. The Bears each have a Waldo or Clinch keeping company.”

As the pass-down was being completed between the CICOs in the two E-2s, the ACO and RO were completing their respective handoffs of the controlled fighters. From the pass down he knew the force was expecting a raid and that weapons status was ‘tight’, that there were 6 x F-14s airborne (which *had* to be some kind of record this at sea period), all carrying a load out of 2 AIM-7F Sparrows, 2 x AIM-9L Sidewinders and 2 x AIM-54A Phoenix. All were manning CAP stations 150 nm out from the reference point, which today just happened to be centered amongst the three carrier BG’s. Additionally, 4 x F-4s were manning stations further to the south and closer in. One of them was without radar (“lead nose”). Sea Harriers, on their first operational deployment, would be checking in shortly from the HMS Hermes – they would fill a single CAP station at 50 nm from the reference point. Tankers were in the air with one, an A-6 from VA-65 with buddy stores, under E-2 control and enroute to the thirsty VF-74 F-4s from FID on station 9B. The three Bears each had an A-7, carrying a pair of AIM-9’s, as their escorts. Yeah, it was looking busy – and that didn’t include the S-3’s, A-6’s and A-7’s from IKE and FID doing ASUW and ASW ops under FID’s E-2’s control plus a couple of Norwegian P-3s, the ever present helos, everyone squawking IFF and all bent on their own mission.

“OK Duck, I think we’re set – I’m switching to Alpha Whiskey”

“Got it Willie – see you on deck” Duck was the OPS O and a bonafide old school guy. He had flown AEW versions of the A-1, the E-1B or “Fudd” (a throwback to when it was known as the WF1 under the old nomenclature system) and even AEW Gannet’s off the Hermes when she was a real carrier with real aircraft (Phantoms and Buccaneers).

Switching frequencies on his UHF, the CICO placed his call to Alpha Whiskey, checking in as Tango One and settled into the search routine. Out here, in a blue water environment, the APS-125 was in its best element. The sea state made for some clutter, but it was addressed with some minor adjustments to the sensitivity controls located between him and the RO. “It may be digital processing,” he thought, “but there is still room for ‘fine tuning.’ ” Selecting the front end again on the ICS, he called the flight deck:

“Flight, CICO”

The ICS positions for pilot and co-pilot lit up. “Go CICO”

“Barrier’s in the system, let’s make the barrier legs 020 and 180. I want the 020 leg at 60 miles and the 180 leg 40 from barrier center. We’ll start with flat turns, but if it gets to be a problem with the autopilot again, give me quick turns. How’s the weather look at this altitude?”

“We’re running just above a layer, it’s clear above to about 32 or 33K”

“OK, let’s go up to 27. Keep me updated on the gas -- our area is pretty clear for now. That Badger is off harassing the rest of the fleet now...”

“Copy all” At that the pilot’s and co-pilot’s ICS light flicked off and the routine of the mission began.

Watching his scope, the CICO was noticing a cluster of ESM hits on a line of bearing of about 030 from ownship. No radar hits along those LOBs, yet, but the bad guys had to be getting ready to come out o the woodwork…

There, about 200 nm from the Hawkeye, a faint trace, almost like a fingernail clipping. One sweep, its there. Next sweep, nothing. Nudging the ACO, the CICO pointed out the location using an intercom mark to flash the suspect area on the ACOs scope. “Hey Bird, looks like there might be something here – keep an eye peeled and start running your CAP outbound legs that way.”

There, again, a stronger return, tracking south/southwest; coming around Norway. About that moment the system placed symbology on the track. “Hooking” it with his light pen, he readout the track information on the smaller rectangular CRT below the main display unit. The unknown air’s track was at 21,000 ft, heading 243 degrees at 300 knots. No IFF – he checked Mode IV just in case – no dice there either. With the track still hooked, he assigned a track number – 1201; and enabled it for reporting on Link-11.

“Whiskey, Tango One, new Tango One track 1201 red 035 tac 214, single, medium, fast. Investigating with Station 1C.” He added the last as he saw the pairing lines appear from the ACO’s assignment of Tap 100 and 103 via Link 4.

“Tango One, Alpha Whiskey, roger, Station 1C, out.” Came the reply from the Force AAWC.

