Wednesday, January 18, 2017

R21, the Majestic Melbourne

I've no idea why, but I've always been keenly interested in Australia's last aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne.

I speak of her as Majestic, because she was launched as HMS Majestic in 1945. She was the lead ship in what was to be a class of light carriers. With the war drawing to a close, however, work on Majestic was suspended until, in 1947, she was purchased by Australia for service with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).

Australia actually bought a pair of carriers in 1947, Majestic and Terrible, which was also of the Majestic class. As Terrible was nearer completion, she joined the RAN first, in 1948, as HMAS Sydney.

With one new carrier in hand, and with an additional loaner (HMS Vengeance) from the RN in the interim, Australia asked that Majestic be given the most modern upgrades, including a steam catapult, angled deck, mirror landing system, upgraded arresting gear and barricade, upgraded aircraft fuel storage and distribution, state of the art radars, etc. This work was completed in 1955 and the RAN took delivery of their new flagship, HMAS Melbourne.

One of the things that is fascinating to me is the way the RAN operated a remarkably diverse and capable airwing from such a tiny ship. I think of small carriers as the 27 Charlie Essex/Ticonderoga class, but those were monsters twice the size of the Majestic class.

Below are some interweb videos that you might enjoy. The final two are of a rather famous on-deck ejection which happened on May 23, 1979. The pilot, Kevin Finan, was a US Navy pilot on an exchange tour with the RAN.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


There's an old saying around these parts (perhaps other parts of the northern hemisphere as well), "As the days lengthen, the cold will strengthen."

That's only true for a while though. January is our coldest month, averaging a mean temperature of 26.9 degrees over the last 123 years. The average January hi is 40.3 and the low 13.4. December's 123 year mean is 28.4. February, despite it's dreary, chill reputation, boasts a mean temp of 29.4.

So yeah, the cold strengthens after the first of the year, but before very many days pass the increasing sun angle and daylight duration begin to work their warming magic. March will deliver an average hi of 49.8 and average low of 22.2, for a mean of a balmy 36 degrees. And April, which is the one that comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb in this part of the country, will have a mean temperature of 45.2. That's skinny-dippin' weather!

But I digress. When I saw the surgeon last I was a bit concerned that I'd be chastised for abandoning the crutches. My foot was still sore but felt solid, and crutches are aluminum death on winter's ice, so I turned them back in to the crutch rental counter at the local pharmacy.

I needn't have worried though. "People know when they can start bearing weight," said the surgeon. He was quite pleased with the miracle he had wrought on my previously badly infected heel. "Looks like the infection is all gone," he said. "I've rarely seen anyone heal up so quickly. Whatever you're doing keep it up."

I do have to continue the IV antibiotics through January 19, which as I write this means 13 5 2 (count 'em two) more trips to the local infusion emporium. As you can probably tell, I have not been a very good blogger of late, with drafts going unposted for weeks at a time.

Anyway it looks as if I'll be able to put this bone infection behind me finally. It's been a very long five months. And now that the infection has been killed I'm beginning to realize how sick I was. Even with the dang cold I recently picked up I'm feeling like Superman. Well, perhaps Superboy. A young Superboy. But that's still a lot better than feeling like Debilitatedman.

As for the cold I'm battling, I can be rather certain that it's a viral illness rather than bacterial. With all that high-powered antibiotic coursing through my veins I doubt that any respiratory pathogens could survive long enough to colonize a single alveoli. Alveolus? One of those.

As colds go it's pretty mild. Stuffed head and a lot of lung junk causing a cough. Sore throat from the sinus drainage. A little fever, but not much of one. The last couple of winter colds were just awful, full-blown bouts of influenza that made me unspeakably miserable for 2-3 weeks. This is nothing.

I jumped on it hard with guaifenesin extended release, naprosyn and acetaminophen, lots of fluids, and Jewish penicillin (chicken soup).

As I may have mentioned here earlier I had to sell all my cows. With my foot the way it was and the recovery timescale rather uncertain, I couldn't be sure that I'd be able to properly care for them. They represented a hell of a lot of money and a train wreck would have been disastrous. So I sold 'em and put the money in the bank, where it will be available to buy newer, younger, better cows in the next few months.

I did keep the bulls back; there was no way to get a reasonable price for them at auction and I was pretty sure I could take care of such a small number of animals regardless of my condition.

This morning it looks like we're having a nice January warm spell, what J.B. Books (John Wayne) and his landlady Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) called a "false spring." Sun is shining in a clear blue sky and there's very little wind. The temperature is edging north of the freezing mark and is expected to soar into the mid-50's in the next couple of days.

I'm enjoying the sunshine and relative warmth, even though part of me is quite cross that I can't yet get out and work. My foot is healing from the surgery every day, but it's still healing, and overdoing it at this point could be a not good thing in the long run. So I'll continue to practice patience.

