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From: Jim Calpin <>
Newsgroups: sci.military.naval
Subject: Emergency off the Cat
Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 09:48:35 -0400

One of the better "there I was" stories I've read in a long time....

-Jim C.

> Greetings Slacker Landlubbers (except for you Dell)
> Hey, I felt the need to share with you all the exciting night I had on
> the 23rd. It has nothing to do with me wanting to talk about me and it
> has everything to do with sharing what will no doubt become a better
> story as the years go by. So....
> ...There I was. Manned up a hot seat for the 2030 launch about 500 miles
> north of Hawaii. (insert visions of "The Shore Bird" and many mai tais
> here) Spotted just forward of the nav pole and eventually taxied off
> toward the island where I do a 180 and get spotted to be the first one
> off cat I. (insert foreboding music here) There's another Hornet from
> our sister squadron parked ass over the track in about a quarter of the
> way down the cat. Eventually he gets a move on and they lower my launch
> bar and start the launch cycle. All systems are go on the runup and
> after waiting the requisite 5 seconds or so to make sure my flight
> controls are good to go (you know, there's a lot to be said for good old
> cables and pulleys), I turn on my lights. As is my habit I shift my eyes
> to the catwalk and watch the deck edge dude and as he starts his routine
> of looking left, then right, I put my head back. I hate to say this but
> the Hornet cat shot is pretty impressive - equivalent I would say to a
> gassed up K. (You agree Gato?) As the cat fires, I stage the blowers and
> am along for the ride. Just prior to the end of the stroke there's a
> huge flash and a simultaneous boom! and my world is in turmoil. My
> little pink body is doing 145 knots or so and is 100 feet above the
> Black Pacific. And there it stays - except for the knot package, which
> decreases to 140 knots. Somewhere in here I raised my gear which is
> interesting since it is not a Hornet "off the cat" boldface. It is
> however, if I recall correctly, an Intruder boldface. Oops! The
> throttles aren't going any farther forward despite my Schwarzzenegerian
> efforts to make them do so. From out of the ether I hear a voice say one
> word: "Jettison." Roger that! A nanosecond later my two drops and single
> MER - about 4500 pounds in all - are Black Pacific bound. The airplane
> leapt up a bit but not enough. I'm now about a mile in front of the boat
> at 160 feet and fluctuating from 135 to 140 knots. The next comment that
> comes out of the ether is another one-worder: "Eject!" I'm still flying
> so I respond, "Not yet, I've still got it." Our procedures call for us
> to intercept on speed which is 8.1 alpha and I'm fluctuating from about
> 8 1/2 to 11 or so. Finally, at 4 miles I take a peek at my engine
> instruments and notice my left engine doesn't match the right. (funny
> how quick glimpses at instruments get burned into your brain) The left
> rpm is at 48% even though I'm still doing the Ah-Nold thing. I bring it
> back to mil. About now I get another "Eject!" call. "Nope, still
> flying." Deputy Cag was watching and the further I got from the boat,
> the lower I looked. At 5 1/2 miles I asked tower to please get the helo
> headed my way as I truly thought I was going to be shelling out. At some
> point I thought it would probably be a good idea to start dumping some
> gas. As my hand reached down for the dump switch I actually remembered
> that we have a NATOPS prohibition regarding dumping while in burner.
> After a second or two I decided, "fuck that" and turned them on. (Major
> "Big Wave" Dave Leppelmeier joined on me at one point and told me later
> that I had a 60 foot roman candle going) At 7 miles I eventually started
> a (very slight) climb. A little breathing room.
> CATCC chimes in with a downwind heading and I'm like: "Ooh. Good idea
> and throw down my hook." Eventually I get headed downwind at 900 feet
> and ask for a rep. While waiting I shut down the left engine. In short
> order I hear Scott "Fuzz" McClure's voice. I tell him the following: "OK
> Fuzz, my gear's up, my left motor's off and I'm only able to stay level
> with min blower. Every time I pull it to mil I start about a hundred
> feet per minute down." I just continue trucking downwind trying to stay
> level and keep dumping. I think I must have been in blower for about
> fifteen minutes. At ten miles or so I'm down to 5000 pounds of gas and
> start a turn back toward the ship. Don't intend to land but don't want
> to get too far away. Of course as soon I as I start in an angle of bank
> I start dropping like a stone so I end up doing a 5 mile circle around
> the ship. Fuzz is reading me the single engine rate of climb numbers
> from the PCL based on temperature, etc. It doesn't take us long to
> figure out that things aren't adding up. One of the things I learned in
> the RAG was that the Hornet is a perfectly good single engine aircraft.
