Scoop Deck blogger Lance M. Bacon just completed a 24-hour embark aboard the carrier Harry S Truman. This is the play-by-play.
Capt. Jay “Spock” Bynum talks with Scoop Deck as closed circuit TV gives live feed of an F/A-18 trap over his shoulder. (Photos by Lance M. Bacon)
Scoop Deck is in the office of Capt. Jay “Spock” Bynum. This is a pretty cool meeting – some 20 years ago, Spock and I were aboard Independence as she kicked off Operation Desert Shield. I was with the Marine Detachment and he was a lieutenant with the VFA-113 Stingers. Small world.
Spock has since traded his bars for birds and now heads “The Battle Axe,” aka Carrier Air Wing 3. Established July 1, 1938, it is one of the two oldest carrier air wings in continuous commission (This is the wing that hammered the Japanese carrier Soryu in the battle of Midway, fought over Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, and participated in the first carrier strikes against Tokyo.)
Today, he has more than 1,700 people and some 80 aircraft preparing for operations in Afghanistan and the Arabian Gulf.
But whether a pilot in World War II or Enduring Freedom, Spock says all Navy pilots are united in one event that will shoot your blood pressure into triple digits faster than a n AIM 7Sparrow.
Spock just nailed his last trap of the day in a Super Hornet, and is scheduled for a night arrest in a C-variant in a few hours. And the bottom line, he says, is this: “When you go hook-down to land, you’re all by yourself.”
Spock said medical monitors placed on pilots found that landing on a carrier at night had physiological effects remarkably consistent with the stress of combat. It’s not hard to understand why.
It’s always in the back of your mind. As soon as you go off the front end, you start thinking that in about an hour and a half you’ll come back and have to land on the back end.”
Repeated training and simulation looks to make the landings as routine and predictable as possible, but there will always be a significant pucker factor. Perhaps that’s why Spock admits that while day traps are “fun,” the night traps remain a matter of “personal pride.”
That’s a telling statement from this aviator, who is so humble about his accomplishments that he doesn’t even know how many night traps he has. Or combat sorties (somewhere near 100, he estimates). Even his flight bag is absent of the patches that typically announce such accomplishments.
His values are not based on such statistics. Instead, he reflects on the principles of Adm. John Nathman, former VCNO.
“We fly, fight and lead,” Spock said. “It starts by understanding who we are and what we do. Then we fight. We’re not air show pilots. And we lead – from the front.”