In the Career path of Naval Aviation, the hands down ‘coolest’ job is the one that includes the “Office with a Window”. However, “Shore Tours” or “Ships Company” tours are required in checking the necessary boxes expected for career advancement.
So what are the coolest jobs in Naval Aviation for the customary 2nd tour?
One job, identified by many who have worn the Yellow Shirt, is Cat and Arresting Gear Officer. AKA “Shooter”. So important is this role it is even immortalized here in the banner of The Tailhook Daily Briefing. We all know “That Pose” and what it means. You’re going flying! Whether you like it or not!
For those of you who visit these pages for an education about Naval Aviation I offer up the following narrative from guest author Cdr. Bill “Pinch” Paisley (USN Ret) a former F-14 RIO and a “Shooter” aboard The USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) about what it was to be a Shooter.
Being a Cat Officer on a US aircraft carrier was one of the coolest jobs I ever had - bar none (outside a cockpit, mind you). You'd come up on deck 30 min before launch to get everything all set with the V-2 guys and (now) gals, pre-flight the cat, walk the track, inspect the aircraft holdback equipment, all that. If it was a morning launch, you'd be up at 0-dark-30 as your cat teams do their pre-operational checks and shoot no-loads - the cat firings with no aircraft attached to verify proper operation. You'd also be up for some of those early morning sunrises at sea where you simply catch your breath in its beauty.
If you had weight chit duty, you'd head on over to Flight Deck Control at the base of the island where each aircrew would stop by to drop off a slip of paper with their aircraft weight and scheduled ordnance, if they had any bombs or missiles. You'd find the heaviest aircraft and calculate what the winds were needed to get that aerospace pig flying, and report that to the Boss up in Pri Fly, who would pass on to the bridge so they knew what wind over the deck was required. (Probably one of my first "Note To Self" moments: When you leave Flight Deck Control with these 16 or 18 little pieces of paper, you shove them in your pocket to save and review if there is some question about wind over deck. Shove them *deep* into your pocket. You do not want them working their way out and spreading, snow-storm-like down the deck in 30 knots of wind and exhaust and all that. Tends to bring unwanted attention to yourself).
We'd launch the E-2 Hawkeye 10 minutes before the regular launch to give them time to get out on station. Catapults are numbered from Starboard to Port, the Bow Cats being #1 and #2 and the Waist Cats being #3 and #4. After the ‘Hummer’ was launched, the Bow cat officer would get with the waist cat officer - and this is when the fun would start - and we'd coordinate the launch – who would go first (say Cat 2), then who was next (cat 3), and so on. There was always a sequence you needed to follow - for example to make sure exhaust from one aircraft at full power won't send hot confused and roiling air into the intake of some other aircraft at full power. Or, as evidenced in the video (embedded further down in this article), catapult 2 was launched first because a Tomcat's wings, when positioned on catapult spread for launch, foul the catapult 3 shot line.
A carrier, as they say, is predictable in two evolutions - that is, a sub or whatever will know *exactly* where it is headed - and that is during launch and during recovery. Even today with the advanced submersed weapons that can find anything anywhere, you still want to remain as unpredictable a platform as you can. As a result, you wanted to get that launch wrapped up *as quick as possible* so the carrier can be on its merry way. So once we started, it was "load and shoot", over and over again till done.
After the E-2 shot, the flight deck beacon (tells everyone the status of the launch (red hold, amber 5 minute warning, green launch!)) the flight deck boys would bring up the jets and position them as per our launch sequence plan (LSP). After that, wed' just wait...usually in 30 knots of wind, often (on the waist) hot exhaust blowing on you, just...waiting.
Even though we were tied in to everyone and everything via radio, we'd still sit there and watch that beacon. The light on the island would go from red to amber - meaning 5 minutes to launch. Load up the cats - 4 jets would be taxied up, one to each catapult - nose launch bar lowered, holdback attached, Tomcat wings would spread, flaps lowered, weapons armed, and we'd stand by, knowing everything was working smoothly, just waiting for that green light.
When it went green, no time to waste...you gave the "come on" signal with your hands to the hook up petty officer, he did his magic to make sure there was a good hook up (launch bar into catapult shuttle), and you start your finger-waggling "go to full power" signal.
While this was going on cat 2, cat 3 was coming up to full power too. A perfect first launch was a "boom" as the cat 2 pistons, each weighing a ton, hit the water brakes at about 160 mph - separated by a second or two by a second "boom" as the cat 3 pistons hit. After that, you launch 'em as fast as the Fly petty officers can load them. You are always peeking over to the other launch cats (bow to waist or waist up to bow) to see where they are in their sequence so you could time yours to be a second after theirs.
You'd say the little Cat O litany as you are scanning the aircraft during the launch process to make sure everything *looks* right- "Flaps, slats, panels, pins (all look good), man is out (hook up petty officer is out from under the aircraft), thumbs up (meaning good hook up), thumbs up final checkers (dudes
at the aft part of the aircraft have thumbs up, meaning the engine area on the jet is looking good - no leaks, fuel or hydraulic or anything like that), winds are good...going burner...burner looks good (if it is a burner shot), scan the cat track up to the bow/end of the waist, back along the deck edge (no FOD, or people where they shouldn't be), back to the pilot and aircraft, up to the rotating beacon to make sure it hasn't turned red for some reason, back to the pilot to make sure he is still good to go, check winds to make sure they are still what they need to be, check steam for 520 psi pressure, back to pilot, watch for that salute (because everyone knows you always salute when you leave the ship!), make sure he is not shaking his head "NO!" and *boom*...that airplane is going flying!
The shaking of the pilot's head "NO!" was an important part in this whole evolution. If there is a problem inside the cockpit that could be a serious problem, the pilot could not always be counted on to be able to communicate that problem via radio - electrical failure, radio malfunction, chatter on the communications network, whatever. The Cat Officer's last look is at the pilot.
When the "launch" button is pressed, a signal is sent to open the launch valve control valve, porting a specific amount (based on aircraft weight) of high pressure hydraulic fluid to open the launch valves, allowing steam at 520 pounds per square inch to travel through the launch valves, pushing the catapult pistons, with the aircraft hooked up to them, accelerating a 34-ton F-14 to 150 miles per hour in 300 feet.
In the middle of this whole launch event, I can remember thinking once "This. Is. Kick. ASS!" and how no place else in the world could you have this much action and responsibility and coolness and sense of worth and knowing you are part of one of the finest and most complex evolution ever devised by man. It is at times like that you realize you are at - yes, as Cat O during a launch - you are at the apex of that whole pyramid of complex engineering and action. America had 12 carriers at that time with 2 or 3 in extended refit, leaving 9 or 10 active deployable carriers. Each of these remaining carriers had 3 or 4 qualified and experienced catapult officers as part of her ship's company, so you realize...I am doing a job that only a couple dozen people in the world do. I know there were other jobs for a JO's second tour that may have been more fun and glamorous and sexy or whatever, but for sheer excitement and a studly "clank-when-you-walk" factor? Hard to beat this.
So there you have it. What’s your idea of a cool Naval Aviation Job (Not in the window office)?