Thursday, May 5, 2011


I was fortunate to be in one of the last classes to be trained in Formation Flying and later to become Carrier Qualified in the T-28.  Formation flying was very exciting as we finally learned to fly in four-plane formations, alone in the aircraft, with an instructor "chasing" the flight safely in his own aircraft.  The student pilot learns to follow the plane he is formed-up on by keeping the "gauge".  The gauge might be lining up the tie down ring on your leader's wing with a certain place on his fuselage.  By holding that line up your aircraft maintains the same relationship with the lead bird - no matter where he goes:  simple -yeah right!  A vivid recollection is the feeling of another T-28 under-running your bird when he becomes acute on a running rendezvous.  Instead of running into you he dips his wing and slides or shoots under you to form up on the other side.  What is memorable is the jolt your bird gets from the burble of air kicked up by his propeller as he cuts under you with his prop inches from your belly!


Training Squadron Five (VT-5) is where we learned to land on an aircraft carrier.  As I recall, we had 12 solo flights practicing Field Carrier Landings  (FCLPs) at Barind field in Foley, Alabama. Here we learned to keep the ball in the middle on the Fresnel Lens (mirror) Landing System.  This was the best - flying a 200 foot pattern (that is low!) with the canopy open, Speed Brake Down, Cowl Flaps open and the engine at a a high and responsive RPM while flying barely five knots above the stall speed.  Our Landing Signals Officer (LSO) stood beside the touch down spot  - looking at our approaches; telling us if we were hot, low, high or slow. We then made minute power corrections adjusted our speed and attitude to hopefully catch the Number 3 Wire.



It was finally time for Polecat Flight to hit the boat!  Solo, our flight  took off from Saufley Field with our instructor chasing. On a very hot and hazy day we headed out over the Gulf of Mexico at 2000 feet in search of the USS Lexington. We found her, and "holy shit" did she look small - like a postage-stamp.  Our flight was directed to Marshall, an area to hold until we were given our Signal Charlie to descend to 200 feet and enter the break over the ship and enter the landing pattern.  Before I new it  I was entering the down wind leg dropping the gear, opening the canopy, locking my harness and pushing the mixture to rich.  As I turned off the 180 i began pulling off power, I focused on the mirror and  listened to my LSO.  I called the Ball: "Polecat 13 Meatball".  As I rolled out on final I managed to keep the orange ball reasonably centered in the mirror and executed a touch and go.  As the wheels touched the deck I pushed the throttle to the fire wall and added 52 inches of manifold pressure to slowly climb back into the pattern to execute 6 full stop landings!  The procedure was the same except now I lowered the tail-hook.  I shot a decent approach; caught  the number 2 or 3 wire and was jerked to a complete and very sudden stop. 

I quickly raised the hook and followed the taxi directors to the launch position.  No catapult for this beast!  The T-28C is so powerful and the engine is so responsive, unlike a jet, it launches from the carrier under its own power.  Lock the brakes, run up full power, salute the shooter or launch officer and I was off off crawling down the deck.  The bird left the deck and maintained level flight for a bit before gaining enough speed to begin to climb out.  If you look at your airspeed indicator as you go off the deck it will show the aircraft is going about 10 knots below the speed need for it to fly - time lag in the air speed indicator.  So faith and a gentle touch nurses the plane into flight.   After one bolter, where the hook skipped over the arresting cables, I finally qualified with my six arrested landings.  Probably the most exciting day of my life.

Today I have the utmost respect for the Navy and Marine aviators, now both men and women, who fly F-18 Hornets, EA-6B Prowlers, and the S-3 Vikings off pitching carrier decks at night.  I believe there can be nothing more challenging and frightening as that!


Wish we could all get together again today!

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