Again, about 10 miles or so behind the track there was another small sliver of video. Again, the system picked up the track. Designating and reporting it via the link, the CICO made another report to AW. Selecting the ACO’s radio from his control panel (he could listen in and talk on up to 5 UHF and 2 HF radios – monitoring more than one, especially when things got busy, was an art form in itself and separated the good CICOs from the merely competent), the CICO listened to the intercept as it developed. For now it was quiet since both Tomcats were running on two-way Link 4.

When it worked, or wasn’t being jammed, the great thing about Link 4 with F-14s was the info flow going to and coming back from the Tomcats. The entire intercept could be run without a single voice comm between the Hawkeye and the Tomcats, as it was now. The Taprooms clearly had a radar lock on the target and were driving into the intercept. Looking down at the other stations, he could see the other pairs of fighters were starting to “cheat” north as his ACO was keeping their situational awareness up, again via Link 4.

Looking back at the first contact the system was now starting to breakout another track – looks like two with the second in trail. Almost immediately, one of the F-14 pairing lines jumped to the new track.

“Whiskey, Tango One, Track 1201 now flight of two, trail formation, continuing with station 1C. Covering Track 1202 with 3C.”

The ESM was going nuts, and more radar traces were appearing along the same LOB. Each was picked up by the system, reported on the link and by voice. By now he was counting over 20 tracks, all headed in roughly the same direction – towards the battle group. Stations 3C and 5C were fully engaged at this point.

Farther to the east, another track, identified as “friend/air” suddenly lost its IFF code and began tracking west to a spot north and east of the battle group… The lack of available interceptors to investigate this track was troubling – the F-14s were all engaged with the Badgers and the F-4s were resetting to cover any leakers. All the A-7s airborne were either with the Bears, sitting tanker duty, or overhead as last ditch interceptors. None of the surface shooters were in a position to cover with birds (missiles) either. Figuring this might be the beginning of the Orange Air (exercise) raid scheduled for later, he wasn’t as worried as he was with the real world developments up North. Still, it was a matter of concern:

“Alpha Whiskey, Alpha Romeo, Tango One. Tango One recommends launching all available alert. Multiple bogeys inbound. Break, track 1231 now non-squawker, negative Mode 4, investigating with 9B. Setting station 9B with 11B”

“Alpha Whiskey, Alpha Romeo, this is Alpha Bravo – launch alert 5 and 10” In the background of the embarked flag’s voice call (‘Alpha Bravo’) the CICO could hear the gonging of the ‘General Quarters’ alarm. The ESM system lit up as air search and fire control radars from the fleet came on line the fleet was coming to a heightened state of battle readiness…

“602, 100. 100 and 103 tied on. Bogeys are Charlie Mods with one centerline”

The first tracks had just been ID’d as more Badger Charlie Mods, each with a single AS-2.

“602, Dakota. Dakota and Tap are tied on to two Badger Golfs each with one Kingfish (AS-6).”

As the fighters were finishing their reports, suddenly the CICO noticed a large smudge of video starting to appear, almost like someone with a grease pencil was furiously scribbling a line pointed toward the battle group. Soon another appeared then a third. Crap, he thought, someone was deploying chaff…

To Be Continued

26 September 2006

Fun With Posters

Yeah, it was the OPNAV credo...

From the good folks at the poster creator (h/t: CSA)

TINS Tuesday

(Ed: This week's offering comes from Grampaw Pettibone, of whom your humble scribe has been a fan for lo these many years. This article was first printed in Naval Aviation News in the 15 April 1943 issue)

Duck Soup

While simulating a strafing attack at a speed of approximately 250 knots, the pilot of an F4F-4 reported that he flew through a flock of ducks, several o which struck his airplane. This resulted in sever vibration and some difficulty in aileron control, necessitating an immediate forced landing. The airplane sank; the pilot only received mild shock and salt water immersion.

It’s my opinion this pilot got off mighty lucky. It used to be fun to chase ducks and occasionally “bag” a pelican, but that was back in the days when you had to have an extra fast plane to catch a pelican. With modern, high speed aircraft, striking even a small bird may cause loss of control and result in a serious crash.

I’m not accusing this pilot of deliberately running into this flock of ducks. I’m merely warning all and sundry to stay well clear of such things if possible. My dad once told me of seeing a straw driven through a five-inch oak tree during a tornado.

24 September 2006

Badgers, Buccaneers and Bears...(Pt 2)

(Note: I am in the process of moving the postings off the old site to this one, beginning with this series)

Badgers, Buccaneers and Bears...(Pt 2)
(A North Atlantic tale from the "good ole days")

Stopping by Maintenance Control, the lieutenant asked for the aircraft discrepancy book on 602. All the current and near past ills of the aircraft are chronicled in this three-ring binder, giving crews an idea of what they will be working with.

