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.