> It flies great on one motor. So why the fuck do I need blower to stay
> level!? By this time I'm talking to Fuzz (CATCC) , Deputy (turning on
> the flight deck) and CAG who's on the bridge with the Captain. We decide
> that the thing to do is climb to three thousand feet and dirty up to see
> if I'm going to have any excess power and will be able to shoot an
> approach. I get headed downwind, go full burner on my remaining motor
> and eventually make it to 2000 feet before leveling out below a
> scattered layer of puffies. There's a half a moon above which was
> really, really cool. Start a turn back toward the ship and when I get
> pointed in the right direction I throw the gear down and pull the
> throttle out of AB. Remember that flash/boom! that started this little
> tale? Repeat it here. Holy fuck! I jam it back into AB and after three
> or four huge compressor stalls and accompanying decel the right motor
> comes back. I'm thinking my blood pressure was probably up there about
> now and for the first time I notice that my mouth feels like a San
> Joaquin summer. (That would be hot and fucking dusty for those of you
> who haven't come to visit) I may have said "Shit!" on the radio here but
> haven't listened to the full tape yet and it could have been "Fuck!"
> This next part is great. You know those stories about guys who deadstick
> crippled airplanes away from orphanages and puppy stores and stuff and
> get all this great media attention? Well, at this point I'm looking at
> the picket ship at my left 11 at about two miles and I say on departure
> freq to no one inparticular, "You need to have the picket ship hang a
> left right now. I think I'm gonna be outta here in a second." I said it
> very calmly but with meaning. The LSO's said that the picket immediately
> started pitching out of the fight. Ha! I scored major points with the
> heavies afterwards for this. Anyway, it's funny how your mind works in
> these situations. OK, so I'm dirty and I get it back level and pass a
> couple miles up the starboard side of the ship. I'm still in min blower
> and my state is now about 2500 pounds. Hmmm. I hadn't really thought
> about running out of gas. I muster up the nads to pull it out of blower
> again and sure enough...flash, BOOM! You gotta be shitting me. I'm
> thinking that I'm gonna end up punching and tell Fuzz at this point
> "Dude, I really don't want to do this again." Don't think everyone else
> got it but he said he chuckled. I leave it in mil and it seems to settle
> out. Eventually discover that even the tiniest throttle movements cause
> the flash/boom thing to happen so I'm trying to be as smooth as I can.
> I'm downwind a couple miles when CAG comes up and says "Oyster, we're
> going to rig the barricade." Remember, CAG's up on the bridge watching
> me fly around doing blower donuts in the sky and he's thinking I'm gonna
> run outta JP-5 too. By now I've told everyone who's listening that there
> a better than average chance that I'm going to be ejecting - the helo
> bubbas, god bless 'em, have been following me around this entire time. I
> continue downwind and again, sounding more calm than I probably was,
> call paddles. "Paddles, you up." "Go ahead" replies LT "Max" Stout, one
> of our CAG LSO's. "Max, I probably know most of it but you wanna shoot
> me the barricade brief?" (Insert long pause here. After the fact Max
> told me they went from expecting me to eject to me asking for the
> barricade brief in about a minute and he was hyperventilating. He was
> awesome on the radio though, just the kind of voice you'd want to hear
> in this situation.) He gives me the brief and at nine miles I say, "If I
> turn now will it be up when I get there? I don't want to have to go
> around again." "I'ts going up now Oyster, go ahead and turn." "Turning
> in, say final bearing." "063" replies the voice in CATCC. (Another
> number I remember - go figure) OK, we're on a four degree glideslope and
> I'm at 800 feet or so. I intercept glideslope at about a mile and three
> quarters and pull power. Flash/boom. Add power out of fear. Going high.
> Pull power. Flash/boom. Add power out of fear. Going higher. (Flashback
> to LSO school....All right class, today's lecture will be on the single
> engine barricade approach. Remember, the one place you really, really
> don't want to be is high. Are there any questions? Yes, you can go play
> golf now.) The PLAT video is most excellent as each series of
> flash/booms shows up nicely along with the appropiate reflections on the
> water. "Flats" Jensen, our other CAG paddles is backing up and as I
> start to set up a higher than desired sink rate he hits the "Eat At
> Joe's" lights. Very timely too. With visions of the A-3 dancing in my
> head I stroke AB and cross the flight deck with my right hand on the
> stick and my left thinking about the little yellow and black handle
> between my legs. No worries. I cleared that sucker by at least ten feet.
> By the way my state at the ball call was 1.1. As I slowly climb out I
> say, again to no one in particular, "I can do this." Max and Flats heard
> this and told me later it made them feel much better about my state of
> mind. I'm in blower still and CAG says, "Turn downwind." Again, good
> idea. After I get turned around he says, "Oyster, this is gonna be your
> last look so turn in again as soon as you're comfortable." I'm at 800
> feet and hook myself at 2.8 (remember this number as I will subtract .1
> every couple years until I reach the point where I say, "It was HUGE, I
> flew the DAY pattern!) I lose about 200 feet in the turn and like a
> total dumbshit I look out as I get on centerline and that night thing
> about feeling high gets me and I descend further to 400 feet. I got
> kinda pissed at myself then as I realized I would now be intercepting
> the four degree glideslope in the fucking middle. No shit fellas,
> flash/boom every several seconds all the way down. Last look at my gas
> was 600-and-some pounds at a mile and a half. "Where am I on the
> glideslope Max" I ask ask and hear a calm "Roger Ball." I know I'm low
> because the ILS is waaay up there and I call "Clara." Can't remember
> what the response was but by now the ball's shooting up from the depths.