“Hi chief – looks like 602 again” he said. “Did the AT’s have a chance to look at the DTS yet?” The Data Terminal Set, or DTS, was not much more than a glorified modem, connecting the E-2 into the digital data network known as TADIL-A or Link-11. Link-11 allowed the tracks passed by participating units, surface and airborne, to be shared, dramatically expanding the situational awareness and battlespace.

“Yes sir, they swapped it out” the chief replied. “Any more word on 604? All we heard was a radar problem, no specifics yet...”

“Sorry chief, I’ll see if I can get something out of them when I go to CIC, looks like our radar problems are continuing though, especially with 604.”

“Roger that – thanks sir” The chief was his QA division chief and recently the two had grown concerned over the number of radar problems the squadron was encountering. He had suggested a special trend analysis on certain radar boxes on the transmit side, in the high power section. They were awaiting the data run from the ship’s AIMD department on these boxes to see if there were any common areas of failure.

As he headed down the passageway to CIC, he started turning over in his mind what the causes of this rash of failures might be. To be sure, the CO was going to be one very unhappy camper when he got back on deck and he was glad he’d be airborne when the CO got back to the ready room – it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Opening the hatch into CIC, he stepped into the perpetual darkness, lit only by the vertical plot boards, consoles and weak, blue lights. Several overhead speakers were announcing their traffic and one in particular; the AAW circuit immediately attracted his attention.

“Whiskey, Alpha Whiskey, Tango3 – Tango 3 track 1210 Badger Charlie-Mod, VID Taproom 101”

Finally, the bear was coming out – this could get interesting. Tango 3 was the E-2 they were going up to relieve. 604 was supposed to have been the relief, but with the busted radar, 601 was extending until he could get airborne. Tango 3 was passing that the unknown they had been tracking (Link -11 track 1210) was visually identified as an ASCM-carrying version of the workhorse Badger medium range bomber by one of the ariwing’s Tomcats. Carrying up to 2 AS-4 “Kitchen” anti-ship missiles, individually, it was a relatively straightforward target for the airwing’s Tomcats and their Phoenix missiles – nail the archer, not the arrows was the goal. However, in the large waves expected as the BG approached the Soviet homeland closer than many remembered in recent history, well, that could be a problem.

“Whiskey, this is Alpha Whiskey, designate track 1210 as unknown, presumed hostile.” Alpha Whiskey was the Anti-Air Warfare Commander who was either on the carrier or one of the AAW-equipped cruisers like USS Virginia, accompanying them. AW had just ordered all of the units on the AAW net to consider track 1210 as a presumed hostile – actual designation of hostile was reserved for a shooting war.

Looking over the shoulder of the Force Weapons Controller, he rapidly took in the situation. Three Bear Delta’s airborne and hanging around the extreme outer edges of the battle group all with escorts from the battle group – one with a pair of the new Sea Harriers from the HMS Hermes and the other two with F-4s from the Forrestal, who was waylaid on her homeward bound leg from a Mediterranean deployment. Talk about happy campers...

The just ID’d Badger C-Mod was inbound at 18, 000 ft making around 350 knots. Close aboard was Taproom 101. The bucket brigade of tankers, KA-6s and A-7s with buddy stores, were shuttling out to CAP stations to refill the thirsty fighters.

Turning to the TAO, he waited for a break in the action to get a quick update.

“Hi Mike, I’m on the hot switch – what’ve we got going?”

Quickly the TAO passed the brief – “AW is on Virginia who is also NCS. AAWC is on UHF covered and Link-11 is on HF, we’re still in EMCON A. We have indications of a possible raid coming out of the north-east and an orange air raid is expected during your second cycle. Real world threat axis is 020, exercise 020 and 140.” Hmm, AW was over on the Virginia, not altogether encouraging as they had a tendency this at sea period to lose the picture. Voice reporting was secure UHF which meant he could be a little freer in passing information – no chance of a screw-up converting info with “base plus” information. Link-11 being on HF made sure he could push his station out further to extend the radar coverage of the force, but EMCON A would make launch and recovery not fun – no navaids, radio comms or radars off mother (the carrier) to help the returning aviators, so it would be up to the airborne E-2 to help, adding to the workload.