Here are a few things that have helped me while away the endless hours.

Fast Movers is, as the subtitle suggests, the tales of a few select jet aircrew and their experiences in Vietnam. Fourteen of them including Olds, Ritchie, Nichols, Rasimus, etc. F-4 and A-6 guys in the main. It's some superb stuff.

Exocet Falklands is an insider's tale regarding Brit special operations during the Falklands War in 1982. I'll bet you had no idea that Limey snake eaters were operating in Chile.

I haven't started Pelandok yet but it promises to be a good read. It's a fictional account of what might have happened if the RAN (Royal Australian Navy) had been confronted with a nuclear threat from beneath the sea. Written by a former RAN ASW aircrew bubba, the book promises some H-3 Sea King and S-2G Tracker action from the decks of HMAS Melbourne, Australia's Majestic Class carrier.

And as if that's not enough, i just took delivery of this.

Gonna be fun times when spring finally gets sprung. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A cautionary tale

I've been out of the naviating game for a very long time. I am not, nor was I ever, a navy pilot. I never had a set or orders reading "for duty involving actual control of aircraft." I was an aircrewman; a SAR corpsman and rescue swimmer. Like many of my peers I managed to collect a good chunk of bootleg stick time in H-1's and H-3's, but that was all daytime fun and games. Toward the end of my career I did get some right seat time in the Intruder both ashore and afloat including 27 day traps and 13 night traps. During my 14 years of active naval flying I spent nearly all of my time intimately involved with the day-to-day operations of fixed- and rotary-wing squadrons attached to deploying carrier air wings. I made eight major deployments and served in Nimitz, America, Coral Sea and Theodore Roosevelt. And Eisenhower. Yike, how could I forget Ike?

With that experience under my belt I feel like I'm just a little bit qualified to make an observation. I hope you can understand that I'm not trying to bash anyone, nor m I trying to make the "my generation was better than your generation is" argument.

In viewing the video below I was rather taken aback at the fact that  so many people were freaked out over the pitching deck. This video was made in 2005, btw, so it surely doesn't represent carrier aviation in 2016.

In my day a pitching deck wasn't loved and embraced, but it was par for the course. You didn't like it, but you lived with it. And as the Captain says in this video, the skills of carrier aviation are perishable and have to be practiced and kept current -- including operating when conditions are marginal.

In 2005 these folks were clearly surprised and dismayed to see a pitching deck. They'd spent the last two years operating in the Arabian Sea, dropping smart bombs on discrete targets under mostly ideal conditions and with total air supremacy. Unless I miss my guess this really hasn't changed much in the last 11 years. We now have fewer jets and fewer, smaller air wings. We have an enormous emphasis on preventing mishaps, which is perhaps less about safety and risk management than about avoiding black marks.

Today I find myself wondering exactly how degraded our blue water warfighting skills have become. Again, not to bash anyone, but I wonder whether we have the raw capability to execute real world missions around the globe under adverse conditions. We did in my day. Can we do it today?

In contrast, watch and listen to this barricade arrestment from 1987. BTW, Bug (the LSO) and Atlas (A-6 pilot) have been gone for more than 20 years now. They each died while flying naval aircraft. 

Food for thought.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"It's just a virus yuh big gurrl!"

There's a scene in Crocodile Dundee (or maybe CDII, I forget) where Mick sics a big snake on the bad guys who were gathered around a campfire in the non-steakhouse outback. The bad guys scream like girls, with the exception of their Australian guide, who dispatches the snake and says, "It's just a python yuh big gurrl!"

I tried to find that clip but was unsuccessful. Ah well.

So anyway, I'm healing up nicely from my recent foot infection/surgery. Still a little gimpy but getting better every day. And only nine more days of IV antibiotics!

Unfortunately, I managed to catch the holiday cold that's going around. Cough and congestion, aches and pains, fever and chills, malaise and exhaustion. You get the picture. Five days into this thing and I'm miserable as hell. It's not nearly as bad as the last two winter cold/flu episodes I had, so that is a big plus. But I'm still feeling crappy enough to feel vewy, vewy sowwy fow mysef.

We had some very cold weather last week, with overnight lows falling to minus 20 and a three-day average temp of well below zero. The last few days have been quite balmy and pleasant with daytime temps nudging 50 and a good bit of sunshine. South and west of us the winds are howling but they remain fairly calm here.

Perusing my daily blogs I note that Sarge had a rough go-round with caffeine-fueled insomnia last night. I hate it when that happens. Which reminds me of a story from my youth.

Sometime back in the mid- to late-60's, a new winter beverage wave was sweeping the nation. I mentioned this to several people this morning and they all started edging away from me and preparing to run. But it was real, and really, really a thing. I have proof!

