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"Grim Gray Slab"

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"Grim Gray Slab"

Post by (A/229) BBall on Tue 23 Jun 2015 - 11:20

Greetings folks!

Im in the throes of a little downtime in the hotel in "Dai Nippon" (we leave tonight for Portland...home of the famous "Showtime" Very Happy ), so I thought I would pitch another one of Hatch's yarns your way. I'm sad to say that he never finished it, so it WILL leave you hanging, but that doesn't detrack from it's excellence. Save a few grammatical changes, and some pictures added from Al Gore's internet to spice it up a bit, it's not been touched by yours truly...hope you enjoy it.

====================

“The Grim, Gray, Slab”

J.C. “Hatch” Perkins

When you played organized baseball, your first and foremost thought was making the team. Then gaining a spot or slot at a key position that you knew you were born to play at. From there you dreamed the dream we all dared to.....getting the clutch hit or throwing that third strike in a tied score in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a full count to win the game for your team while the crowd stood up and cheered. It might have been your first scratching the surface of feeling what it was like to being in "the zone".
The individual effort of achievement that came in that moment whether standing in the batter's box or on the mound was the supreme test placed upon the shoulders of one player, but still was representative of the team's focus and stride in forming nine players on the field to think and act as one or twenty-five sitting in the dugout encouraging and clapping their hands hoping for a hit from one of their own then pumping their fists in excitement when it all fell into place. And again the crowd stood up and cheered.

The socialization process of entry into military training was not so different even for those that never served. If you peel away its outer skin to peek inside it would reveal a striking similarity to its counterpart corporate/private world on several facets. For the most part the group upon entry is rather a unregimented even undisciplined collection of characters from as diverse of backgrounds, experiences and upbringings as could humanly or selectively be brought together in one place. The challenge in forming military ideals within the individual is the same as to say to form it within the unit. The unit, the fire team, squad, platoon, company, battalion or regiment and so on the team. Larger in numbers than a typical baseball team maybe, but the contract between its members none the less the same. To honor it regardless of hard circumstance...hard circumstance...hard circumstance. That's worth repeating for the ultimate challenge the individual, or team, face in the military establishment that tests one's mental courage and patriotism is, without any doubt, combat. It becomes a daily preparation. Hard circumstance can be lifted to even a higher expectation when you factor in that for most entering the service environment, unlike in the private sector, they don't have the freedom to walk away from it voluntarily if it turns out to not be all what they bargained for, or don't get along that well with their boss, or the "it's just not for me" attitude. The contract binds you. Your married to it (for a while anyway).

For many it is their first chance and choice in life to make the decision to swim upstream. What they choose and how they approach it can turn future pages in the chapters yet to be written in the story of “them”. The colorful array of cast of characters that costar with them in life's journey along the way will hold their own and share their part in striving to achieve for each the same thing. Within the social process of socialization there exists the fraternity. The fraternity is your acceptance. I have spoken of it on more than one occasion and within the military for those in the fighter pilot community it is the wreath placed on your head that you have arrived. It is segmented though like chapters in your life and total acceptance....does not manifest itself in one action nor one challenge or test. So like leaves of the wreath there are many rungs of the ladder....to be climbed one at a time. What kind of tests and challenges am I speaking of? Well certainly finishing flight school is one of them. Getting jets, your first squadron assignment, competitively holding your own in flying skills with your bros, making Top Gun within your squadron, never screwing the pooch, combat experience (for those that get it). All these things represent another cold hard gray steel rung to step up on in getting there. I left one out. It too is sometimes referred to as cold, hard, grim and gray. The Grim Gray Slab. Of all the rungs on the ladder that feel too steep to step on, or all the hurdles that might seem to high to clear, it is that one. It is the one significant thing that separates military "aviators" from the other pilots that are outside of the USN/USMC............the deck of the aircraft carrier.



The beating heart of the ocean might be considered by many the constant ebb and flow of the tides. The beating heart on the ocean at least as far as the USN is concerned is its carrier groups. Usually consisting of around a dozen, normal security measures put in place at high levels for say submarines exist also for the carriers. Locations and movements being most prevalent, but in comparison to a sub, where are you going to hide a four and a half acre tub of steel which unlike a sub can only submerge if you sink her? So since they prefer to stay afloat on the surface of the water and the alternative to that choice is a bleak one, assuredly it is common knowledge and accepted fact that you can't make them totally stealthy.