“Whiskey, Alpha Whiskey, Tango 3, new Tango 3 track 1215, red-185, taking with CAP station 1, Dakota 201.” Business was starting to pick up.

“OK Mike, I think I got it – talk to you all airborne” The TAO gave a quick nod as he turned back to the task at hand. Stopping by the enlisted controller working Strike, he asked if 604 had passed any codes back. The controller nodded and passed a sheet of paper on which were listed several Bravo codes. Quickly deciphering them, the lieutenant saw it was the high power side of the radar that had failed – the trend continued. A quick call back to Maintenance control with the codes and he was off to flight deck control.

As he exited the hull just below the carrier’s island, the icy blast of North Atlantic air wiped what remaining cobwebs there were form his mind. Looking out as far as the shredding mist and low, scudding gray clouds would allow he caught an occasional glimpse of a Knox-class frigate churning along on the starboard quarter. The occasional white spray of sea breaking across the bow reminded him of the carrier’s own movement. Grey seas, grey skies – what a bleak seascape the late summer North Atlantic provided. Some forty years ago, merchant convoys had struggled through the thicket of Nazi submarines and maritime patrol aircraft to deliver their loads of arms to the erstwhile-Soviet allies at Murmansk. Now, he thought, we find our selves plowing similar seas, only this time running the Soviet sub gauntlet and preparing for an aerial onslaught. Surprisingly, while the tools of the trade had grown in complexity and lethality, the means of employment had scarcely changed.

Climbing the ladder to the flight deck and entrance to flight deck control, he gave brief thanks for the bulk of clothing he wore for the protection it provided, knowing full well within the hour he’d be chaffing and cursing it in turn. The bomb farm, abreast the starboard side of the island, was today filled with a variety of missiles – ranging from the “Buffalo” (AIM-54 Phoenix), so named for it’s size to the almost diminutive Sidewinder (AIM-9). In between was the star-crossed Sparrow (AIM-7). Each effective in its own turn, but if you wanted to kill a Bear, then the Phoenix was the trick. Big missile, big warhead and range to reach out and touch someone, a long ways away. At least, that what the sales brochures said...

The flight deck, normally crowded with aircraft was relatively open – anything flyable was either already airborne, preparing to launch or getting ready for recovery. Ike was in “flex-deck” operations allowing for nearly continuous flight ops. Fortunately the wind was cooperating as it allowed Ike to continue along PIM and the open ocean gave her a wide berth to within which to operate. Up on Cat 1 a Tomcat was going into burner for the launch. A quick wipeout of the controls after a once over by the final checkers and the fighter was shot down the deck and into the grey mist. At the 180 was an A-7 getting ready to turn to land. At that moment, the unmistakable sound of an E-2’s turboprops announced the arrival of 602, heading for the break. “Pretty marginal Cat 1 weather” he thought to himself as he watched the hummer periodically disappear and reappear in the low ceiling.

Entering flight deck control he found his pilot ready to go, the two of them making themselves as unassumable as possible, finding an unoccupied part of flight deck control to park themselves. “OK Handler, rest of the crew’s here” the pilot announced to a clearly unhappy officer wearing a yellow flight deck jersey on which was stenciled ACHO. Clearly unhappy because he had to take not one, but two E-2s out of sequence while planning out how to go about striking the broken one down to the hangar bay and bringing the one resident there, up to the flight deck. The Handler, who orchestrated the ballet otherwise known as flight deck spotting could be your greatest friend or your worst nightmare, depending on his mood, how much grief he was catching from the Air Boss and ship CO, sitting several stories above in their glass enclosed thrones, and how difficult you just made his job. Everyone would see both sides of him over the course of a deployment, and of course, in true Naval Aviation fashion, like the Air Boss, CAG and other “senior” officers, he would suffer accordingly at the hands of the junior officer skits and ribald anthems at the foc’sl follies at the end of each at sea period. Many would only know him as some grumpy ex-aviator, ship’s company puke to be avoided except when special favor was to be curried. Fewer still would come to appreciate his job and then, usually only in the course of completing their own ship’s company tour.

“602 on deck handler”

“Spot him in the forward Hummer hole – you guys ready? ‘kay, then get outta my office...”

Thankful to be out of that den of obvious tension, the lieutenant watched the approach of his aircraft. The “grapes” (purple-shirted fuel handlers) were prepping to deploy their hoses and refuel the approaching Hawkeye. A small contingent of maintenance personnel from the squadron were standing by to fix what items needed such, and otherwise get the aircraft back in the air as quick as possible so they could strike below and out of the miserable weather.

