Finally a morning broke in Pensacola, Florida for me and my band of brothers to test our skills as countless of our predecessors had. We had received a long, comprehensive brief on what to expect aboard the ship, including a hair-raising series of emergency procedures drills – what to do if the brakes or catapult should fail on deck, for example. When to stay with the aircraft, and when to eject. The point at which you need no longer bother to eject, just so we’d be prepared and recognize our impending doom, if ever we came to it.
The instructor also told us not to “look at her,” when we were holding overhead in formation. We’d get distracted from our primary task of flying in formation, with potentially disastrous consequences. Then he looked us all in the eyes one by one, shook our hands, and wished us luck.
He led us out to the ship, through the radio shifts and into the orbit overhead. In spite of his warnings, I had to look down and see her waiting there below. “TOO SMALL!” my mind screamed, and looking back at my lead I could tell my wingmen had done the same thing as I had: Our previously beautiful four plane formation became the shadow of its former self, as wings rocked left and right while student pilots snuck their peeks at the ship and then back at their lead.
Our time arrived at last, he brought us down into the pattern from behind the ship, and we got our first look at the fantail and landing area from pattern altitude. “TOO SMALL!” but never mind. My lead broke left into the downwind, and after 15 seconds I joined him.
I think I have stressful and difficult days at my job – but even my worst days are nothing like this.