The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Deja Vu All Over Again

This morning an old Navy friend (and all my Navy friends are old) directed me to a video on YouTube that brought back a lot of memories of my first carrier landings on June 28, 1968. It's hard to believe this took place almost 50 years ago, but that's one thing about time: it doesn't stand still.

Anyway, back then I was in the midst of my U.S. Navy flight training in Pensacola, Florida. I don't think I exaggerate when I say that all naval aviators consider the day of their first carrier landings among the most memorable of their lives. What a thrill! It was the primary skill that separated all of us naval aviators from the rest of the aviation community.

In those days even flight students who were slated to become helicopter pilots -- and that included me -- first learned to fly fixed-wing aircraft and had to qualify by completing a series of arrested landings on an aircraft carrier. For most flight students that carrier was the USS Lexington (CVT-16), a Pensacola-based ship that functioned as the training command's carrier. But in late June 1968, when I was scheduled for carrier qualification, Lexington was having some work done and she was temporarily replaced by the USS Randolph (CV-15). And so, my landings were on Randolph.

My aircraft for carrier qualification was the T-28C, an absolutely wonderful airplane. Among trainers flown in our armed forces at the time it was about as close to a World War II fighter as you could get. No other trainer could compare. In fact, during the Vietnam conflict the South Vietnamese Air Force (and the CIA) flew the T-28 in combat. I wouldn't be surprised if some countries still fly it in their air forces.

North American T-28C Trojan
The T-28 (the  B and C models we flew in training) was powered by a Wright Cyclone R-1820, a huge radial, 9-cylinder engine, that generated (if I remember correctly) 1,425 horsepower. It was quite a machine. When you strapped into the T-28 and cranked up that engine, you knew you were flying something special. It's cruising speed was about 220 knots and, as I recall, it's maximum speed was almost 300 knots. Despite the noise and the oil leaks and all of its odd little idiosyncrasies, it was a joy to fly.
R-1820 Engine in a T-28 (engine cowl removed)

The first video included below is a Navy training film designed to demonstrate the procedures used for landing a T-28C on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The voice of the narrator is one of the most familiar to anyone who served in the Navy. He must have narrated 1,000 films. 

I have a vague recollection of watching this particular film (or another version) way back when. But no video could replace the hours in the airplane practicing carrier landings at Barin Field in Foley, Alabama. By this time in our training we were already fairly competent T-28 pilots, so the carrier qualification training took only a couple of weeks. But it was a demanding two weeks and included almost 100 field carrier landings or FCLs designed to simulate landing on the carrier. For those of you interested in how naval aviators landed on carriers in the good ol' T-28, here's the training film:

On that very hot June day in 1968 when our flight took off, we joined up in formation and headed South to rendezvous with USS Randolph in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, one after another, we each completed touch-and-go landings, followed by six arrested landings. I've embedded another video (below) that depicts the first carrier landings of a flight of budding naval aviators around that time. It's an amateur video, taken with an 8mm movie camera, and has no audio. The quality is poor, but it depicts touch-and-goes, wave-offs, bolters (that's when you miss the arresting wire), and arrested landings. 

I'll never forget the date (June 28) because that was also my mom's birthday, and that evening I called her to wish her a happy birthday and tell her my exciting news.

That day was eclipsed by only a few others, the foremost being our wedding day four months later on November 2. Then, just two weeks later, on November 15, 1968, I received my Navy wings of gold which were pinned on by my new bride, Dear Diane. This was followed by the days each of our four children were born in 1971, 1972, 1974 and 1977. Twenty years later, on May 24, 1997, I was ordained a permanent deacon and with Diane at my side began this new life journey. Since then God has blessed us with nine wonderful grandchildren; and so the important days continue to add up.

This tremendous wealth of wonderful memories is what makes getting old so downright enjoyable. It's the one thing we have that the young don't.

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