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The Flight Deck
"A little power...power!...now don't climb... a little right for line-up...."
In February of 1969, I eagerly made the drive from Naval Air Station Meridian, Mississippi south and back to NAS Pensacola and VT-4. This time, for several weeks, I would learn air-to-air gunnery, and more importantly, I would carrier qualify in the T-2B aboard the USS Lexington.
Nevertheless, this was to be the most enjoyable period of my year-and-a-half of naval flight training. I had by now gained a great deal of confidence, and I could really enjoy the very challenging gunnery pattern, and carrier qualification (CQ) training. Furthermore, the pace of training seemed to slow (whether real or imagined), and I had more time for other activities and pursuits.
This time, I lived not in the BOQ (Bachelor Officer Quarters), but in a great but very unpretentious beach house on Pensacola Beach. I would attend ground school or training flights in the morning, and would then often spend my afternoons sailing a friend's Sunfish sailboat on the bay.
Unlike my earlier stages of flight training, there was now little homework. This thankfully left time for visits to the area's historical sites, including the Tiki Lounge, Trader Jon's , or Dirty Joe's on Pensalcola Beach (where I even filled in as pizza cook for two weeks while a friend went on vacation), among other things.
An exciting and wonderful spring - and my last duty in Pensacola - would all come to a short end in late May with landing qualification aboard an aircraft carrier. Although I had satisfyingly filled the target banners with many bullet holes in the air-to-air gunnery phase of training, my landing grades aboard the USS Lexington were a little disappointing to me.
Landing a jet aircraft onboard the unstable flight deck of a steaming ship at sea, even under the best weather conditions and smooth sea states, is an incredibly difficult task. That I hyperventilated in my excitement, and could not - nor to this day - cannot remember my first ever carrier landing (a.k.a.: "trap") should not be too surprising.
[Although nearly two years later, I would forever vividly remember my first night CQ, in the F-4 Phantom!]
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