When not in routine maintenance, they are in a constant state of deployable readiness. Even routine maintenance for the super carriers is conducted most of the time while out at sea. So called "down-time" for maintenance. They have the ability to repair things that break and to even go beyond that by having the capability to actually manufacture a new part like the old one if they do not have it in the ship's inventory at the time. This is of course within reason, for some things involving the nuclear reactor, may or may not be repairable at sea. But if all the bells and whistles are working, these floating cities with their 5,000 plus crew  personnel, can remain at sea (fuel wise) for a period of ten years or more with the power derived with one reactor. Some of the carriers are non-nuclear. It has to do with a consorted agreement between countries where particular carriers are normally and permanently based in or near, and their respective governments that do not want nuclear powered vessels parked there. Understandable.

For the 5,000 plus souls on board however their refueling times have to be more often than say every ten years and it's always nice to plant your feet firmly on solid ground once in a while just to keep things in proper perspective. That said it's no different for the aviators from wings and squadron groups, that after an especially tough, stressful mission, you are equally thankful to plant your feet back on solid ground as well; even if the "solid" part is represented by a grim gray slab. For the fledgling aviator who has earned his gold wings and qualified for either jets or a limited assortment of other aircraft types assigned to carrier duty, that first qual on the flight deck of the carrier is looked upon with a combination of mystic awe, intrepid intimidation, accelerated anticipation and if there ever was a moment in their training where thoughts of "What am I doing here?" lingered in his head, it was there only for a second and then fleeting. Much the same way that when he exited an aircraft with feet firmly on the ground, he would of course be excited certainly if the mission went well, but again a fleeting moment for in a very short time he would be just as excited in anticipating the next time he had the chance to go up again.

Your first quals are done on a training carrier that pretty much is just like the others and can be configured for combat ready status if needed and necessary very quickly. The Navy typically assigns one carrier for training duty. After that, future quals that come down the tour pike, are conducted during designated sea duty to and for the carrier your squadron is assigned to from your base of permanent personnel assignment. As you are aware the USMC aviators go through their carrier training quals along with the new USN aviators together the first time out. As I had mentioned in earlier writings that experience for me was aboard the USS Lexington, and although smaller in comparative size to her super duper sister ships of the modern era, the operative procedures for qualifying then remain pretty much the same today. My first experience at doing so was in the T-2 Buckeye in the Gulf of Mexico. In Part 3 I will take you on board and we will walk the walk of golden winged angels together.



Until then.....Semper Viper....Hatch Out


The basic tactical flight training and carrier training is actually conducted at first on land. How do they do that? Well, Saufley Field and a couple of other runways at NAS Pensacola were initially auxiliary fields, and stayed that way up until the early sixties. At that time pilot production in syllabus increased because of the brooding conflict in Southeast Asia. So what is usually done in preparing you for the carrier deck landings, that really resemble more of a controlled crash then a landing, is to mark off an outline on the ground around the runway that is close in dimensions of the flight deck on the training carrier. Then approach procedures for landing on it are conducted via the same ops procedures that are used at sea. There's one catch though. The practice landings are on the earth's surface, and even though you have to contend with wind, the last time I checked solid ground doesn't move under you unless maybe during an earthquake.  Landing gear arrests would be put in place to replace the cables at touchdown, but before they did that you took several (often not pretty) attempts at specific touchdown points on the runway with conventional roll outs and gradually they would shorten that. I recall that I was really amazed at how far and how quick I could roll right off the end of the "deck" on the ground runway the first few times I tried it.



Even later when I got more proficient at it, I still had tiny errors or misjudgments that I could get away with on simulated deck landings on the ground that would never pass quals on the carrier. The one thing that instructors kept repeating over and over was the importance of glide path, airspeed, and depth perception, then hitting the third cable....always the third cable out of five. Now let’s make it really interesting. The flight deck of the carrier is attached to the rest of the ship. The ship is sitting in water. Water is heavy as hell. Approx. 9.23 pounds per gallon. This isn't a mill pond either; it's the Gulf of Mexico. That water just like air/wind has weight mass and inertia. When it moves, the ship and the deck moves too, and sometimes not exactly in the manner that your aircraft is moving. In fact, sometimes exactly opposite from it. You might be pitching while the ship's listing or both in opposite directions from each other...the ship's moving forward too, into the wind yes, but you get extremely busy in the office, and it ain't quitin time until you get that bird down safely.....SAFELY on the deck.

