RA-5C pilot Cdr Robert ‘Boom’ Powell details what is was like to launch and land the heaviest aircraft to regularly operate from a US Navy aircraft carrier
On the bow catapult of a US Navy aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin, the yellow-shirted director sweeps one hand low and forward; the other, a bit higher, opens from afist to splayed fingers. The below-the-waist signal is for the catapult crew: ‘take tension’. The high signal is to me, the pilot: ‘release brakes’. I drop my heels to the floor but leave my toes on the rudders. My left hand pushes the throttles to the detent for full power.
While the J-79 engines spool up, I look over to the catapult officer, the ‘shooter’. He is waving his hand, with two fingers up, over his head. I look back in the cockpit at the engine gauges: RPM, temperatures, pressure – all good. The intercom to the back seat is ‘hot,’ so I say, ‘Looks good. You ready?’ The shooter is flicking his hand open and shut. Time for afterburner. I hear, ‘All ready in back’ from the RAN. I push the throttles past the detent as far forward as they can go and brace them there with my fingertips. To reach all the way to the catapult grip requires me to pull my shoulder off the seatback, not good if I have to eject. I quickly check one tiny gauge with two needles for the afterburner nozzle positions. Both swing around symmetrically. Too much time in burner will damage the seawater-cooled blast deflectors that are only a few feet behind the exhausts.