Vacuum Cleaners

My friend Mike commented he wanted to “see/hear” more A-7E stories.  I read his email just before going to sleep last night, so of course, I was thinking of the days of the Corsair as I drifted off to sleep.  As a result, I spent another night at sea…

Sometimes a night at sea is a good thing, sometimes not.  Depending on how the weather is in my dreams, and the sea conditions, as well as my fuel state.  If the weather is good, I am flying around during the day, the sea is calm, and my fuel state “above the ladder,” it is a good night at sea.  I have had those other nights at sea, however, when the deck was pitching, the weather was bad, and gas was a question.  Those are not good nights – in both my dreams as well as back in the days of real life.

We referred to the S-3 Viking affectionately and sometimes coldly as “The Hoover,” short for Hoover vacuum cleaner.  This was because of the way the engines sounded.  But there was also a sinister side to the Viking and all the other jets onboard any carrier.  Just like the Viking’s unofficial moniker, every turning jet engine on a flight deck was a dangerous vacuum cleaner waiting to suck down any hapless crewman walking by.

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Late one afternoon, we were practicing before going to The Gulf by preparing to launch a strike against Southern California.  It was going to be a great flight.  My A-7 was loaded with six Mk 82 GP “slicks” and two ’Winders.  Five hundred fifty rounds of high explosive incendiary (HEI) 20mm canon rounds complete my ordnance load.  This was a mission everyone wanted to be a part of and we were all consuming a steady concoction of adrenaline and “can do.”

I finished up with my cockpit duties and looked up to realize there was only one airman standing in front of my jet twirling his fingers.  While that sounds like someone who is slacking, it was actually a very important part of his job.  Typically, four to six airmen would stand around in front of the intake of a turning jet holding their hands up and twirling their fingers.  This was the universal sign the engine they were standing watch over was a live jet engine.  This warned others on the flight deck the intake area of the jet was dangerous.  This was important because it was difficult to tell which engines were turning on a flight deck packed with 90 jets.

I exchanged looks with my solitary airman.  Both he and I knew this was not a good situation and there should be others helping him keep my intake clear.  As we are telepathically having this conversation, I looked to my right and see a senior chief walking down the line of other A-7s; he passes just in from the intakes of each jet.  If he continues on his present path, my jet engine will suck him into the intake.

I look at the airman in front of my jet.  Then I look back to the senior chief.  The airman looks at the senior chief also.  We again have a telepathic conversation – we both know the senior chief is about to become grub for the TF-41 turning tens of thousands of rpm in the bowels of my jet.  My left hand pushes the power control lever (PCL) outboard.  I am primed to shut down the engine if the senior chief gets any closer.  Both the airman and I know that if I shut down this jet, we will lose the mission.  There’s no way we can get this jet ready again in time for the launch.

I am about to yank the PCL aft to shut down when my airman, who is probably 19 years-old, 6 foot 2, and about 220 pounds, breaks his position and tackles the short, 160 pound senior chief.  They both go to the deck and the senior chief pops up first with clenched fists in a fighting stance ready to beat the hell out of the kid who just took him down.

My airman has an apprehensive look on his face.  He starts twirling his fingers and moves back into position in front of my jet.  The senior chief turns and looks up to the cockpit and our eyes meet.  Suddenly he understands, looks a little sheepish, and raises his hands.  

He starts twirling his fingers and takes his position with my airman. 


© 2010 J. Clark


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