Talk about Falling Off a Horse
By Michael Harrod, Army
Writing Type: Prose
Life on board a United States Navy aircraft carrier can be very exciting. The Navy carriers roam the seas of the world, as proof of the power of the United States Navy. The United States Navy is the most powerful in the world, and the carrier battle group is a sure sign of the power of the United States military. Navy ships show up all over the globe, both as a symbol of our readiness as a military power and as a deterrent to war. The United States Navy Aircraft Carrier travels in a large battle group of ships, consisting of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. The battle group is a large group of ships assembled to work as a team at sea, and they can carry the military might of the United States to many places. The United States Navy Aircraft Carrier has on-board aircraft designed to attack both land and sea targets. These vessels are equipped with nuclear and conventional bombs, missiles, and other weapons.
The cruiser protects the aircraft carrier with large guns, anti-aircraft guns, and a variety of guided missiles that are used to protect it from enemy attack. Cruisers also have the capability of attacking land targets with their missiles.
The destroyer works in much the same way. It protects the aircraft carrier by crossing its course in a serpentine movement, with hi-tech sonar to check for submarines.
The destroyers are equipped with anti-aircraft guns and missiles, as well as depth chargers designed to destroy enemy submarines.
I was stationed on board the Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. Shangri-La, CVA-38. We were just returning from the Mediterranean Sea, after six months away from our home port. A six-month cruise on an aircraft carrier is very hard work, indeed. My ship was long, and the liberty hours ashore during the week were short. By the time you finished a six-month Mediterranean cruise, you were ready to take a little shore leave to see your family and friends. When you were ready to return to your home port for your well-deserved time off, the aircraft squadrons on-board left the ship while it was in home port.
It was on one of those days of returning to our home port of Mayport. Fla., that I witnessed an act of real courage. The aircrafts on-board my ship were firing up their engines; and the carrier was turning into the wind, in order to launch the squadron of jet aircrafts to the Naval Air Station at Cecil Field, near Jacksonville. The first aircraft was hooked up to the steam catapult. It was on the port side (left) of the aircraft carrier, and it was piloted by the jet air-wings squadron commander.
The Shangri-La’s captain signaled that the carrier was ready to launch planes. That meant that the ship was turned into the wind, and it had at least 30 knots of wind-speed flowing across the bow (front) of the ship.
After the air boss got that information, he related it to the catapult yellow-shirt, the on-deck officer in charge of launching aircraft. He signaled the catapult crew to launch the aircraft, but it was evident from the start that the catapult misfired at low catapult steam pressure. This meant that the catapult steam pressure was low by half after it launched the plane. The pilot in the jet aircraft noticed this immediately, and began to apply his brakes. You could see the smoke coming from the tires, as the plane was dragged down the flight deck. The pressure was not strong enough to launch the heavy jet aircraft, but it was strong enough to drag the aircraft off the end of the flight deck and dump it into the Atlantic Ocean. It was lucky that the pilot of the jet aircraft involved was experienced. As a squadron commander, he had enough experience to know that he and the airplane were going for a swim. He began the ejection sequence for the Martin Bake ejection seat while he was still on the flight deck.
The aircraft involved was an F-8U Crusader jet. That type of aircraft had a Martin Baker ejection seat. It had a rocket engine; but in this type of ejection seat, you just don’t push a button to eject. First you must push the button, and in the Crusader jet, you must also reach up and grab two hoops above your crash helmet. Then you must pull the two hoops down across your body, because they are attached to a crash screen. As soon as the screen is in place, the seat will be ejected through the Plexiglas canopy of the aircraft, but not until the screen is in place to protect the pilot from harm. All this takes time as you might imagine. The pilot of the aircraft started this sequence several seconds before the plane roiled over the end of the bow of the aircraft carrier; but by the time it ejected from the aircraft, the aircraft was underwater.
The Crusader jet is mostly engine, and it sinks like a large stone in water. The pilot and his ejection seat came out of the water like a missile launched from a submarine. The captain of the aircraft carrier had already started to turn the vessel. Luckily, the pilot did not eject into the side of the ship.
The officer was retrieved quickly from out of the Atlantic by the ship’s helicopter, called the “Angel” by the ship’s crew. As soon as the helicopter brought the squadron commander back to the flight deck of the ship, he climbed out unharmed, but soaking wet. Immediately after climbing out of the helicopter, the squadron commander went over to the aircraft that was parked on the starboard side, ready for launch. He gave the signal for the pilot of that aircraft to get out of the plane. After the pilot climbed out of the aircraft, the squadron commander replaced him in the pilot seat, still soaking wet and somewhat shaken. Then he gave the signal to the flight deck officer to launch him. The officer relayed the signal to the catapult crew, and the squadron commander and his aircraft were airborne and on the way to Cecil Field! Gomer Pyle would have said, “Shezamm!” There is an old saying that might cover this incident.
It goes something like this: “If you fall off a horse, the first thing you should do is climb right back on it.” In other words, if you fall off a horse, you should get back on it right away, in order to conquer your fear of riding. I believe that squadron commander knew this theory.
When I think back to that time, I recall the courage that squadron commander must have had, in order to nip his fears in the bud.