As the Hawkeye stopped, the starboard prop began to wind down with the securing of the engine. The refueling point was on the starboard side of the fuselage, under the wing and stopping the engine was a precautionary measure to ensure one of the refuelers wouldn’t inadvertently back into a turning prop. It had happened more than once before, though thankfully not (yet) in his experience on Ike. The huge Hamilton Standard-built prop was merciless to anything placed in its path – be it inanimate metal or human flesh. The port prop was left turning and so their approach would be up the port side of the fuselage to the main entrance hatch, just aft of the prop. That hatch was now open and two aircrew were exiting. Brief exchanges with each counterpart were exchanged – holding his helmet close to that of the off-going CICO, he caught brief snatches of “...good radar” and something about HF1’s trailing wire antenna and then it was time to board.

Walking straight to the tail of the aircraft, he put his right hand on the fuselage out of habit and proceeded to the main hatch. The sound and fury of the nearby turning prop was deafening, his QA chief positioned as part of the safety chain just forward of the hatch incase his crew for some inexplicable reason continued forward. Crouching, he lowered his head to clear the top of the hatch and headed aft to the CIC compartment past the racks of equipment, bundles of wire and high pressure hydraulics tubing.

Throwing himself into his seat, positioned in the middle between his ACO (Air Control Officer) on his left and RO (Radar Operator) on his right, he plugged into the ICS and was immediately greeted, irreverently, by his ACO...

“Willllburrr” It was Bird, using one of the call signs he knew irritated him. Trying not to roll his eyes, he asked:

“Hey Bird, how’s she look today?”

“Well, radar’s real good, best short pulse I’ve seen in a long time. We picked up that Badger much farther than I’ve seen before. PDS is actually working (the PDS was something new to the E-2C – adding an ESM capability to an AEW radar platform had yielded major benefits, when it worked). Radios are OK, except for HF1; we had some problems with the Trailing Wire Antenna and almost had to cut it off. Recommend we stay with HF2 for link today since AW is up on UHF.”

“Got it – how about the tactical picture, looked to be picking up when I left CIC”

“Yeah, it’s getting busy. CAP are pretty well under control as are the tankers, it’s just all the other interlopers that are making things hard. Had a Longhorn (one of CVW-7’s S-3 Vikings) come up and want to get pictures with the Bear. Asked if he had a buddy store, when he said ‘no’ so I sent him away. The F-4s off FID (Forrestal) are having problems with their radars, many are coming up lead nose and the Harriers need a lot of hand-holding. On the up side, Dolly is working great.” On the latter, the RO was vigorously shaking his head in agreement. "Tigertails (Forrestal's E-2 squadron) are working the surface picture and ASUW assets."

Taking a minute to digest this, it looked like the major obstacles were going to be keeping an eye on the F-4s and Harriers, running the gas and watching what developed with regards to the Soviets. Turning to the RO, he asked if he had a preference for control. Being somewhat old school he said he had no problem working the Harriers and Phantoms. Good, that meant Bird could take the Tomcats and work two-way Link4 (Dolly), easing his workload and providing a second set of eyes on the big picture.

“CICO, Flight, you guys ready to go back there?” It was Lefty, prompting the back-end to get ready to restart the starboard engine. Selecting “P” and “CP” on the ICS panel, he responded: “Roger flight, we’re ready” Momentarily deselecting them, he passed a quick safety brief to the backend if there was a problem on the start or launch, confirmed mission taskings and turning his seat forward, hooked up his O2 mask and prepared for the start.

With a clean start, it was a short taxi to the catapult. Enroute, he fastened his lower and upper Koch fittings – lower to the hard seat pan that contained the life raft and the upper to the parachute that rested against the seat back. Locking his harness, he tossed himself against the restraint to make sure it was latched. The one time he had failed to he ended up with a visor full of seatback on a trap.

Window covers down, overhead hatch in and all harnesses locked, the crew was ready. Bluetail 602 went into tension, the throttles against their stops, the aircraft mercilessly shaking. In an instant, they were down the catapult and airborne.

As the wheels were coming up, Bird exclaimed “Hey look, we’ve got a visitor...” Straining against his straps and the binding of the anti-exposure suit the lieutenant looked to his right and aft. There, briefly, he caught it. The unmistakable silver and grey of a Badger C-Mod who had obviously found the carrier and was now trailing the E-2...

To be Continued