My first foremost recollection of just how tiny things looked out there was when the whole damn carrier looked like a floating cigar from the air…that made the deck look like the little band wrapped around the cigar.  In addition to that there are often aircraft parked on the deck on both sides. Things just take on an entirely different perspective when you get cleared on approach, confirm and call the "ball", and have to land that T-2 on the deck. The buckeye is small certainly compared to the Phantom and is forgiving to fly in, but even IT looks large when you land on something that compares to the width of an alley. Actually it's much larger than an alley, but from the air when it gets big in the window, it seems to get smaller in your mind's eye. "Alley" was the descriptive word that we tossed around for quite a while, when we nuggets were making and cracking jokes amongst ourselves, to secretly hide any phobias we had. I remember the Cag once told us in an orientation briefing that you can call or curse that deck what you want, but to all of us coming back low on fuel and maybe nursing a crippled jet out in the middle of the ocean...the sight of that carrier would be like coming home. The alternative of ditching the aircraft in the drink was not a popular option. If you think something the size of an aircraft carrier looks small in the immense ocean, imagine looking for a pilot down in it in real combat environment. In training, water training and survival, it is all coordinated and structured. well at first anyway since they don't want any unforeseen accidents to occur. Looking back on that part, as good as the training survival was, it wasn't enough to save my RIO in Chu Lai and when I went down with a injuries that prevented me from walking...my URC-10 didn’t transmit off the responder so not only wasn't I walking I wasn't "talking" either. Combat...the real McCoy is very unpredictable…even with the best training in the world.



I learned to respect the vital importance of instrument rated certification once over water. Hard as hell to dead reckon over water. Looks the same in all directions and goes on forever too. You never feel as small nor as hopeless as when you’re over it and lost or running out of gas. During those times it was always...always nice to have another pair of eyes in the cockpit, and another mind in tune with your own in fixing the problem, that many times (through my pilot "stuff" stubbornness) I didn't ever want to admit to causing in the first place. LOL Next time we will start a typical day from briefing, to preflight, to ready room, to on deck and the experience of one part of the carrier quals that not only did I excel at, but always looked forward to ( well maybe with the exception of the first one ) and that's takeoff from the deck which beats any ride at Disney World believe me.



There were sixteen decks in all. Three of which were hangars decks primarily for various aircraft, there were maintenance fuel and weapons configurations. Elevators moved aircraft from the hangar decks to the flight deck. The flight deck was over 900 feet long. Small by today’s standards, but long the first time I stood on it. Let's just say I couldn't hit a golf ball that far even with wind at my back. There were only two catapults at the ships bow area. Both steam powered. The launch area was around 200 plus feet. A fifteen ton aircraft could be placed airborne off it from dead still to 150 knots or better in 2.5 to 3 seconds. On the flight deck you have the bridge area. The whole thing is called the Island. The bridge is the upper deck of it where the CAG, Air Boss, mini Boss and supportive crew maintain their vigil. Below that deck and above the top of the first hangar deck is the pilot’s ready room, briefing room etc. We will start our typical day there.

It is after chow, which would have consisted of (back then) for breakfast anyway the standard Post ten variety of cereals, orange juice, milk, coffee, scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage...sometimes ham, toast and don't let me leave out old reliable. Old reliable was SOS or as military folks referred to it “Shit on a Shingle”. Bits of chipped ham or beef in cream style gravy usually served over biscuits. They never seemed to run out of the stuff either. Funny part was I really liked it. Everybody else used to bitch all the time whenever they saw it being hashed out. Morning chow on a "work" day on a carrier usually started at 0530 hrs and ran for one hour. If you intended to eat you better be there early unless all you wanted was coffee. You show up after 0630, you better have some distinguishing rank on your lapels, or you are shit out of luck bubba.



You have an outline for syllabus that you are given on orientation briefing by the CAG and it is understood that it is your responsibility to read it and digest its contents fully. It has a play by play, for day by day, as to what will be covered in structured training for aircrews in qual for assisted traps. Assisted, meaning you, your IP LSO and traps… referring to arrested landings. The evening prior to your first TRG you find yourself burning the midnight oil so to speak covering last minute details. Sleep is a precious commodity that you need also, but honestly, I was so friggin nervous that first night I don't think I could have fallen asleep easily. So I read myself to sleep. Any last minute changes that come down from command would be covered in the briefing room before preflight. One that was universal was always weather, since it can't be controlled. Newbs would eventually have to deal with it, but not on their first round of quals. The Gulf of Mexico though can be unpredictable with weather changes, so it is not unusual for training to sometimes take longer because of delays due to it.