Well, out on the ranch we took note of Dick's recommendation, and on New Year's Eve Mom prepared a steaming cauldron of the stuff for to toast in the New Year.

I probably drank a gallon.

And didn't sleep at all that night. It was quite vexing.

Many years later I was in boot camp at RTC San Diego. Somehow I managed to be the academic honor recruit of the company. Myself and a pair of other company honorees were allowed two hours of on-base liberty the night before graduation. Which seemed like a really big deal at the time but which actually meant we had to hump it two miles to a gedunk stand (our only allowed "liberty" destination) and back within the allotted time frame, and somehow figure out how to have a fun, relaxing and joyous time.

Well, the gedunk stand had pop and candy bars and nothing else. I'm guessing we each consumed a dozen snickers and a dozen cans of pop. I was a Dr Pepper man so that was my poison. As you might imagine, we lingered as long as we possibly could at the gedunk stand, reveling in our pseudo freedom. We waited long past a prudent time to begin our return to the barracks, but we were young and fit and used to running our silly naval asses off.

We hadn't before had the opportunity to run with bellies full of chocolate, caramel, peanuts and frothing carbonated syrup though. We were really very nearly late, and decided to run across the main grinder (parade/marching ground) to save time. This maneuver, iirc, was strictly forbidden, but it was mid-winter and already dark out and the grinders were not well illuminated. We dashed across, despite the possibility of being caught and sent to Leavenworth.

Well, we dashed part-way across. In the middle of the grinder our stomachs finally rebelled at the abuse and we three pretty much simultaneously blew bubbling goo all over the asphalt.

With all that crap out of our systems we could run like deer and we returned to the barracks in the nick of time.

The next morning was graduation, with hundreds of newly-minted sailors marching in review in front of lots of brass and proud family members. For some unexplained reason, though, there were hundreds of seagulls flocking around three oval stains in the middle of the grinder.


Thursday, December 29, 2016


As Sarge points out over at the Chant, there are a lot of silly bastards blaming the year 2016 for killing all their BFF's. It's a conspiracy that many seem to genuinely believe. It also seems that the true believers are the ones who live in the SJW realm, that mind-rotting cesspool that the gubmint and media would have you believe is the core of reality.

SMH, Facepalm.

An old shipmate of mine died on December 11. Moise Willis was only 57.

I first met Mo at Oceana in about 1985. We were both squadron corpsmen, both E-5's. We worked a lot together and stood a lot of watches together. When you do that, you get to know one another in a way that's perhaps unique to the military. Mo was a hell of a good guy. A hell of a solid shipmate.

He went on to be commissioned in the Navy Nurse corps and retired as a Captain. I had no idea, but I'm not surprised. I'm proud of his accomplishments.

When we mourn the passing of our friends, and even of our idols, our first flush of emotion is selfish. It's about our loss. That's okay, it's the way we're wired. At some point, though, we must find a way to remember a sense of gratitude for the time we shared with our departed friend.

And here's the Mo I remember best, wearing a bright-eyed happy smile with just a touch of lurking sailor-mischievousness. I'll miss you, Mo, and I was blessed to know you as a shipmate. Thanks. Fair winds and following seas.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The physics of not hitting the ground on Christmas (or any other day)

Merry Christmas to all!

My 5:30 a.m. Christmas Day wakeup call was a thunderstorm.
That's right, lightning, thunder and heavy rain. The temperature wasn't very far north of freezing and the ground was still frozen so the rain turned instantly to slush, then ice. As I write this the temperature is 33 and falling, it's very foggy, and a brisk north wind is driving a fresh batch of stinging sleet from the heavens. The weather guesses say it's supposed to start snowing and blowing in an hour or so. On the upside, we're looking only at an inch of snow in the prediction. On the downside, that's enough to make a blizzard. So not a great travelling day.

And now, on with the show.

The other day Sarge had a post about the phynal phlights of the Phantom in U.S. service. Posted a couple of interesting videos he did. Extremely cool to see those lovely QF-4E's motoring around the Wisconsin sky.

One video was taken from the ground and the other was a helmet cam video from inside the cockpit. As I said, they were fun to watch, but parts of each video made me cringe. I did not feel good about the low speed dirty pass.

That pass was made at about 500' AGL with gear, flaps and hook down, very slow, and with a pretty hefty angle of attack. I think they were demonstrating both the carrier landing configuration and slow speed flight.

Now I'm not a pilot, and I've never played one on tee-vee. Nor have I stayed at a holiday inn express. I did in my younger days spend a bit of time around naval air patches, ashore and afloat, and I've seen more than one low and slow come out on the wrong side of the ledger.

