Orange Selfie

Some orange flight suit lovin’! Selfie in an F-14D during an acceptance flight during duty at the Grumman facility in Calverton. As part of equipment issue while assigned to the Defense Plant Rep Office, we were given a couple of the standard Grumman orange flight suits, accutramented for our Navy status. I liked them – they had regular POCKETS in the front and were comfortable working “uniforms.”

The wings are back, so we had some smack on the airplane. With the hint of a dark blue sky, I’m wondering if this was the high speed dash test of the flight acceptance profile where we’d get up to mach 1.2 or so at 40k or thereabouts. Right after the high speed dash, we’d throttle back and elevate up to 50k for the altitude check. Couple of times we’d nudge up to 55k. I was always amazed at the view up there – from being off Long Island in W-105 you could see everything from southern Maine down to the Delmarva peninsula. Beautiful.

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On The Cat

Camelot 101, our squadron jet with CO Dan “Chopper” Chopp on the RIO cockpit rail and XO Pete “Strick” Strickland” on the pilot rail, gets loaded up on catapult 2 on JFK.

At this particular point, the pilot has been signaled to sweep the wings out and you can see the RIO looking to the left, toward me and my camera, to ensure clearance and the wings won’t hit anything as they sweep forward. The pilot is concentrating on line up, following the director’s signals carefully to ensure the jet is lined up properly on the cat. Two green shirt hook up petty officers are near the nose gear watching the line up. It will be their responsibility to ensure a good hook-up between catapult shuttle and the aircraft launch bar.

Lots going on at this point. Weight board has been rogered by the RIO, your scan has jacked up a notch as those wings move and the jet is getting closer to launch. If there are weapons loaded, the “hand’s up” weapons arming evolution is coming by the ordnance guys (ordies) and the pucker factor is increasing rather expeditiously.

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The Tailhook

Carrier-based fixed-wing aircraft (to differentiate from helicopters and other rotary-type aircraft) need a tailhook that grabs a steel wire spanning the deck to land on an aircraft carrier. Unlike a land-based field where there are 8,000 or 12,000 foot long runways, the landing area on an aircraft carrier is a mere 700 feet long, with the target area where the wires are is only about 150 feet long.  If you miss that landing area, the hook does not grab a wire and yo go flying again.

So, it is important – vitally important – that the tail hook of the landing aircraft contact the deck, stays in contact with the deck, and grabs one of those wires (called a “cross deck pendant,” or CDP, if you are into technical nomenclature.)

The tailhook assembly of an F-14 (and was probably the same with other jets of the era) had a dashpot hydraulic system attached to it, charged up to 800 psi designed to keep that hook in the DOWN position when the aircraft landed. Here, you can see the smoke generated by the hook dragging along the nonskid-covered HY-80/100 steel making up the deck of CV-67. Without that 800 psi of pressure keeping that tailhook down, the initial impact of the hookpoint with the deck would make the tailhook bounce or skip up and over a wire (hence the term “hook skip”), also potentially bouncing up and impacting the aircraft to where it could do some severe damage and/or the aircraft would never grab a wire. VF-14, USS JFK, late 1980s.

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John McCain, RIP

A piece I wrote up with my thoughts on recently passed Senator and retired US Navy Captain John McCain.

John McCain passed away this afternoon at his home in Arizona, surrounded by family. I never personally knew the Senator. He was already into his first Senate term when my Navy career started in the mid 80s and I never had an opportunity or reason to interact with him.

I do have a bit of a Navy-related kinship with him, however. He was a squadron mate of my later father-in-law back in the 1960s for a bit, a number of my Dad’s contemporaries of that time knew and served with John McCain, and my Dad, as a carrier-based A-4 pilot (the same plane McCain flew) went out on missions just like the one McCain was shot down on, over Hanoi and other parts of North Vietnam. The saying “There but by the grace of God went my father” comes to mind.

There will be – has been – no shortage of commentary on the Senator’s political career, much of it of a negative and oftentimes discourteous and raucous nature. I’ll leave that to others to comment on. I prefer to remember the senator and retired Navy captain for his Navy career, a true reflection of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s quote that “There are no extraordinary men… just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with.” Whether you believe John McCain was an ordinary man or not, what he went through from 1967 until 1973 was extraordinary.

On a mission over Hanoi in North Vietnam, only his 23rd mission into that combat arena, McCain’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire.

With a wing blown off his jet, the only option left for then Lieutenant Commander McCain was to eject. Any ejection out of a jet is a roll of the dice – and with the A-4 Skyhawk, a single seat subsonic attack aircraft that has been described as an aircraft “you wore rather than climbed into” given its tight cockpit confines, riding a rocket seat out of an out of controlled aircraft from the close quarters of a cockpit can prove to be problematic, at best.

The ejection ended up breaking both his arms and a leg. His parachute, automatically deploying immediately based on the low altitude, deposited him into a lake in downtown Hanoi. From that day, 26 October 1967 until his repatriation with the other US POWs in February 1973 McCain was a “guest” of the North Vietnamese at the Hanoi Hilton.

