Navy Chronicles: Chapter Two

I think I'm going to put up four pages to make this go a little faster.

Old Sam Baker sent you out to do whatever job was deemed necessary. He was also the guy who assigned people to be plane captains and aircrew members for each a/c. These were the two coveted jobs in Naval Aviation for an enlisted man, and was what I wanted to do! After having been there for a couple of months, a vacancy came up for a P/C on one of the AD5-N’s and I got the job on a probationary basis! This was only after the Chief had read my record and found out I had been in VXE-6 and had wintered over on the ice in Antarctica, and that I already had my Aircrewman wings. Every morning after quarters, you would go to your plane and do the preflight on it, and make sure it was ready to go flying. Now, seeing as I was the junior Plane Captain on the flight line, my plane was put as far from the flight shack as it could possibly be and still be on the airfield. So off I go dragging my toolbox on wheels after me. I had almost gotten to the plane when the chief’s voice comes over the loudspeaker system and say’s, “Littlefield, report to the flight shack on the double!” Well I didn’t think too much about it and went hustling back to see what was up. When I get there, Old Sam Baker says to me, “Go preflight your airplane.” I said that’s where I was and took off again. Well this routine went on every day for about two weeks and I was getting madder and madder every time it happened. Finally one day I was really torqued and when I got to the flight shack and got my usual order, I hollered OK! At him, and slammed the door of the shack good and hard on my way out. Big mistake! The pane of glass flew out of the door and landed right on Chief Bakers desk where it immediately shattered into many little pieces, most of which landed in his lap and down the front of his shirt. I didn’t see it happen, but the next thing I knew, he had jumped over his desk, slammed open the door, and grabbed me by the back of my shirt and lifted me right up on my tippy toes. He then marched/pushed me out the back door of the hangar where upon he proceeded to read me the riot act, and to deliver a short hard shot to the gut as a reminder of just who was in charge. If you didn’t like being physically assaulted by a “higher up”, well that was tough! Back then, the Navy hadn’t yet degenerated into Admiral Zumwalts prissy little canoe club where you weren’t allowed to cuss out a subordinate. A couple of days later he took me aside and told me that he used the same sort of harassing techniques on all new P/C’s to see where the tolerance level was for putting up with different types of adversity. Seems like mine was way up there ‘because I lasted a lot longer than most guys, but when they finally spoke back, they didn’t cause a lot of broken glass to fly into his lap. He then told me that where I’d be going, I’d be on my own, and he wanted to see how I handled things.
After I had proved to Chief Baker that I could handle being a plane captain on one of Uncle Sam’s birds, he sent me on my first trip with an AD-5N aircraft. It was to be a two week stay aboard one of the Aircraft Carriers that was always in the Med. We were to take the plane out to the carrier and whenever they scheduled us, we would go up and “stream” a target for the surface ships to shoot at. This target was a nylon rip-stop sleeve about 30 feet long and about two feet in diameter. We would let out about 5000 feet of armored ¼ inch cable, and then the pilot would put the plane through some pretty weird gyrations to cause a ball of cable to form on the end. Then we would clip on a target and chuck it out a hole in the deck of the plane put there just for that purpose. Then it was back and forth for about three or four hours, while various surface ships would take turns shooting at it. They weren’t using popguns either. They were banging away with 5” 38 shells! Plus various types of anti-aircraft guns. Most of these guns were kept on target by using a radar signal to track the target. One time that I was out there flying around about half asleep, one of the ships managed to knock the target off the wire. The gun radar then proceeded to lock on to the cable and was tracking forward faster than we were flying! By the time we figured out what was going on, they had shot off ALL the cable. The next two rounds of 40mm AA went through the tail of the plane, and the next was destined for somewhere in the vicinity of we operators, just as the pilot took violent evasive maneuvers and proceeded to scream on the radio to “KNOCK IT OFF”. Just another form of saying cease fire please! Only our request was delivered with a lot more verve and gusto! (tie downs, hot bunking, sleeping in catwalk waiting for plane to come back, )
This was my first time aboard a Carrier and I had absolutely no idea of the organized and mass mayhem that I was about to descend into. As we arrived over the ship at about 6000 feet, it looked to be about as big as a postage stamp. I’m thinking to myself that there is no way in hell that this plane is going to be able to fit on that little thing! We moved into the marshal point and the pilot told me to cinch up my parachute harness and seatbelt really tight and to open the canopy on my side. You always did this in the old prop planes whenever landing, carrier or ground. As I found out over the next two weeks, we were always the last plane to land because we were able to stay up the longest with two 300 gallon drop tanks hung under the wings. Well finally it is our turn and as we got closer to the ship it grew magically in size ‘til it filled the whole of the windscreen! We came over the fantail and caught the number 3 wire, arresting cable, and we taxied up behind the last airplane. The pilot shut down the engine and jumps out and tells me to get into his seat to ride the brakes as they were about to re-spot the deck for the next launch. Little did I know that this is where I would spend almost all of my time for the next 2 weeks except when flying.
Some guy in a yellow shirt comes up to the plane and bangs on the side of it to get my attention, and hollers at me to get my butt out of the plane and get it tied down quickly. I jumped out and went into the wheel wells where there were two ammo cans located in the wing root. We stored all kinds of stuff in them when they weren’t full out bullets. I took out my usual three number six thread manila lines and proceeded to fasten my aircraft to the steel deck, just like I had every day back at good old Napoli. No sooner do I get it done, when here comes that yellow shirted guy again and proceeds to scream at me for being the dumbest SOB in the USN! He says to me, “How the hell long have you been on this ship, not to know that you don’t tie planes down with rope?” I looked at him and said, “About five minutes”. That deflated him for about 2 seconds whereupon he then explained to me just what a Hurricane tie-down was and where to procure nine of the little devils. That’s how many you installed whenever a plane was re-spotted on the deck. That is three on each of the landing gear. Just after I got it all figured out and done, I climbed back into the plane for a little rest. By the way, a Hurricane tie down consists of a 12 foot length of 3/8” chain with a hook on one end, and a nifty little device that has a hook on one end and a quick release chain restraint mechanism on the other end. The chain weighed about five pounds and the quick release about the same. So a full compliment of nine complete tie-downs weighed about 90 to a hundred pounds!
Bang, bang, bang on the side of the plane is the next sound I hear, and here is that guy with the yellow shirt again telling me to “break it down”, i.e. untie the plane again. So I did and they moved me to a different spot about three feet away, and then I went through the whole tie down procedure again. Well, this went on for the rest of the day and into the nighttime hours. Out there on the flight deck at night it is pitch black, as there are no white lights allowed. The only light is natural light supplied by the moon. This is so that when the pilots come on deck to go night flying, they have already had their eyes adapted to the low light by wearing red colored goggles in the ready room and up on to the deck where they can then remove them. So now it is time to re-spot the deck for a night time launch and they move me again! I jump out of the plane and because it is so dark I can’t see a damn thing. Into the wheel well I go again to get my trusty flashlight. Man, when I turned that thing on and was moving around untying my plane, it was like the wrath of God had descended on me! Two guys jumped on me and were wrestling with me trying to steal my flashlight. I’m thinking to myself, “Jeez, you’d think they had enough of these things for everybody out here so they don’t have to fight over them”. One of them finally got it away from me and I proceeded to scream at him and call him all the nice vile names that I had learned since joining the Navy. This got me a hand around the neck and a fast trip across the deck into the Island to a place called PRIFLY stenciled on the door. When he pushed me in the door, I could see that he had the words, Flight Deck Officer stenciled on his yellow shirt fore and aft. Well, in actuality here WAS God as far as anything concerned with the flight deck of that carrier was concerned! This man has, for all intents and purposes, the power of life and death out there in that mass of whirling propellers, screaming jet engines, and planes moving all over the place in the dark. He was the conductor of that milieu and you had best be paying attention to him or you would soon be dead! He then proceeded to ream me out for using that white light and asked me what squadron I was from so he could banish me from HIS flight deck. When I told him I was from the Naval Air Facility, Naples Italy, he looks at me as if I were a bug under the rug and says, “Oh yeah, the tow plane, how much instruction on flight deck procedures did you get before you came out here he asked”? When I told him none, he just shook his head and muttered something about them, “trying to get one of these damned kids killed out here”. He then directed one of his henchmen to give me a crash course in just what the hell was expected of me, and my aircraft while I was on board that vessel. That was when I found out about red lenses on flashlights and all that other night adaptation vision stuff.
After moving me all over the ship for the rest of the night, they found a more or less permanent home for me right behind the Island unless I was scheduled to be flying. Now I didn’t have to be moved every ten minutes and I could do some of the maintenance work on the plane I was supposed to be doing. I will have to say though, that was the best place on the flight deck to be. I would sit on top of the canopy and watch every plane being launched and recovered. It was a grand stand seat for something I never tired of watching. The only problem with my location was, when ever they would “blow the tubes” me and my plane would be covered with a fine soot, inside and out. Blowing the tubes was something the people in the engine room did to the boiler tubes to keep them from being clogged with the soot. So they just shot a charge of high-pressure air in there and blew it up on deck and then it was our problem to clean up. Usually the ship was moving directly into the wind and going like hell right after a launch whenever they pulled off this trick, so most of the stuff went right overboard.
After having been on board for a week or so, and it became necessary to get my clothes washed. It was a free service while on board ship. Everybody just put their dirty clothes in one huge bag and off to the ships laundry it went. It would reappear in your berthing compartment that day and was dumped in a huge pile. Then it was up to you to retrieve your own gear from the pile. If you had fortuitously stenciled your name on each and every piece of clothes, including socks, underwear, and handkerchiefs, you would get it all back. If no name was on a particular piece, it was fair game for whoever came across it first! I had observed a few times as we came back aboard with our plane that there were a lot of manila lines trailing off the stern of the ship and decided to go down to the hangar deck and find out what they were for. When I arrived there I found out that there was a swab, (mop) tied to most of the lines. They were dragged behind the ship for a few minutes which did an outstanding job of getting them perfectly clean! I guess if I was dragged behind something that big at 30 to 40 mph for an hour or so, I’d be clean too! I noticed this one guy pulling in a line and lo and behold there was no swab tied to the line, but rather two pair of dungarees. (pants) The guy said it did a great job of getting them clean too. So of course I decided to do a couple of pairs of mine the next time they needed cleaning which was every day. So down I go with my two pair of nastiest looking dungarees and proceed to tie them to an unused line and pitch them over the fantail. Then I went back to work for a few hours. When I went back down to retrieve my pants at noon chow time, the line I had tied them too was being used for a swab! There was a guy standing there watching me and asked if I was the one who had left the dungarees on that line. I said yes and did he know where they might be? He nodded his head yes and pointed behind me to a real small pile of denim colored rags. I picked them up and was surprised to find only the belt loops and waist band and a few inches of material hanging off of them. I looked at him and said, “What the hell happened to my pants?” He asked how long I had left them in the water, and I replied, “About four hours”. Well said he, if you leave them for more that fifteen minutes this is what you’ll get back every time! Well, that was an expensive learning curve


Sam said...

Hey Everett, I've learned a little about those old boilers and why the blow them out - with your old dungarees! Kidding aside, there is usually a crude oil fire going and the exhaust goes out boiler tubes and if they get clogged the whole shabbang could blow up. Crude oil was about 3-5 percent back then, almost asphalt - you had to heat it up just to get it to the boiler. Plus, boilers don't work good with an inch of crud on them. So once or twice a day they relieve the main air tank or auxiliary steam tank right up into the boiler tubes to blow them out. We called it the "black rain."

Not many boats are steam boilers anymore. Too much maintenance and dangers, and you could run a similar diesel with just three men - no firemen, stokers, and oilers.

Hey I have a favor to ask. Those planes, I don't know them by their USN numbers. Don't they have common names? Like I know the P-38 and F-14 but you talked some wierd lingo there. Maybe a picture would help.


Everett said...

Hi Sam, I answered your above comment on the previous post this AM. Maybe I'll see if I can find some pix and put them on here. We'll see what happens!

warbler said...

and I thought my husband was bad about laundry!

Anonymous said...

What carrier were you on?

Everett said...

Hi Anon 10/29 2034, Well I was on a few of them, all as an embarked squadron but never as ships company. They were, USS Forrestal CVA59, USS America, USS Independence,USS Roosevelt, and the USS Saratoga. When I was young and single it was quite a lot of fun. Then I got older and married and it wasn't anymore!