Sept. 15, 2004. I watch the news as hurricane Ivan bears down on the PensacolaMobile coast. I'm transported back to Pensacola's great Hurrevac of 1952.
I'm on the staff of the Photo School at Pensacola, which rates me a room in the main BOQ. My buddies (Sport Horton and Al Weil, RIP, and others) are instructors in the back seat of SNJs, and living in Splinterville.
It's a Friday night; we give a going-away party for a nurse. I get bombed. At 2:00am the NAS OOD chases us all out of the female wing of the BOQ, so I pour myself into my bed (somewhat unconscious).
Less than 2 hours later, the Photo School OOD shakes me awake. There's a hurricane evacuation, and I have to fly a Corsair away. "Hah," I say. "Jim loaded, and can’t fly for at least a day!" "Hah," he says, "there’s four Corsairs to fly away, and you're one of four Corsair pilots at the Photo School.”
An hour later, with a gallon of coffee in me, I'm in the cockpit of one of our F4U-5Ps, with rain falling in buckets. As I'm a Photo School "Staff Instructor" (LTJG), and the other 3 Corsair pilots (LTs and LCDRs) are Photo School students, I'm "in command," and the flight leader. Or, as one of the other pilots put it, I was in no condition to fly on anyone's wing, so I was safer in the lead. The plane captain helps me get the engine started, although he seems to have a severe case of the giggles. He rides the wing out to the takeoff spot. The wind's from the northeast, which gives us 1,200 feet of mat at Chevalier. That's plenty for a Corsair, but not much for my condition. He tells me to close the canopy or the heavy rain will short out my electronics.
As a recent graduate of Instrument Flight Instructor's training, I've made hundreds of hooded Instrument Takeoffs (ITOs). Due to the heavy rainfall, this is no drill. I can't even see the Corsair's long nose! I get the bird off the ground into the stormy night, and circle above the overcast until 3 sets of running lights join on me (but not too close). I had to keep opening the canopy to stay awake, and, sure enough, all my radios failed, except the RDF. Somehow, I find my way to NAS Memphis by pointing at hillbilly music stations. We arrive at the crack of dawn, and the four-G break almost does me in.
Guess what? The SNJs from Pensacola had flown away the afternoon before, while it was still light and VFR, and had filled all the available BOQ space at NAS Memphis. So we were stuck with "no government quarters available." They load us in a bus, and transport us to the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. "Great", you say? None of us brought any clothing! I had my toothbrush, and nothing more.
We spent three days at the Peabody, getting our meals served in our rooms (they wouldn't let us into the dining rooms in our flight suits). We fed the ducks, as I nursed the grandpa of all hangovers. Finally, we were cleared to return to Pensacola, where I found my nurse long gone, and my top-down '51 Mercury convertible, even though it was parked under the carport that the main BOQ residents were assigned, filled with a foot of rainwater.
Somehow, today's hurricanes don't seem as much fun!
* Flying Midshipmen LOG winter 2004-05; © 2005
“I Didn’t Do It !” *
I did a tour in VF-154, flying F8s (Crusaders, not Bearcats). "My" modex NL 403, with my name painted on each side, was being flown one day off the 'Coral Maru' 1 by a junior pilot, who made a "LUL” 2 pass, and ended up with "my" bird hanging over the edge of the flight deck, connected to the boat only by the tail hook. This made a great photo op, and the Navy Safety Center created a most graphic photo poster of it. But they didn't cover up my name which was prominently displayed on the embarrassing photo. Soon the poster was hanging in Navy ready rooms all across the country. I was on shore duty, and had to use up all of my four-hours-per-month in T-1As, flying to various stations with my felt tip pen, so I could either cover up my name or scribble “I wasn't flying it!" on the posters.
* Flying Midshipmen LOG, summer 2004; © 2004.
1 USS Coral Sea (CVB-43).
2 LSO notation for “Lined Up Left.”