By any definition those years were an extraordinary experience for LCDR McCain, and as far as I’m concerned he conducted himself with honor and distinction – and in an extraordinary manner. That experience alone should garner the respect from every American. Strapping on a piece of aviation hardware and heading out to take your place at the tip of your country’s national security spear is an honor that few are given. To accept and perform that mission, along with whatever consequences that comes with it, is the definition of respect.

There a saying in the Navy when shipmates pass away – “Fair winds and following seas,” meaning fond wishes for a smooth and calm passage. For an aircraft carrier-based naval aviator though, those “following seas” implies a downwind recovery on the ship, with winds at your back.

Rather, I’ll wish the Senator and former Naval Aviator a carrier with a bone in her teeth, a ready deck, a strong 20 knots of wind down the angle, and an OK-3 wire trap as you head west.

Godspeed, John McCain. Blessings to your family and loved ones on your passing.

These thoughts were posted on the Eagle PAC Web site at

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Be the Boss!

The Air Boss is the Almighty on an aircraft carrier, controlling just about everything aviation-related on the ship and in the immediate vicinity.

This is the placard that he reads from into the flight deck/ship announcement system (called the 1MC) to let everyone on the flight deck and throughout the ship know that its time to get ready to go flying.

Anyone who has spent time on an aircraft carrier flight deck has heard this, and if you put on whatever voice of authority you have and read this aloud, you TOO can be the Boss!

Photo taken on USS HARRY S TRUMAN Primary Flight Control atop the island.

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Tucked in tight with Camelot 106. This was no doubt on a cross-country transit to Fallon, hence the ferrying of the two orange TACTS (Tactical Air Combat Training System) pods. Also called ACMI for Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation, these are the devices that transmit aircraft data to a central land-based computer via data link through communication towers erected on a land-based or sea-based range.

From what I can tell, these sorts of instrumentation devices are like the Flinstone car these days with updated, 21st century equipment that uses GPS for location (vice tower triangulation) with better, more efficient data transfers and an engagement playback system that will run on any laptop computer vice only in the “TACTS Trailer.”

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Sometimes you just put your camera up and take a snapshot, hoping something will come out.

When we flew at night from the beach (NAS Oceana) it was usually to get some carrier landing practice (known as FCLP for Field Carrier Landing Practice) at an outlying field near Oceana or whatever base we were at.  If I remember correctly, this shot was while headed back to Oceana after some touch and go’s at a field down in North Carolina. It doesn’t show much other than that gorgeous sunset and the right-hand upper ejection look for the GRU-7 Martin-Baker ejection seat.

Still, it kind of conveys how sweet that ride was and some of the eye-ball pleasing views you can get from that experience.

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because I was….inverted

Inverted flight, for anything much more than a short bit, can cause problems with a jet like this. Primarily, fuel and oil systems are made for one G or close to it flight, meaning gravity is an important contributor to getting those two elements to where they need to be, one powering the engine and the other lubricating the engine.  Dedicated air show aircraft have inverted tanks and pumps installed in their jets, allowing them to perform extended maneuvers while inverted. This Tomcat, taken at the Oceana Air show in 2005,  was simply performing a 4-point roll, so the amount of time it spent inverted was negligible.


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Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Head Raddall, DSO

A hundred years ago yesterday my great grandfather was killed, on 9 August 1918, in a wheat field near the French town of Amiens, outside the village of Caix during the Hundred Days Offensive which made up the last battles of the First World War.

Lt-Col Thomas Head Raddall DSO was assigned to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Canadian Army, and was the only commanding officer of the unit to have been killed in action. He was my mom’s grandfather, from the Canadian side of our family having settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia during his years in the military spent on this side of the Atlantic.

The Winnipeg Rifles remain a proud unit in the Canadian Army. The unit publishes a chronicle once a year called “The Devil’s Blast”, and the following article talking about Lt-Col Raddall’s death appeared in their 2012 publications:

“Thomas Head Raddall was born in Cornwall, England in 1877. At the age of 14 he enlisted in the Royal Marines as a drummer in 1891. He became a rifleman in the Royal Marine Light Infantry in 1895 and served on the China station from 1896-1900. Raddall transferred to the British army’s School of Musketry at Flythe, Kent as an instructor in small arms, including machine guns. An expert marksman, he was a member of army rifle teams in competitions at Bisley and elsewhere. He was a member of the British rifle team at the 1908 Olympic Games in London. He inevitably transferred to the Canadian army in May 1913 for the purpose of being an instructor in rifle and machine gun practice. He and his family settled in Nova Scotia.

