Lighter Moments In Naval Aviation

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - June 22, 2011
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Last month, to mark the centennial of naval aviation, I wrote about its history, which led me to recall some of the lighter moments of my first operational cruise in 1959 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga in the Mediterranean Sea.

I was a fresh-caught lieutenant junior grade flying the reconnaissance version of the Navy’s newest and hottest jet fighter, the Chance Vaught F-8 Crusader. Our photo detachment of three aircraft and four pilots shared a ready room with a fighter squadron flying the F-8. Their 12 planes carried an array of guns and missiles, while our unarmed birds carried an array of cameras. The inevitable friendly rivalry broke out, which spawned their ignoble label for us, “Photo Weenies.”

The nickname of the lieutenant commander in charge of our “photo det” was “Bevo.”

One day he launched off on a mission with his helmet bag stuffed with rags and the armpits of his flight suit cut out. While flying his two-hour mission, he slipped his arms out of the sleeves, stuffed them with rags and pinned his stuffed gloves to the ends of the sleeves. He then arranged the “arms” along the canopy rails on either side. And that’s how he made his landing back aboard the Saratoga. Looking down from the captain’s bridge and primary flight control it appeared Bevo had just made an unprecedented “no hands” carrier landing.

As he was returning from the flight deck to the ready room, he encountered the ship’s captain, the air group commander and the ship’s air boss, about which he said later, “Other than that, I sustained no injuries!”

My friend Josh in the fighter squadron had a tail hook malfunction, which caused the hook to bounce over the arresting cables. After several unsuccessful attempts to land, he was diverted to the nearest Italian air force base at Naples. After his hook was repaired and his plane refueled, he called the tower for takeoff. Now his aircraft, like most carrier-based planes, had folding wings to save space on the flight deck; on the Crusader, the outer third of each wing folds up to the vertical. Distracted by the unusual surroundings, my friend didn’t complete his takeoff check list. Josh actually took off with his wings folded! With superb airmanship, a light touch and lots of luck, he managed to make an unprecedented wings folded landing back on the field. Of course, word got back to the ship before he did. His C.O. called him into his stateroom, and without mincing words, demanded his gold aviator’s wings and dismissed him.

After letting him stew all night, the skipper called a squadron meeting for the next morning where, with great ceremony, he presented Josh’s wings back to him appropriately altered. At the skipper’s direction, the metal shop had cut the outer thirds off of his wings, “folded” the tips up to the vertical and soldered them in place.

At the end of every carrier deployment, when the ship is within range of the continental U.S., the entire air group (all the squadrons) flies off to the home field for family reunions and celebrations. It’s a big deal! The night before our big fly off, the “Photo Weenies” slipped into the ready room, lowered the sun visor of each fighter pilot’s helmet hanging on the wall, and with a black grease pencil drew our detachment logo “Spy Guy” on the inside of each visor, and slipped it back up under the visor housing.

The next morning on the flight deck, as each fighter pilot taxied to the catapult for launch, he lowered his sun visor and had to look cross-eyed to recognize “Spy Guy.”

“Those &$%@! Photo Weenies, they get the final word this time!”

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