Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Your Fraidy Hole?

The conversation dealt with fear. It took place between the Missus and I over a plate of scrumptious ribs and beans at the Rib Crib. Umm, umm umm. Thinking back on your life, what time or place or incident struck fear to your very core? Was it an important academic test? A close call on the highway? An encounter with a criminal element? Was there something that left you gasping for breath or shaking in your boots. I’m sure everyone, at some point, had something quite unexpected happen that you will always remember and maybe have nightmares about. For the Missus, her scariest time was childbirth. What’s yours?

In keeping with the theme of the novel Fraidy Hole where poor Melissa struggles to stay alive, I invite you to submit your scariest moment. I will reprint it on my blog, keeping it anonymous if you prefer. To start if off, here’s mine:

I was in my third year of enlistment in the good ol’ U.S of N., The United States Navy. Instead of some exotic port in the Far East, I had the misfortune of being assigned to duty at Chase Field, Beeville by Gawd Texas. It was a Naval Aviation training facility, VT-26, where fresh young ensigns, just out of the classrooms and propeller trainers, were taught how to fly an actual jet airplane, the F11F. I, being a lowly 3rd class Petty Officer, had the title of Aviation Electronics Technician. My job was on the flight line, the tarmac, where dozens of planes went off to the wild blue yonder on a daily basis. Any radio or navigation instrument problems on the airplanes were my responsibility to fix… and as quickly as possible.

The scary day happened when I heard a call on the line shack radio that plane #301 (I’ll never forget that number) had a problem. It was the lead plane, the instructors. in a flight of four. All were fired up, engines on idle, ready to take off and serve their country, but there was a problem, the radio was dead. You can’t teach young men how to fly with the birds if your radio doesn’t work.

I pulled out the ladder steps on the side of the airplane—directly in front of the jet intake where hundreds of razor sharp turbine blades sucked at your body—and asked (yelled at) the pilot what was wrong. He pointed at the microphone and gave me a thumbs down. No transmitter. There wasn’t time for a whole lot of trouble shooting, not with four jet engines sucking gas, and I decided to go ahead and swap out the radio with a good one that I always had on my little yellow vehicle.

The way you got to the radio was this: Under the plane and just behind the nose gear, there was a panel with a latch and a hinge. The radio was mounted on the back side of that panel. Working as fast as I could, I removed the connectors, the antenna cable, and the safety wire that kept the lockdown screws in place, and made the change out. It took about five minutes. I come out from under the plane and the pilot now has his thumb up. All is well and the flight taxies to the end of the runway. Here, the ordinance boys load them up with live ammo for today’s target practice.

It was on the way back to my work station that had I this awful little thought. “Did I shut the hatch after I finished up…or not?” With that hatch open, the nose gear could not retract and when the hydraulics meet an immovable object well, nothing good could come of it. I dash into the line shack where they have communication with the tower and told him to hold 301 until I could check it. But his radio wasn’t working right and he’s not getting an answer and when he finally does get through… “Too late, they just took off.”

I’m sweating bullets. Did the ammo guys catch the problem? If there was one? All seems normal. No excited SOS calls on the radios. Nobody  is screaming “EJECT, EJECT!” I had just started to breath again when I hear the sirens from the emergency vehicles start up. Oh shit.

Have I just caused a million dollar aircraft to crash? And OH MY GOD, what if the pilot is injured or… no, I don’t want to think about that. At the very least, I’m going to the brig, twenty, thirty years? If there was ever a time when I wanted to go AWOL, that was it. There was nothing I could do but stand there, heart beating out of chest, and wait. The flight circles the field and, one by one, hit the runway while the fire trucks watch. Then I see it, old #301 taxiing to his designated spot, the plane captain directing his movements. The emergency trucks are still on the runway, ready to deal with some other potential problem but 301 is safely home.

Of course that happened many years ago. I doubt this old heart could beat that fast and hard again and not spring a leak somewhere. The flashing red lights would be coming in my direction.

Now, what’s your scariest moment?

The F11F Tiger Cat

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