Tuesday, October 4, 2011
100 Years Of Naval Aviation
Part I: The West Coast’s only strike-fighter wing, Naval Air Station Lemoore, trains F/A-18 pilots for the runway at sea
Today, June 28, 2011, I'll also land for the first time ever on a ship. I'll do so in a 36,000-pounds-thrust Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, constructed from exotic heavy-duty alloys, and has a maximum speed of Mach 1.8. I'll touch down in the fighter jet on the flight deck of a moving aircraft carrier, at a location so classified that even I don't know where it is.
Ely's landing 100 years ago was under the pressure of thousands of spectators, including high-ranking naval officers and a horde of journalists asking questions. Should he have inadvertently lost control in the direction of the ship's steel mast, a canvas awning had been rigged as a barrier.
My landing right now is under the pressure of, well, myself, and I'm the only journalist around. Should I not make the grade, an operator in the backroom is ready to simply press the simulator's reset button.
|Central California's Naval Air Station Lemoore is home to the U.S. Navy's entire West Coast stirke-fighter capability. The Strike Fighter Squadron 122 provides F/A-18 Hornet training for carrier fleet replacement. A landing signal officer (left) works with training pilots to fine-tune their approaches. The Optical Landing System (right) includes a row of green datum lights, from which a pilot can gauge their position relative to the glideslope; the ball, which indicates the aircraft's position above or below the glideslope; and wave-off lights, red flashing lights that are operated manually by the LSO and command a pilot to execute a go-around.|
1 In The Hangar
The supersonic all-weather Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet strike-fighter jet excels at dog fighting, and is known for its tactical abilities. Lieutenant Kyle "Nac" Hartman, a NATOPS Officer for the VFA-122 Squadron, briefs the F/A-18 cockpit layout and safety procedures.
At ¾ mile out, a carrier pilot will "call the ball" and fly the remainder of the approach visually. The corrections become smaller and smaller. I do my best to fly this formidable beast delicately and precisely, but the sight of my first-ever carrier is so awe-inspiring and nerve-wracking that I momentarily freeze on the controls. I also forget to breathe. Excitement and tension take over.
"A little high, bring it down!" Julie jolts me from my stupor, and I nudge the control stick forward ever so slightly. I'm still holding my breath. Perhaps it wasn't ever so slightly enough, because the landing feels and sounds more like a smack than a squeak. But it's a landing. In a fighter jet. On an aircraft carrier. Just like Maverick. (Sort of.) Before I can exhale, the F/A-18 comes to an abrupt stop. Its tailhook has successfully caught on one of the deck's four arrestor wires. (Does it really matter which one?)
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