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CHASING THE BOAT

CHASING THE BOAT


It was a routine launch from the Bonnie Dick, with a dusk recovery.  The only aircraft not on the schedule were the hangar queens.  We were going back to Yankee Station and we needed to hone our flying after being in port at Subic Bay.  The weather forecast was for increasing cloudiness in the area.  There was some talk of canceling the launch but the need to get some cockpit time won out.  As recovery time approached, more and more flights were reporting instrument flight conditions with tops above angels 20 in some quadrants. CIC broadcast a message to all aircraft that one aircraft would be brought down on an instrument approach to see if a VFR pattern could be maintained below the overcast. If it couldn’t, the time that would be required for all aircraft to make instrument approaches would put many aircraft below bingo and some at low state.

Attack aircraft wouldn't usually be first down the tube. That privilege went to the fighter types, ostensibly because their fuel states were lower and their aircraft more difficult to land. The rest of us knew that it was just to give them time to join their buddies who, immediately after the second seating, would glom onto all the seats behind the Commanders’ row for the wardroom movie.  That night, however, a section of VA-93 Blue Blazers in their A-4 Foxtrots got the honor. I assumed that it was because they wanted the best pilots for the job but it may have been because we were closest to the marshal point.

We went on the gauges while descending to marshal, which must have been at 15,000 feet and 25 nm aft.  I went into holding since we would have to fly the pattern once before the approach time. Arriving at marshal on time, I detached my wingman to continue holding and pushed over. This is a piece of cake, I thought. Starting this low and in close, I'll be aboard while my buddies are still boring holes in the clouds, waiting for their approach times to arrive. So I enjoyed the cozy atmosphere of the cockpit created by the glow of the red instrument lighting, which was the only light that I had seen for the last 10 minutes.

At 10 nm, I was in the dirty configuration. CATC had asked for a weather report nearly every thousand feet of my descent. The clouds were solid all the way. At 1200 feet I could still see nothing beyond my wing tip lights. I was still in the clouds approaching the glide slope on the 3 o’clock AofA. The CATC final controller marked my interception of the glide slope and I popped the boards.
1100 feet.
Still in the clouds.
Making lots of cross checks between the altimeter and the radar altimeter now.
900 feet.
Still in the clouds and pucker factor increasing linearly.
800 feet.
Still in the clouds, still on glide slope.
700 feet.
Where in h ___ is the bottom of this stuff?
600 feet.
Pucker factor increasing exponentially.
500 feet.
The controller asks if I'm VFR; I key the mike and give him a quick negative.
The controller keeps giving me instructions calmly, and I follow them but not calmly.
400 feet.
This is starting to get hairy.
The green card is supposed mean that you have too much sense to go to 200 feet.
300 feet.
I'm going to ---- Then I'm out of it.
It's like a curtain instantaneously raised and everything is clear and there's the . . . What the h_ _ _!!!?

It’s incredible!

The ship is turning starboard!
No time to think. The extended centerline is sweeping port and away from me at a horrendous rate.
Snap the left wing down . . . . . . jockey the throttle to try to keep the ball somewhere on the mirror. . . . . intercepting the centerline . . . . have to lead it . . . NOW—snap the right wing down, right rudder, power, lined up, level wings with the deck--touchdown--- throttle to the firewall---slammed forward in the harness-- GOT A WIRE!

The run out was a little right of centerline; not much, especially considering the ship was still in a turn. Release brakes, pulled back by the wire (#3, of course), hook up, brakes on, chocks in. And there I stayed until the ship was out of the turn, with the yellow shirts, the green shirts, the blue shirts, all lining up along the side of the island to see the guy who had just cheated death. I could have been parked nearly anywhere on the flight deck because the rest of the air wing had been bingoed to Cubi Point.

No one said much about the landing, except the LS0 who wasn't very coherent. No one ever bothered to tell me why the ship was in a turn when I broke out. No one commiserated with me that by now my buddies were lifting tall, cool ones at Cubi again. There was only one compensation for the fastest reactions that I ever had to make in an airplane. That night I sat in the row behind the Commanders for the wardroom movie

Mike Trout



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