When war was declared with Germany in August 1914, He was ordered to Valcartier Camp, where he joined 8th Battalion (the Winnipeg Rifles) as lieutenant ofthe machine gun section, then to overseas deployment in September of 1914. At Ypres, in April of 1915 he was wounded in head and arm. He convalesced in Canada at Halifax (his adopted home city). Upon recovery, he rejoined the regiment with the rank of captain, and was adjutant during the Somme fighting in 1916. While engaged at Vimy Ridge in the spring of 1917 he was wounded for a second time. He recovered in time to rejoin the regiment for the battle of Passchendaele, where he served as a major and was second-in-command. For his services during the battles of 1917 he was three times mentioned in Field-Marshall Haig’s despatches.

He took command of the regiment, after the brutal decimation at Passchendaele, as acting Lieutenant Colonel and was confirmed in this rank in August 1918. During this period he rebuilt and retrained the 8th battalion, and the 8th was acknowledged in First Division as being one of the best to wear the famous “old red patch”. On the 3rd of June 1918 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Interestingly enough the award was given in honour of King George V’s birthday. The criteria for the award were to have been in active combat as well as having been mentioned in despatches.

The opening day of The Hundred Days Offensive was on August 8. Beginning with a swift attack east of Amiens the regiment reached and occupied Caix Wood and the village of Caix. Their objective for the next morning was the village of Rosieres, but owing to circumstances on the 1st Division’s right, several of their units had to change front, and during the night of August 8, the regiment was moved to Hospital Wood, on their right, with orders to attack towards Warvillers in the morning. This meant storming Hatchet Wood, on a prominence in the rolling Picard grain fields, commanding a wide field of fire on all sides. It could not be by-passed for that reason.

Matters on the Canadian right remained uncertain until after noon on August 9, when Colonel Raddall received orders to attack. The wood was held by about 400 fresh German troops, with numerous machine guns. The regiment had no tank support, and the lone field battery behind them was under orders for its part in a general barrage scheme, with no shifting to particular targets of opportunity. He sent one company to circle and attack the wood from the left, another to do the same from the right. The attack from the front had to be pressed hotly, to keep the Germans’ attention away from the flanking companies, and Raddall went forward with the front attack.

The Colonel, while kneeling in the wheat was hit and knocked down by a bullet in the right arm, which was bandaged by his runner. He then rose up again and put up his field glasses, seeking signs of progress by the flanking companies. While doing so he was hit by a burst of machine gun bullets in the chest and collapsed, and gasped to the runner, “Tell Bug (Major Saunders) to take over”. In a few brief moments he was dead.
The regiment stormed into the wood from all three sides. Many of the enemy had been killed or wounded on the way that there were actually fewer than 400 Germans in the woods but after a fierce scrimmage among the trees with bomb and bayonet they killed about 100 and the rest surrendered. The regiment was in Warvillers, their objective, that night. After the battle the regiment’s padre, J.W. Whillans, brought parties to seek out the dead among the wheat and gather the bodies on the lip of the draw where the 8th began their rush towards Hatchet Wood.

They buried Colonel Raddall and 7 other officers and 59 men there, which was to become named the Manitoba Cemetery.
Total losses of the engagement also included 309 wounded and 52 missing. Amid all the carnage on the afternoon of August 9, 1918 2 VC’s were awarded. One VC was awarded to Cpl Frederick Coppins shortly before Raddall was killed and another to Cpl Alexander Brereton shortly after Raddall’s death.”

Me again:

Having visited a number of those European and North African war cemeteries during my own military deployments to those areas, I am still struck and honored by the love, the attention, the care, and dedication the local citizenry pay to these resting places. The Winnipeg Rifles family still honor their war dead, as evidence of this visit to the cemetery as recalled by these members of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles Museum:


My Mom and Dad had the opportunity to track down Great Grandfather Raddall’s grave in France during a visit there in the early 90s, and his grave, indeed the entire cemetery, as evidenced by the previous note from the museum, was well tended with obvious love, attention and eternal appreciation.
His headstone reads:

9TH AUGUST 1918 AGE 41

A hundred years ago today. A life of service to his God and country and family ended in the last months of the first Great War. Our great grandfather’s legacy is carried on, though, through his son and daughter’s sons and daughters.

The accompanying pictures are of the Lt-Col in the later stages of his career and a shot of his headstone in the Manitoba Cemetery, Caix, France. There is a photo of the then-Sergeant Raddall holding my grandmother, Nellie Raddall Cassidy, in the early years of the 1900s.

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Been busy with trying to get the house ready to get on the real estate market here in northern Virginia. We moved in here, the Pinchettes and I, in late 2003 after I spent the summer in the Gulf (Qatar) and the associated tax-free combat-zone pay. Aside from a few rooms being renovated, not much has been done over the years so there has been lots to do. Add in some medical things – a week in Georgetown University Hospital for some foot and tendon  surgery – and you can get an idea just HOW busy.

Anyhow, we’re back on the blog and will keep up more.  Trust me 🙂


Pic of the day are two special F-14 pieces. The top photo I took as we flew into NAS Key West for a gas stop enroute to Roosey Roads in Puerto Rico.   Bottom drawing is one my Dad did from a photo he or I took at the 1985 NAS Pensacola Air Show.  Love them both.

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