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My Last Night Cat Shot

February 18th, 2013 · 13 Comments · General

As is the wont of a Facebook thread, it tends to wander and meander at times and this one led me to talk about my last night catapult shot.

My *last* night cat shot with VF-14 off Kennedy. Cat 1, was a standard F-14 shot, probably about 65K gross weight. Everything went fine in the prep prior to the steam being unleashed, and…

Boom….good first kick, but then it felt mushy, and after 2 and a half years of cat shots, there was no question I had acquired that seat-of-the-pants knowledge of “good shot” or “uh oh”.

We exit the pointy end, and….settle. Again, whether it is those little hairs in your ear that move back and forth that give you that knowledge of where in space your body is or what, but I could feel the big jet settling more than it usually did (see image below).

Peripheral vision, like many things in that environment, becomes heightened, and I distinctly remember the somewhat interesting experience of seeing/sensing the belly rotating beacon of the aircraft reflecting off the water, a sight I had never seen before. Doing some quick math, flight deck is 7o feet above water, we settled to probably (guessing) 50 or so. Tomcat wingspan at launch is 65′, so we were well WELL inside a hurt-locker if we didn’t start climbing.

What to do in a case like that? I jammed my left foot on the intercom button and said one word, over again, in rapid succession…”Climb climb Climb CLIMB…” I was flying with John “Stump” Woods…good stick.

I never went for the handle. Skipper Strickland, as part of that passing-on-of-experience, said once if you had nose authority – if you could move your nose up after a cat shot, then you most likely had enough airspeed to fly away regardless of your sink. I could feel us start to climb, all ended up good.

To back me up and as an indication I was *not* paranoid, the Mini Boss (who had bow responsibility from the tower) came up on the radio in the middle of all that and ask “114, you ok?” – he had seen us settle on the cat shot, as well. I went to the radio button (on the right side) and said a quick “Stand by” – no sense in spending time explaining to him what was going on in the cockpit, which was still my priority – not talking to the Mini – there was absolutely *zero* ability for him to help us out at that moment, at all. Zilch. Nada. I had automatically moved into that emergency mode that we all were trained to go into, and I still use it to this day, the aviator’s mantra in an emergency – Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. Fly your aircraft first, do the most immediate and necessary things, in whatever environment you are in first – be it airplane, car, office, home, anywhere – or anything else you do won’t matter a bit. That was my last night cat shot. The trap afterward was my 200th, and my last. I flew off the ship the next day, PCSsing to my next duty station.

F-14 night cat shot timed-exposure.  You can see the aircraft settle just a tad at the end of the catapult stroke when it leaves the ship, so *some* settle is expected.


13 Comments so far ↓

  • Old AF Sarge

    Uh, me thinks that cat shot was exciting enough to last a life time. Betcha you’d go back and do it again in a heartbeat right? (Maybe not THAT cat shot…)

  • Robbie Robb

    Hi Pinch,
    Great read mate,
    my stomach sank as I was reading it. Keep it comming; always love the photos as well.

  • Snowman

    …and what was Stump’s comment to you (if you can print it) once you were above 100ft?

  • Pinch

    Nary a word, Snowman! lol…but I think he was puckered up just like I was.

  • Bob Kelly

    WOW! My heart was in my throat reading this.

  • Papa

    So as not to appear to be trying to ‘one up’ your excellent tale, I won’t go into my ‘cool’ shot. But I do have a question. In your pic, howcome the right engine A/B produce an ‘orangy’ color during climbout while the left one is a brighter yellow? Although I’ve been behind a number of T-Cats during the day, I’ve never been there at night.

    • Kath

      Oh, but please DO tell us another story, Mr. Pinch’s Papa.

      We would not think of it as one-upping, merely an additional adventure. :)

  • Stan

    Love the story keep the turkey pics
    coming I love them.

  • Papa

    Well, Kath, thank you for asking. This occured while we were in Enterprise operating around the Hawaiian Islands on an ORI (Operational Readiness Inspection) just prior to proceeding to the unpleasantness in S.E. Asia. The launch was somewhere near midnight. The winds were calm and the weather was clear but there was no moon so the normally blue Hawaiian water was decidedly black. I didn’t have much of a weapon load so the aircraft (A4) was lighter than usual. Setting up on cat 2 went normally.
    Now, to back up the Pinch, I will totally agree that, after a bit of experience, one can detect slight differences in the quality of catapult shots. My theory is that your derriere develops new sensors after a relatively short period of time in the ‘business.’ These sensors sample the acceleration and send signals to the brain with messages such ‘LOVELY!’ or, in some cases ‘OH SPIT!’ Such was the case this night. Within the first hundred feet of the stroke, I knew that, once clearing the pointy end, I would become extremely busy.
    After leaving the deck, the sink rate was very evident. I must have dropped well below the flight deck level and out of sight of pri-fly (the ‘tower’) as they were yelling “PULL UP!” repeatedly over the radio. Yet, the AOA indicator was telling me that the angle-of-attack was at optimum and that any attempt to ‘pull up’ would only increase the sink rate so I held what I had. I didn’t blow the stores but was ready to do so very soon. Gradually, the sink rate slowed, then stopped and the bird began a rate of climb. I have no idea how close to the water I got – and still don’t want to know.
    When I got a couple hundred feet of air below me, I called the tower in a calm (?) voice and asked them to please save the cat settings as I’d like to have a look at them later. (They showed the shot to be normal so I guess an incorrect gross weight had been grease pencilled on the nosewheel door.)
    Fairly long story and I hope I didn’t bore anybody. I know that I certainly wasn’t bored at the time!

  • Pinch

    Those different colors on that cat shot are the two different colored lights on the tails of the Tomcat. That was a CQ det I was on so the Turkey was launching in mil power, not burner, so there was no A/B plume.

  • Bob Kelly


    Thank you sir for that retelling. Excellent.

  • Phonebook

    ah yes, settling. Always annoying. To the point my cc had a standing order to add 500# to the ac wt for the wife and kids . . . the future wife and kids.

    cool shots ended shortly thereafter . . . so I determined it was bad math on the part of the kids . .. reached a point where I alway verified the paint myself.

    I was a real sob – I trusted no one and nothin’ – I told them I trusted them – I bought them drinks like I trusted them but never trust no one no time.

    Even today my mech goes with me before I go flying after an annual – and I have to say that I have discovered all kinds of crap over the years: non-safety wired bits that should be, poorly reassembled burner cans, even a main gear with only 1/3 the bolts it needs and the darn airframe got signed off by two people.

    Trust but verify. And add 500# to the shot wt.

  • jordy

    Love the story

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