In the comments of sarge's post Juvat explained what being behind the power curve means in aviation. Basically, you can get into a part of the flight envelope where you no longer have enough power available to 1) avoid the stall and/or 2) overcome the inertia of your descent vector. With enough altitude you can recover before hitting the ground, but without enough altitude you will hit the ground most crunchingly.

One of the first mishaps I investigated was the one that took the life of the first female Naval Aviator, Barbara Allen Rainey and her student Naval Aviator. They got low and slow and hit the ground.

One of the last mishaps I worked was for an F/A-18, the pilot of which entered a loop at too low altitude at an airshow in California.

In between those two I saw a number of slow, dirty, nose-high aircraft come to grief. And that's why the passes in those videos made me nervous.

Here are a couple of interesting videos. One is old-old school, one merely old school. A video can be worth a zillion words.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

By popular demand

The post-surgical checkup went well. Surgeon was very pleased with the way the wound is healing and the way the infection is clearing up. Since the surgeon is pleased, I also is pleased.

The sutures came out today, so one of my pre-visit wishes came true. The other wish, to have my picc line removed and switch to oral antibiotics, well... That one did not come true. The guidelines for this kind of infection call for six weeks of post-surgical IV antibiotics, and that's just the way it is. So another month of that. I can't and won't complain because it's such a very small price to pay. Especially when you consider that it wasn't so very long ago when this kind of infection guaranteed amputation and was more often than not a death sentence.

Before today's visit I'd been pretty sure that I'd be allowed to start bearing weight and rehabbing -- at least a little bit. I was wrong on that though. No weight bearing until at least four weeks post-surgery, so January 5. That's the date of my next follow up appointment.

So, all in all, a good visit and a good report. Seems there's a light at the end of the tunnel!

Now for the gore, although I'm afraid it's getting to be pretty tame gore. In fact it's nearly fake gore at this point. :)
Moments before the sutures came out.

Sutures gone, steri-strips in place.

Christmas at sea

I spent well over half of my military Christmases underway on the big grey bird boat. Well, not always underway, because the boat was occasionally in port on the blessed day. Regardless, Christmas on the boat was very little different than any other day on the boat. If you were in port and were in the duty section, you had a pretty normal work day. If you were not in the duty section you could go ashore, provided, of course, that you had not run afoul of some rule or regulation and had your liberty "modified." In my early navy days it was not unusual for my liberty to have been modified in some fashion.

I do remember going ashore in Naples on Christmas Day. Pretty sure that was in '83. It was nice to get off the boat and walk around but there wasn't anything Christmasy to do other than get drunk in a sailor bar. There was a lot of that going on, as I recall, but I really wasn't in the mood. I returned to the boat early and a bit dejected and missed the big Christmas meal. Now that was a real bummer.

It was a bummer because on every ship I deployed on the cooks went out of their minds insane to produce a remarkable meal. Now in general navy chow, at least in my experience, was very, very good. The food was well and correctly prepared and served. It was tasty and nourishing. There was plenty of variety. Some of it was a bit strange, like the extruded "french fries," but only rarely did I see a really bad meal, and those were limited to midrat leftovers. And box lunches, of course. But that's a different post.

The only downside to navy chow, especially on the boat, was the chow line. I really didn't like standing in those lines. To this day, if there's a line at a fast food place -- or any other place come to think of it -- I take my business elsewhere.

So anyway, chow was always pretty good on the boat, at least in my experience. But on Thanksgiving and Christmas it was astonishingly good. Perhaps the festive decorations helped, and perhaps the crew's knowledge that it was a special day and special meal eased deployment grumpiness and lifted spirits. In fact I'm sure that was part of it. But believe it or not, the quality, flavor and satisfaction of holiday meals on the boats I served on absolutely rivaled the best holiday meals I ever had at home.

Most of those deployed holiday meals have long since run together in my mind. The abiding memory is one of very good food and a certain kind of holiday cheer that you'll only ever find on a deployed warship. It's holiday cheer spiked with a strong sense of giving. I don't remember anyone ever talking about it, but I think we all felt that serving at the pointy end on Christmas was a gift to our fellow Americans. The following menus are from well before my time, but they ring true to the spirit and the food I experienced underway at Christmas.

Foot update: Today is the 14th day post-surgery. The infection seems to be coming under control, though it also seems to have a ways to go. In general the foot feels "better." I did have a fall on the ice yesterday, and during that fall I whacked my heel pretty good, so I'm having a bit more pain than I had pre-fall. I don't think it's any big deal, just one of those things. I'm still getting IV antibiotics. I'll be seeing the surgeon today and see what he has to say about where I am and where I'm headed. I'd like to get the sutures out, and I'd like to lose the picc line and perhaps go on a course of oral antibiotics to finish this off, but what I'd like and what makes sense medically may be at odds. We'll see.