> I start flying it and before I get a chance to spot the deck I hear
> "Cut, cut, cut!" I'm really glad I was a paddles for so long because my
> mind said to me "Do what he says Oyster" and I pulled it back to idle.
> The reason I mention this is that I felt like I was a LONG FUCKING WAYS
> OUT THERE - if you know what I mean. (My hook hit 11 Oyster paces from
> the ramp, as I discovered during FOD walkdown today.) The rest is pretty
> tame. I hit the deck, skipped the one, the two and snagged the three and
> rolled into the barricade about a foot right of centerline. Once stopped
> my vocal chords involuntarily yelled "Victory!" on button 2 (the 14 guys
> who were listening in marshal said it was pretty cool. After the fact I
> wish I had done the Austin Powers' "Yeah Baby!" thing.) The lights came
> up and off to my right there must have been a ga-zillion cranials.
> Paddles said that with me shut down you could hear a huge cheer across
> the flight deck. I open the canopy and start putting my shit in my
> helmet bag and the first guy I see is our FDC, huge guy named Chief
> Richards and he gives me the coolest look and then two thumbs up. I will
> remember it forever. Especially since I'm the Maintenance Officer. The
> first guy up the boarding ladder is CAG Paddles. I will tell you what he
> said over beers someday. It was priceless and in my mind one for the
> ages. I climb down and people are gathering around patting me on the
> back when one of the boat's crusty yellow-shirt chiefs interrupts and
> says, "Gentlemen, great job but fourteen of your good buddies are still
> up there and we need to get them aboard." Again, priceless. So there you
> have it fellas. Here I sit with my little pink body in a ready room
> chair on the same tub I did my first cruise in 10 years and 7 months
> ago. And I thought it was exciting back then.
> P.S. You're probably wondering what made my motors shit themselves and I
> almost forgot to tell you. Remember the scene with the foreboding music?
> When they taxied that last Hornet - the one that was ass over the cat
> track - they forgot to remove a section or two of the cat seal. The
> board's not finished yet but it's a done deal. As the shuttle came back
> it removed the cat seal which went down both motors during the stroke.
> Again, good video for someday over beers. Left engine N1 basically quit
> even though the motor is in pretty good shape. It was producing no
> thrust and during the waveoff one of the LSO's saw "about thirty feet"
> of black rubber hanging off the left side of the airplane. The whole
> left side, including inside the intake is basically black where the
> rubber was beating on it in the breeze. The right motor, the one that
> kept running, has 340 major hits to all stages. The compressor section
> is trashed and best of all, it had two pieces of the cat seal - one
> about 2 feet and the other about 4 feet long, sticking out of the first
> stage and into the intake. God Bless General Electric! By the way, ECAMS
> data showed that I was fat - had 380 pounds of gas when I shut down.
> Again, remember this number as in ten years it will surely be FUMES MAN,
> Look forward to getting to stage five with you all someday soon. Oyster
> out.
> Gents, Hope this isn't too late but wanted to ask you all to do me a
> favor and be judicious about if and to whom you forward the email I sent
> you all about my experience on the 23rd. Tried to caveat it with the
> fact that I had no intention of it being a "me, me, me" type story but
> just a good story I wanted to share with you all.  I read it over last
> evening and am concerned that a couple of things I said will be taken
> out of context by people who don't know me and as a result will be
> misunderstood. In particular I made some moronic comment about "the
> heavies" digging the fact that I suggested to move the picket ship. The
> fact is I really thought that I was going to punch and it could have
> happend. The picket was dutifully right at a mile or two in Connie's
> wake and - same as in the overhead stack - I have no faith in the "big
> sky, little airplane" or in this case, "big ocean, little airplane"
> theory.  I always go through my "emergency off the cat" procedures in my
> head when I'm behind the JBD and did so in this case as well but the
> fact is that without a couple of great calls from the tower and from
> some guys on deck things might have been different. I know I mentioned
> them in the email but the "jettison" call was key and, after listening
> to the tape, it's the boss who suggests that I start dumping. I was on
> stem power and just staring at vsi, airspeed and radalt for the first
> four to five miles off the cat. These guys deserve a tremendous amount
> of credit for helping me out.  I think I probably should have chopped
> out a couple of the "f" words too but at the time I didn't think about
> the email I sent you making the rounds.
> Anyway, I just wanted to clear things up a bit. I think you all know me
> well enough to realize that I'm a pretty humble dude. I'd be lying if I
> said it didn't feel great to be able to bring this jet back but I also
> realize that it could have been anyone in the squadron - or air wing for
> that matter - that this happened to. It just happened to be me.  If you
> forwarded my original one to anyone and feel the need to forward this
> one too I would not be opposed. Thanks dudes. You still
> owe me beers though. Oyster.

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