A Demon Almost Killed Me

The F-3 Demon was the worst POS airplane that anybody has ever made.  It was grossly overweight and horribly underpowered.  The guys who flew them had to fool themselves that they were “fighter jocks.”  A Sopwith Camel could take a Demon, in a dog fight.  In the late ’50s, the use of computers to design airplanes was started.  The engineers thought, “Let’s run the complete plans, for an existing plane, through the computer, and see what it says about that plane.”  I don’t know why, but they ran the plans, for the Demon, through their computer, and the machine said, “IT WILL NOT FLY.”

Skip forward to the Fall of ’62.  On my first 10 day car-qual, on the Ticonderoga, I was the dedicated “field nigger” that had to work as a “troubleshooter” on the flight deck.  Not a single one of the other squadrons had a troubleshooter assigned thereto.  But I was the lone “Reserve” in my squadron, so I got all the shit jobs.  When our electronics shop got its first Negro, many moons later, HE immediately became the new field-nigger-on-the-flight-deck, and I became the new house-nigger-on-the-hangar-deck.

That first 10 days and nights, working on the flight deck, weren’t too bad, although I had to work 20 hours each and every day.  The absolute worst part of it was the bone-numbing cold, at night.  The air temp was probably around 50 degrees but , with a 30 knot wind, the wind-chill was around 20 degrees F.  Wearing four layers of clothes (15 layers wouldn’t have helped) didn’t keep the wet, salty air from penetrating to your body.  To try and keep warm, 40 or 50 guys would stand in a big circle, huddling together.  This wasn’t some homo-inspired group-grope, it was a basic survival technique.  The guys on the inside were, of course, warm, and didn’t want to exchange places with the guys on the outside, who were cold. and wanted to get inside.  I figured that there had to be a better way to handle the cold, and decided to bring some BRANDY out with me, on the next cruise.

A couple of weeks later, on the next 10 day car-qual, my bottle of cherry-flavored brandy was tapped twice a night.  Once at 8 pm and again at 10 pm.  One shot, and I would be toasty warm for two hours.  For a couple of nights, I stayed on the outside, keeping other guys warm.  On this one particular night, I had just been down to my locker, to take a shot, and was standing on the forward flight deck, a few feet away from the mob, watching the planes land on the angle deck.  It was neat, being able to watch the action, and without being really cold.

A Demon, which landed at 160 knots, compared to an F-4 Phantom, FA-18, or any other jet fighter, all of which landed at 130 knots, touched down, missed all the wires, which probably saved the pilot’s life, and took off (boltered) again.  In it’s short time on the deck, it managed to lose its entire starboard main gear.  The wheel separated from the strut, the latter bouncing end-over-end down the angle deck, and going into the ocean.  The wheel, a monster that stood about 4 feet tall, weighing about 400 pounds, and doing about 180 mph, bounced 2 or 3 times, then settled down, hauling ass directly (like an arrow) towards the 40 or 50 guys in the group hug.  NOBODY, except me, saw what had happened, and I yelled out, “There’s a wheel coming down the deck.  Everybody scatter.”  Everybody did, in fact, scatter, and that wheel went right over what had been the exact middle of that mob of men, shot out over the forward edge of the flight deck, and landed in the water, about 100 yards in front of the carrier, sending up a huge plume of water.  Not a single one of those assholes thanked me for saving their life.

About an hour later, we got to see the pilot of the Demon eject from the plane, only about 1/4 mile off our starboard bow, at 2,000 feet.  That was way cool.

If it hadn’t been for that shot of brandy, I would have been part of that hug-a-thon, and probably killed, along with a bunch of other bluejackets.  I never took brandy out with me again, weighing my comfort against a possible court-martial for having booze aboard the ship.  It’s OK for the officers, but not the enlisted men.

(That was N-D experience #5)




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