I wrote this elsewhere. I copy it and paste it here for tonight’s post on “Living the 1950s.” Enjoy!
After graduating from Airdale school in Orlando, Florida, I was assigned to my first duty station: NAS Jacksonville Florida. I was sent to VP-30, a training squadron for pilots and crew of the P-3 Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft. I was in heaven, as I’d been assigned to the flight deck. It would be my responsibility to get these big birds off the ground and in the air and, when they came home, land them and park them safely where they belonged. I would be in charge of getting them into the hangar for repairs and back out again when they were all better. One of my jobs would be to keep these planes in line and, when they required moving, it would be me that would drive them to their new spot in the line up. A young girl couldn’t ask for anything more for her first duty station. Unless you count the fact that I wasn’t the one flying the plane and I wasn’t on a ship. Those two problems were easily overcome, over time.
During the summer of 1992, it quickly became apparent that I had two problems. The first was my inability to handle heat. When the temperature around me would get above 70 degrees, I would start having problems. I would get sleepy, I would be forgetful and I would start to get physically sick. The second problem had to do with fire ants. We’ve already established that I was allergic to bee stings. What I didn’t realize was, fire ants are nearly as bad. They won’t kill me, but they will make my life miserable. A bite on my leg would produce swelling so bad, it wouldn’t look like a leg any longer.
Despite those two problems, I was having a hay-day at my job. I loved it. I loved being around the planes. I loved the work, even when it would be physically exhausting. There was nothing about my job that I didn’t like.
Well, except for missing my first concert – ever. The first time in my life I bought tickets to a concert, it was summer of 1992 and I was brand new in the United States Navy. It was for Metallica and I was as excited as a young 20 year old could be. A few days before the concert, I was informed that I was working the night of the concert. With grumbling under my breath, I turned over my tickets to the guy friend and he took someone else to the concert – who subsequently became his girlfriend and dropped me. I was crushed even further when my LPO (Leading Petty Officer) asked me what was wrong with me and why I was being so bitchy at work that night. I finally told him about the missed concert and he replied, “You could have asked for the night off.”
I was incredulous when I asked, “You can do that?”
He laughed at me for the rest of the night and I was beside myself for missing such an event. I was an extremely unhappy girl for the rest of the night and, if he thought I was being awful for missing the concert? I was much worse after, knowing I could have gone, had I been smarter.
I did have a great time on the flight line. I learned many things, one of which was when I was taught how to flip off an officer (pilot) and get away with it. There’s always some officers who think the enlisted folk are there to wipe their shoes on and be treated badly and those are the ones you want to flip off. Basically, when you release an aircraft to the skies, you salute the air craft and the pilot in it. This is required. Well, if you don’t like them, you salute and then drop all but the middle finger while maintaining your salute. Immediately after dropping your other fingers, you raise them back up again as if you were actually saluting. Very easy and effective at getting aggression out with a jerk pilot.
I also learned that I can completely and thoroughly “go off on” and get away with treating a pilot like shit and not get in trouble. The reasons must be sound, of course, or you risk getting your ass in a serious sling.
As I stated before, part of my job was bringing pilots and the P-3 they were flying home safely. When they land, they taxi their way towards me and, when they see me, I take over their plane. They are only supposed to do what I tell them to do. A very heady experience for a young 20 year old girl, I’ll tell you! This is law, not just a desire. This is the rule and pilots can be relieved of their ability to fly for not obeying. Basically, when you see me with my wands or hands up, waiting for you, you stop what you’re doing and you only do what I tell you until those 4 props on your plane are stopped and I release you from your aircraft. This is the law, written in stone and immutable.
I had a pilot come in one night and, as it was dark, I had my wands – not just my hands. When I heard there was a plane coming in, I ran out to greet him and escort him to his place in the line. I stood, waiting patiently for him to get to me. When he was within range, I held up my wands to start directing him. This was when I first noticed the trouble. He wasn’t going straight but trying to turn by himself. This course of action would inevitably take him right into another plane that he could not see in the dark. I ordered him to stop by crossing my wands. He did not stop.
