Richard Siudak encounters Abraham Lincoln down under...
After receiving a telephone call on 4 January from the US Consulate in Perth, I was later faxed to be at Perth International airport at 09:30 on the 11th for an 11:00 departure for the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln by C-2A Greyhound of VRC-30 (my favourite airline).
The action really started with the phone ringing at 08:25 on the 10th with a friend telling me that Navy 'November Kilo 37' was just about over the top of my place, coming into land on runway 21 which is clearly visible at the end of my street from ten miles out to touchdown. Dragging the carcass out of the fart sack and out the door, there she was with a pair of dirty trails lumbering in, about to turn onto a ten mile final. A second C-2A was expected an hour later so it was time to walk the dog. By this time there was a bit of heat around and when I got home, I was informed that a mate would be calling by any minute as the Greyhound we saw was the second, the first having already landed at 07:30. According to the departure board at Perth they were due to return to the ship at 10:30. So it was a rush shower and swallow caffeine fix before my mate swung by and off we went. Spent from 09:45 to 13:45 at the airport and took lots of photos as one does. It was then off to the shops to buy plenty of film (on VISA) and pack a few toys for the overnight stay. Had little sleep as I was paranoid about sleeping in, had two mobiles set to alarm me a minute apart!
Next morning - big day, heard both C-2As on scanner coming in at 07:35 and 07:45 which was a good sign with both operational. Tapped wife on shoulder - no, not for that, but to get outta bed to drive to the airport! Was there a good half hour early and had to slum it in a conference room with some local politicians, business leaders, a TV crew and one radio journalist. At 10:30 we were kitted out with our fashion accessories for the trip - a float collar and a cranial, which defied logic as the velcro had almost been worn off the chin strap. A short emergency drill ensued with a brisk walk out to the Greyhound for our trip out. A number of obligatory pose pictures were taken and then it was into the coloured tail jobbie 162154 (coded NK/36). The Greyhound was configured in the 28 seat layout and with 24 of us and two crew loadies, a pair of seats went begging. I set myself up in the last row closest to the ramp next to the loadies as there was heaps more leg room.
After we were cranked up, aircraft left terminal at 10:50 and after lining up on Runway 21, we were airborne at 11:00. After several minutes, I got up and took a few pose shots for some on board and then settled down for our "trap" as the flight was in the half-hour category. After a very steep turn onto base leg and again on finals we braced ourselves with the loadies twirling hands in the air when we felt the power cranked up as we were waived off due to a cable not having come back in the ready state. A slightly gentler series of turns and we again were warned that the trap was imminent, the hook hit and we felt it drag down the deck and I knew we had bolted, so it was back into the pattern again for another slot. On the third approach we hit the ONE Wire (closest to the stern) and we hooked up fine. Trapping at 11:40 I was now feeling rather chuffed at being a ten-trap veteran. No time for thinking, we were whisked to the Captain's Lounge Room and were welcomed personally by the two-star Admiral of the Battle Group and the XO. Captain was busy on the bridge as flight ops were in full swing and they were attempting to find some clean weather. We had left Perth in brilliant blue skies and landed in overcast and very humid conditions, only 90 miles off the coast.
Ship's PAO was busy breaking us up into tour groups to be shown the entire ship (been there - done that) so I quietly asked her if it was possible for me to skip the crap and spend my time on the flight deck. She was most obliging and half an hour later a young African-American airman from V-1 division was assigned as my escort. Being an enlisted guy, he could only take me to certain places in the flight ops cycle. I asked if the LSO platform was possible and he said "OK" so off we went. With an overcast sky and a sun that was almost directly overhead, I started shooting three-quarter-on landing shots, may well turn out to be silhouettes but will find out later. After one event of landings he suggested we go to the other side of the stern to where his boss was working. I reluctantly agreed as the sun was in a bad position so in between a pair of F-18s landing I waddled across the deck to a catwalk position to shoot more three-quarter-on shots. His boss turned out to be a young LT who happened to be a SHOOTER. He went to great lengths telling, or I should say yelling, what he was doing, but as we both had cranials, ear protection plugs and my ears are farnarcled...anyway and I simply love noise (AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin too).
Again after a completed event he took me down to get some shots from standing next to the four trap wires, then it was a bit further up to see some launches off the waist and then the bow cat shots. This guy really knew his stuff as he explained that the EA-6B was by far the power beast on board. He had me stand adjacent to the JBD (luv the jargon!) and when the Prowler spooled up, the local deck area vibrated like an earthquake and then whoosh, it was gone. A second Prowler was next and he positioned me directly behind the guy that does the final launch signal and again, the blast from the engines is a real hot blow-job! Being a shooter, he can go anywhere on the flight deck with no question and I was really lucky, but it gets better. He took me to the catwalk that ends in the corner with the bow. Looking down on a carrier facing north, right in the north east tip. I had camera in hand and you had to butt your back to the railing and position yourself to be able to face back down the carrier. With the rounded deck, you have to stretch up but ensure you do not topple backwards out the front of the ship - you are looking at a sixty-foot drop. Anyway, he had his hand on my shoulder and says to get ready and have a look-see. Un-beknown to me as soon as my head went up, an F-18 on the number 1 cat launched and cleared my head by no more than four feet! My eyes just about popped and as I already suffer from high blood pressure, the old pump really fluttered! He laughed and I addressed him with a favourite Aussie greeting and term of endearment "You bloody bastard!"