The Lex would often be out in the Gulf for three out of every four weeks for training. Training on the carrier included not only nuggets going through training command but any permanent personnel squadrons having completed FCLP or field carrier landing practice. That is the land based training that I described earlier. Even prior qualed pilots go back through it before reporting to the training carrier to requal, before then going on carrier duty to their squadron assigned ship. In the ready room or in briefing you as a nugget going through work ups will be sharing time and slotted air time/space with the centurions. Work ups are what pilots call take-off and landing quals. Centurion denotes any pilot who has safely conducted at least 100 work ups. There syllabus may vary slightly from the newbies, but not by much. Minimum requirements for newbs to qual and get their wings is two touch and goes (done only when the entire deck is clear of other ops obviously), six day arrested work ups and two more at night. Regular squadron pilots typically do a few more night arrests than the newbs, since they follow a slightly stricter adherence to combat alert procedures in requaling.



So anyway, your all piled in their asshole to bellybutton during morning briefs regardless of your position on the ladder, which as a newb is understood to be low. With only two cats and a possible crew count of sixty plus, it can and does take up most of the day so there is no dilly dally going on. When selection for compiling the list for who goes first is done, it's not some elaborate process of drawing straws to see who got the shortest one, but simply done in alpha order by pilots last name. At least that week for us it was. After briefing you go to the ready room to suit up. Safety advisory and survival, will equip you and verse you on any gear additions different from what you carried on land based operations during that time. Your first time out in the Buckeye, you work it and your walk around on a jet in clean configuration. You do one take off and then one arrested landing. Then you move your jet being marshalled back to the bow area for a second cat launch with a second arrest…all continuous.

On the flight deck it almost becomes a surreal experience. It is noisy, crowded, and as busy as a New York subway at rush hour; maybe even busier. It is also a VERY DANGEROUS environment to be in, and you have to be aware constantly of everything, and I mean everything, going on around you all the time. I was so overwhelmed and nervous by the whole show I started to forget hand signals. LOL Next time out we will walk around the T-2 C, go into a little detail about the jet and how the deck crews manage to turn this whole confusing array into something that resembles consistent order of operations.

To be continued........

====================

Again, I lost touch with Hatch over the years, and I'm sad to say that all my searches have been for naught. God bless him, and those of his ilk that no longer can tell their stories.

- BBall
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(A/229) BBall
Chief Warrant Officer 4
Rated Senior Aviator
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rated Senior Aviator

No. of Flights: : since 1973? are you kidding me? oh, you mean FLIGHT SIM flights!
Killed In Action: : is a zillion too many times?
Slick No. of landings: : you mean the ones I walked away from?
CAS Tanks destroyed: : not many.
CAS Vehicules destroyed: : more than the tanks.
CAS Bunkers destroyed: : have no idea! were they selling beer there?
Messages : 474
Age : 61
Location : Dresser, Wisconsin

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Re: "Grim Gray Slab"

Post by (HHC/229) Strut on Tue 23 Jun 2015 - 11:42

Entertaining, interesting and well written ! Look forward to the "TBC".

_________________
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(HHC/229) Strut
Major
Battalion XO
Rated Senior Aviator
Major Battalion XO Rated Senior Aviator

Messages : 1338
Location : Australia

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Re: "Grim Gray Slab"

Post by (A/229) BBall on Tue 23 Jun 2015 - 11:47

Hey Strut-man,

Yeah, I never got the TBC of this yarn, so it ends here. I'm still working my searches to locate Hatch...but the last time I heard from him , he was very ill and it wasn't looking good...so I'm not very optimistic. I have some other pieces that he sent me, and I'll be posting them up on a regular basis.

Very Happy
avatar
(A/229) BBall
Chief Warrant Officer 4
Rated Senior Aviator
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rated Senior Aviator

No. of Flights: : since 1973? are you kidding me? oh, you mean FLIGHT SIM flights!
Killed In Action: : is a zillion too many times?
Slick No. of landings: : you mean the ones I walked away from?
CAS Tanks destroyed: : not many.
CAS Vehicules destroyed: : more than the tanks.
CAS Bunkers destroyed: : have no idea! were they selling beer there?
Messages : 474
Age : 61
Location : Dresser, Wisconsin

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Re: "Grim Gray Slab"

Post by (C/229) Highway on Wed 24 Jun 2015 - 9:51

That's a great read BBall, and you're right I'm itching to read more, I'm certainly hanging...

Carrier ops are one of those mystical and magical fantasies that I have in my dreams and in the swimming world occasionally, when things line up. I'm certainly looking forward to those in DCS, but for now this is firing up the desire for some FSX trapping time...!

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(C/229) Highway
Captain
Company Commander
Rated Senior Aviator
Captain Company Commander Rated Senior Aviator

Messages : 852
Age : 44
Location : Melbourne, Australia

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Re: "Grim Gray Slab"

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