At this point, I jumped on my helmet radio. I asked my LPO to tell the aircraft to stop. While he was attempting to reach the pilot, I happened to see what the P-3s headlights had just illuminated in front of me. The fire bottle (a required item between every 2 planes in case of a fire) was not in the proper position. With my wands crossed, I started talking on my radio again.
“He will not F***ING STOP. He’s going to blow himself and me sky high if he doesn’t stop right F***ING now!”
My LPO jumped on the radio and asked what was wrong. Very quickly I summed up for him, “First, he turned too early. He’s risking hitting the wing of P-(whatever number it was) next to him. Secondly, I just saw the fire bottle. It’s not in position. It’s in a direct path with Prop number 4.” There was a few curse words mixed in there as I started to fear for my life with this pilot who was refusing to let me take command of his plane and guide him safely.
That was my job – get him on line safely – and he was refusing to let me do it.
At this point, my LPO patched in me with the pilot in the airplane. I said it again, “You need to stop right F***ING NOW or you’re going to blow up and take me with you. I refuse to let you kill me with your stupidity. If you don’t stop, I’m going to walk the F*** away and you’ll die on your own.” The pilot got on and said, “You can’t talk to me like that and I know what I’m doing, I’ve done this longer than you’ve been in the Navy.”
My heart stopped when I heard the next voice on the line, “Lieutenant so-and-so? Shut down that plane, now. Hand your wings to the co-pilot and get in my office.”
Apparently, the Captain of the command was listening in and heard everything. The plane stopped, mind you all of this happened faster than it took you to read it, and the props shut down. The pilot walked out and, stopping next to me for just a moment, said, “You’re done in the Navy. You do not speak to officers that way. I’ll see you in the brig before I’m done.”
I stood there, shaking and didn’t say anything except the standard I’d been taught, “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir” with a salute that didn’t include the middle finger. After he started walking away, I called in to get a team to help me move the plane into the correct space and moved the fire bottle to safety.
It was a few minutes before we’d been able to get things set to rights and I was very glad for my team, at that point. I had come so close to death, I was shaking and could hardly see straight to finish my task. They pulled the weight and got things done for me.
As I was walking back to the hangar for what I presumed would be my last talk with the LPO (and have a much-deserved cigarette), I saw an officer coming out of the hangar. I could tell by the uniform it was an officer but didn’t recognize the Captain of the command until he came much closer. I could only mutter, “Oh, shit,” under my breath as my teammates surrounded me and stood with me, waiting.
The Captain walked right up, bold as you please and, looking directly at me said, “Airman Pl###? Good job. Keep it up.”
I about hit the ground when I heard that but I didn’t have a chance to really thank him before he turned and walked away. Later, the LPO explained it to me, “A pilot is only as good as his crew. That pilot is probably on his way out of the Navy, at this point. However, P****? Next time? Try not to say F*** so much. Ok?”
I do know that that pilot never crossed the flight deck again but I never did find out if he actually was booted from the Navy.
Another time, a friend of mine were taking a “fun” ride in a little A-30 that we used to haul stuff around. We were going where we weren’t supposed to go and having a great jolly ride. We hit a dirt road and, being young and stupid, took off down it at high speed. The bumps and jolts were exciting and we were laughing and having a great time until we saw a Marine step out from nowhere with his gun pointed directly at us.
After screeching to a halt, we asked him, “Where did you come from?”
He replied, “That’s for me to know, not you. You aren’t supposed to be back here. You might want to turn around and leave before I have to force you.”
We high-tailed it out of there so fast, we made dust disappear. Never again would I try and take one of those small little 4-wheeler looking things for a joy ride.
Of course, that wasn’t my only brush with the marines that guarded certain parts of the base. I got wind of when the Stealth Bomber would arrive for the air show and which hangar it would be hidden in. I got a couple of my buddies and, late that night, we snuck over to the hangar. After peeking in and exclaiming wildly about how awesome it was and we just wanted, “to touch it. Just one little touch,” we ran towards it. Just before we got to it, a Marine appeared beside me, another next to one of my buddies and we all stopped dead on a dime. I was only a foot away from one of my favorite air crafts of all time but the marine said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I’ve orders to shoot anyone who tampers with this.”