It was a real buzz, but only one more aircraft came off this cat as they launched the rest off 3 and 4 on the waist. He took me to the "Crutch" which is where the waist meets bow and I took some launch shots off the waist cats while enjoying cat shots from number two cat passing over my left shoulder. After that cycle it was back to the trap wires position for more landing shots which was to be the final event for the day as they needed to secure the flight deck in readiness for pulling into the Gage Roads anchorage the next morning. So, no special sunset shots as the cloud was heavy and it was getting late (17:40 local) and I had to be back for a feed with the Captain. It is amazing how media types fail to research the bio's of people. I had checked on the Abe home page all the gen and was able to converse with the CO about RIO work in the F-14 and raved how great an aeroplane it was - that got him fired up so we had a great conversation while the rest did not know what to say. I planned to head off to the photo lab but landed up with the TV crew while they did some interviews. They all turned in at about 20:45 but one of the radio jocks and myself kicked on. The twin share stateroom we had was a real piece of luxury. Located on the 02 level, and towards the bow, we dropped our gear off and wandered down to the hangar bay (now 21:00) where I thought I could do some flash photography as three of the colour CAG tails were down below. When we got there, we saw the USS Camden alongside in the middle of a RAS (replenishment at sea) taking on aviation fuel. Transfers can be as high as 10,000 gallons a minute, but we were 'only' taking about 4,000 a minute. Sea state was pretty rough and having witnessed it on several occasions, you would not want to fall in the water between the ships. Several waves crashed over the side of the Camden and we had the benefit of watching through the open hangar doors. With this work in progress, flash was not allowed so I made a start on the Bu listing. Noted some 18 below so I had a start for the next morning. Back to our room by 22:30 and my radio jock flaked so I went up to the wardroom and had a bacon and egg burger with hash browns and several glasses of "bug" juice (it is green!!).
After meeting up with some VAQ-139 jocks and jockettes, I gave them the good oil on Perth and finally turned in at 01:30. Was up again at 04:30, had a shower and sorted out some notes I had taken and read up on a bit more literature. Breakfast was at 06:00 and yes, I over-ate again!
On to the flight deck at 07:00 and we were only several miles out and guess what, blue skies had come back. Murphy is alive and well!! Took a number of shots around the deck as the light dictated and compiled a Bu listing. It was only when we were awaiting in the Captain's lounge at 09:00 that some three aircraft from below decks the night before had been re-spotted on the flight deck overnight. I was now missing an S-3B and two F-18Cs. After the presentation of Honorary Tailhook Certs, the Admiral bade us farewell and we were escorted off to the liberty boat to return us to 'terra firma'.
Aircraft noted on board came from AIRWING CVW-14 (coded 'NK'). Bu numbers were all checked during the week and nothing was missed.
VF-31 F-14D 'Tomcatters
164601/100, 164600/101, 163896/102, 163901/103, 163898/104, 159610/105, 159629/106, 163413/107, 159618/110, 163895/111.
VFA-115 F/A-18C 'Eagles'
163439/200, 163440/201, 163450/202, 163761/203, 163762/204, 163768/205, 163470/206, 163481/207, 163494/210, 163495/211, 163740/212, 163509/214.
VFA-113 F/A-18C 'Stingers'
164640/300, 164636/301, 164648/302, 164658/303, 164638/304, 164641/305, 164634/306, 164686/307, 164682/310, 164242/311, 164220/312, 164257/313.
VFA-25 F/A-18C 'Fist of the Fleet'
164633/400, 164635/401, 164637/402, 164664/403, 164642/404, 164639/405, 164654/406, 164660/407, 164676/410, 164262/412, 164266/413.
VAQ-139 EA-6B 'Cougars'
164401/500, 161880/501, 160433/502, 160788/503.
VAW-113 E-2C 'Black Eagles'
164487/600, 164495/601, 164493/602, 164494/603.
HS-4 SH-60F 'Black Knights'
164084/610, 163286/611, 164072/613, 164456/614.
HS-4 HH-60H 'Black Knights'
VS-35 S-3B 'Blue Wolves'
160124/700, 159413/701, 159763/702, 160580/703, 160567/704, 159729/705, 159387/706.
VRC-30 C-2A 'Providers' Det. 1