A Great Flying Story

(A good friend of mine was an S3 pilot in the Navy. He posted the story on a woodworking forum of one of his experiences and it really resonated with me. It's one of my all time favorite flying stories, even if it isn't mine. I hope you enjoy it. It's full of arcane lingo, each instance of which will be an active link to an explanation. Bear in mind that the story occurs at and after midnight at sea. All of the pictures in the story—I added them—are obviously reasonably lit shots. No pictures would have been possible in the narrative given here.)

My Night in the Barrel

Lockheed S3 Viking aka 'Hoover'

There I was, launched at midnight in my mighty S-3B during Desert Shield, just prior to the Gulf War. At the end of the stroke

view of Viking instrument panel

…as I climb out, I get attitude flags in both main attitude gyro and compass card as my inertial nav goes toes up. When I am flying straight and level, my compass card is turning slowly, and my attitude indicator shows a turn. When I am turning, my compass card is stopped (should be moving), and my attitude indicator is showing straight and level. Extremely disorienting!

aerial refueling, or 'tanking.' here another Hoover is serving as the tanker

I climb above the ship, we reseat the black boxes in the tunnel, but to no avail. Now my initial mission is scrapped due to no nav, and I am switched to the overhead tanker until the next Charlie.

cockpit view of the 'probe-and-droque' used in Naval aviation refueling

Great, 1+45 of orbiting overhead in a giant circle trying to keep track of the boat. Hoovers are always near the end of the stack, so when my turn finally comes, I get to do a no gyro GCA on a night so black you can't see your hand in front of your face if you don't have a light on.

view of the fantail on short final with the 'ball' on the port edge of the deck

I call the ball and fly a decent pass…

early stage of a 'bolter'

…but, to my surprise, bolter and have to go around again…Back into the darkness with no gyro for another turn in the box.

another view of 'short final'

When you fly a no gyro approach, all turns are called for you, i.e. “start turn,” and you roll into a standard rate turn until they say “stop turn.” Fun, fun, fun.

missing the wire leads to a bolter Second pass earns me another bolter, and the guys in the back start making smart remarks about being on deck in time for breakfast. I go back for another no gyro GCA, all the while trying to figure out why I couldn't get aboard. I usually didn't have that problem.

another view of an even shorter final

I call the ball again and it's looking good, but just prior to touchdown…

over the fantail—attentive LSOs in the foreground …the LSOs give me a hard “DLC” call right at the ramp…

this is what we're aiming for

…and I drop into the one wire. DLC stands for “direct lift control,” which is a button on the stick you push that raises some spoilers on top of the wing to increase your rate of descent.

I am cursing myself for what will surely be a no grade for hitting the one, but at least I don't have to go back around again. I get to the ready room, drenched in sweat, and here come the LSOs for the debrief.

First pass: fair bolter
second pass: hook skip bolter
third pass: fair one wire…

I said, “what's up with that?”

They explained that during the day they had broken the #4 wire below decks and didn't have time to replace it. Then the #3 wire had accumulated too many hits, so they had to strip it and didn't have time to replace it due to the combat ops tempo. So all night long they were targeting the two wire, and if you missed it, you got to go around again (no back up wire). Usually we target the three, and if you are a foot high you catch the four. They said the last pass looked good, but they figured I was getting tired, and wanted to get me aboard, so they gave the DLC call.

My only question for them was “why didn't you tell me you were targeting the two, and that the three and four were gone????????”

And their answer was…“because we didn't want guys flying low on purpose.”

We used to have a saying about LSOs, but it would violate the sensibilities of more refined readers, so I will save it.

LCDR Martin Shupe CV-67, CVW-3, VS-22 Checkmates, War Hoover Driver

Last updated: 27 January 2009

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