USS GEROGE H.W. BUSH CH 3: FROM F-14 TO F-35C

The final chapter of our three-episode-story aboard CVN-77 including the interview with the Commander of "Blacklions" Fighter Squadron.

F-14 Tomcat Blacklions CVN77 Bush
An F-14D Tomcat assigned to "Blacklions" flies in formation with an F/A-18A+ Hornet assigned to "River Rattlers"
(Photo credit: US Navy)

At sunset, after I took some suggestive pics from the flight deck, we went to the dining room and during the walk I noticed that the lights inside were red. “This color helps the ship to be less visible to enemy’s eyes. The red light is less visible from far away than the classic white. For the same reason, the flight deck operators use blue lights”, a PAO said.

Our first day ends with cab accommodation, inside there are bunk beds, towels, water and courtesy snacks, beautycase, two desks and two lockers.

During the night I slept little, not because of the screen that showed all that happened on the deck, but due to the noise of the takeoffs and landings without stop for whole night. It seems (and in fact it is so) to have them over your head, but while you're asleep, that noise sounds like a cannon, “you don’t notice it after a while” a sailor said.

The next morning we wake up very early to have the opportunity to admire the activities during dawn.

After that we got the breakfast (pancakes and bacon!!) and then we head to one of the Fighter Squadrons’ room where pilots have breafings and prepare for the flight.

We entered in the “Blacklions’ Territory” and what caught me right away was the music and the chairs placed on several semicircle files.

On my left was the organizational area with the board where it is marked which pilot is in flight and at what time. To my left there was a coffee corner and in front of me.... “Iceman”!

I thought I was still too suggestive of the situation, but in front of me there was a billboard with a series of callsigns and a row of colorful coins next to each of them, and the name I read was correct.

They explain to us that the board shows the number of perfect landings (green coins), those that can be improved (yellow coins), those that the pilot misses (black coins), and the wrong ones for reasons non depending from the pilot (white coins).


I noticed that the best was the Squadron Commander Kevin Robb, the one I interviewed.


Thanks for the opportunity you offered us. You flew F-14 and F-18, what of the two do you emotionally prefer?

No doubt F-14: It was the first plane of this type. Technically, the F-18 is more advanced and improved, but if I have to talk with my heart, I prefer F-14.

Soon you will receive the first F-35. Do you think it will be difficult for pilots to switch from F-18 to F-35?

No, for today's pilots no. For that of my generation will surely be more complicated! (Smiled)


Do you think it was more difficult to switch from F-14 to F-18 or will it be more complicated from F-18 to F-35?

This is a good question ... Definitely from F-14 to F-18 for the difference of electronics and power.


What's the hardest thing for a pilot excluding takeoff with catapult and landing with hook?

Well, I think for sure to be always responsive to the communications received: we must immediately understand what is being ordered and do it, in any flight conditions.

Has "your pilot" ever been hostage by the enemy?

No, fortunately no. We have always come back after the missions.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Working far away my family. I've been doing this job for 23 years, 6 years ago I started to be embarked on a carrier for periods of five months per time and staying away from the family is the human most difficult aspect.
Have you ever been afraid?

This is a good question… Let's say you sometimes think about it, but it's my job and I cannot be afraid, otherwise it's the end. We have years of training to deal with all this.

Have you ever had to launch bombs? And how did you feel about it?

Sure and that is not pleasant. But as I said before, we have long been trained to lower emotions to the minimum to stay focused on mission and orders.

What do you do in your spare time when you are not in flight?

My family is at home, this is my second family and it is very important to relax when we do not fly. So we're together to play cards or watch movies.

Thanks again for your time and for answering to my questions.

Thanks to you, it is a pleasure to have you aboard and have a female point of view.

The Commander shakes my hand and drops me with a smile.

I thought the life of the pilots had to be full of internal contrasts, then I turned and saw a board full of pictures of wives and children of the pilots, all hung together with notes and messages. It's really a big family!


In the meantime the fighter pilots started entering the room to prepare the flight, no one wanted to be photographed, the risk of being exposed is too high. I was blocking the passage to one of them, I turned incredulously, it was Iceman! I did not resist and I asked him permission to take a picture of the helmet. 


Then came a girl much younger than me who allowed me to take a couple of pics. She was a Weapon System Officer.


At the end of the visit to the Blacklions we headed for the C-2 Greyhound, it was the time to go back home.

The procedure was the same of previous flight: wear the helmet with eyeglasses and headphones, lifejacket and safety belt well pulled.

This time we were not pushed to the back of our seat, but to the one facing us thanks to the push of the catapult!

When we were in the launch position and the plane pushed the engines to the maximum, the vibration was very strong and I thought what the Super Hornet pilots feel right before the launch.

As soon as the cabin crew made us the takeoff signal I felt I was pushing forward by an impressive force! Two seconds and then the push ended. The sudden change of speed made me feel like being transited from a fighter jet to a glider.

I looked out of the window and the USS Geroge H.W. Bush was already very small...

I think I will remember this adventure for the lifetime.

READ THE CHAPTER ONE HERE AND THE CHAPTER TWO HERE

Thanks to all the personnel of the U.S. Navy who allowed and supported us in the realization of this reportage.

Written by Simona Zanetti
Photo credits: Simona Zanetti and Matteo Sanzani

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