No amount of begging and pleading would sway the Marine. He was steadfast in his insistence that, should I dare to reach out just one tiny little finger to touch it, he would shoot me dead. With much tears and begging, I finally had to give up and slink out of the hangar. My only bragging rights are, to this very day, are, “I got to see it! Up close! I was could have touched it, had the Marine not stopped me!”
I had a great deal of fun on the flight line. I was living the high life and so excited about my future. I was having fun, doing what I loved, hanging with good friends and just experiencing all the life I’d missed out on as a child. I couldn’t have asked for anything more in my life, at that moment.
***** Private information removed *****
I was moved indoors. I was to work in the library that houses all the books pilots use to learn by. Other commands used the library was well, for learning about where and when and how the planes were used for tracking and killing the enemy. It was my job to keep those books in tip-top shape.
Oh, how I missed the flight line. I missed the fun, the action, the responsibility I had been entrusted with. My own actions got me stuck where I was and I tried to ride it out the best I could. I was hoping to prove that I was “ok” again and I could be trusted to get back to the flight line and the planes I loved.
During this time, I made friends with a few of the pilots. My love, understanding and knowledge of planes combined with reading everything I could get my hands on in that library gave me enough to be seen as an equal with them and friendships came fast. One friend would sneak me into the flight simulator to pretend at flying a P-3 late at night, when no one was around. I did great. I loved it, it was as natural as breathing to me. Except when I decided to try and get the huge behemoth of a plane to fly under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco. That didn’t go so well and I was glad that I was on a simulator, not in a real plane, for that one.
Another pilot friend was gearing up to go to an Air Show in Alabama and invited me along. I wasn’t part of the crew, so it was a special request and I was delighted. I got permission to take those days off and then got permission from the Command Captain to go on the air show. Some friends in the hangar made me a flight suit complete with my own name tag. They even put “P-3 Pilot” under my name on the badge but with quotes around it to make it look not-official and not get us in trouble.
Oh, I was in heaven when I climbed into the P-3 and we started to get ready to take off. I watched the lineman start up our engines and then taxi us off. When the lineman saluted, I was watching closely and, with a huge smile, she flipped me off when she saluted. I laughed so long and hard, everyone was asking me what was going on but I refused to answer.
Halfway through the flight, the pilot asked if I wanted to take his seat. You could have knocked me over with a feather when he asked and I was so in love with him at that moment, I would have done anything for him! I jumped in the seat, put the headphones on and “flew” the plane for nearly an hour. At one point, I heard on the radio, “LL-30, please change course heading to (whatever it was).” I looked down and, because of all the time in the simulator, was able to shift us to a different course heading. The co-pilot was talking to the pilot and didn’t quite notice right away but, when he looked over, I was grinning from ear to ear, directly on the course I was told to go on, and asked, “How did you do that?”
I didn’t answer him except to say, “The radio told me to, so I did it.”
The Pilot and I shared a wink and a smile and the co-pilot went about his business. Eventually, we would land at the Air Show in Alabama and I was, yet again, in heaven with tears and stars in my eyes as I looked at all the planes. The Pilot and crew took me around like I was a queen and I got to sit in and warm the pilot seat of nearly every other plane there – including my ultimate favorite of all time – the F-14 Tomcat.
There was never a happier girl in all the days of this world. It got even better when we went out that night to a bar. Everyone told the bartender that I was of legal age and a pilot in the United States Navy and I got so many free drinks.
Can you imagine a happier 20 year old girl?
I looked it up and you can see the P-3 (the actual LL-30 I flew) here: http://www.vpnavy.com/p3/vp31p3_01_24feb2002.jpg
A link to the command I was at is here: http://www.vpnavy.com/nasj.html
The base I was on is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Air_Station_Jacksonville
And, our patch on our uniforms: