Gramps from Yesteryear
Illustration by Ted Wilbur
Following a brief from his landing safety officer (LSO) and Lead Safe, a student naval aviator launched on his first carrier qualification flight. He was Dash-4 of a four-plane flight. Once in the pattern, the student performed two touch-and-goes followed by an arrested landing. The first catapult shot was uneventful. After a bolter, the student successfully made his second arrested landing. During the subsequent cat shot, the student inadvertently applied the brake to the right mainmount, blowing the tire.
The Air Boss directed the student to “delta easy” at pattern altitude while the carrier recovered the rest of the event. Once the other Goshawks were aboard, the senior LSO reviewed the basics with the student over the UHF, a brief that proved to be inadequate. On the final pass the student added too much power in close and just missed the four wire. During the bolter, the T-45 swerved nearly 40 degrees to the right and drifted 32 feet right of the landing area’s centerline. The Goshawk flew past the angled deck on a perilous track, and the aircraft’s right wing smashed into the port bow catwalk. The trainer crashed into the water, and the student was killed.
Even if this was the first time this sort of thing actually happened, it don’t require too much noggin’ work to presage (with an emphasis on “pre”) that it might have happened. And that’s where the engineers and the test community and the instructors come in. Platforms got to support the mission. Procedures got to address everything possible. Instructors got to prep the newbies end-to-end. Can tires blow? Tarnation, yes. Is a student naval aviator likely to give in to the pucker factor and step on the binders during one of his first cat shots? Double tarnation, yes! Even old salts ain’t immune to the occasional misstep, as it were. I’ve known many a brownshoe what earned the callsign “Boom Boom” over the aeons I’ve been associating with air machines. I remember the first time I was hurled off the pointy end (and the pointy end was more pointy in them days). Woo wee, I was as wide-eyed as a possum at rush hour. Only the grace of the Maker and a hunk of Great-grandmaw Pettibone’s venison jerky stuck in my flight boot (for luck, of course) got me through that wildness intact.
Of course, this student shouldn’t have done what he done here, but Gramps has got a special place in the ol’ ticker for the Fledglings, and few things eat me up worse than seeing the system hang one of them out like this. We gotta do better by our young folks.