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For Combat Pilots, What Counts Is Scorecard on Perfect Landings With AM-Gulf-Iraq, Bjt

December 30, 1990

ABOARD THE USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (AP) _ For combat pilots on the carrier USS John F. Kennedy, what counts most is the large ″greenie″ scoreboard in every squadron that shows who landed perfectly and who didn’t.

″The thing that scares us most, even more than flying in combat and dying really, is the fear of failing in the eyes of fellow pilots or ourselves,″ said Navy Lt. Wes Huey, 25, of Pensacola, Fla., who’s been an F-14 pilot for just more than two months.

In the elite circle of combat aviators, there is no greater skill than a perfect carrier landing - catching the third of four wires stretched across a rolling, pitching deck with a hook under the tail of an F-14 interceptor or A- 7 light-attack aircraft.

To do it on a moonless night is the pinnacle of precision flying ″with no exaggeration,″ said Lt. Cmdr. Val Diers, 33, of Norman, Okla., who’s mainly been flying A-7s for 12 years.

On carriers like the 82,000-ton Kennedy, whose key feature is its compact runway - which is always moving with the ship - a bad landing can spell disaster. Hence, there is a premium on perfection.

The ″greenie″ boards hold a prominent position in the ready rooms of every squadron where pilots gather and wait for their next takeoff. The boards not only record the quality of every landing but promote the competitive edge crucial for combat aviators.

″That’s how we grade ourselves,″ Diers said. ″Each landing is critiqued and it’s a big deal for a Navy pilot.″

Every time a landing cycle starts on the carrier, pilots from each squadron stand on the side of the flight deck, guiding their planes in and grading the landings, which can be watched on television.

Slowing down from several hundred miles an hour to catch the No. 3 wire and come to a complete stop in seconds gets a big green mark on the board.

An average landing, slightly short on the No. 2 wire or too long on the No. 4, gets a yellow mark. An orange or red mark means a safe but below-average landing.

A white mark with a large B in it means a ″bolter,″ missing all four wires and having to try again. Uusually, it’s the newer pilots who miss.

As Diers looked at the board on the back wall of his A-7 squadron, VA-46, he pointed with pride to the large field of green, with a scattering of yellows and reds and just a few whites.

″Most of them hit that target wire - they’re that good,″ he said.

There is stiff competition between the junior and senior pilots in Huey’s F-14 squadron, VF-32, and its board had a similar emerald hue.

″It’s all just a competitive experience from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to bed,″ said Huey, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. His father was an F-4 pilot.

″Where else in the world do you find people berating their fellow workers with things they’ve done wrong, but in the fighter pilot profession?″ he asked.

″It’s all sort of a stress test that we go through when we’re not actually out there flying in the arena where stress is the way of life. We sort of try to bring that into our daily routine, so that it’s not such a shock when we do get into combat,″ he said.

Like Huey, many pilots on the Kennedy said they’re ready for war with Iraq but hope for a peaceful solution.

Lt. Dan Turner, 29, of Jacksonville, Fla., said he hoped he’d never have to use the laser-guided bombs or anti-radiation missiles on his A-7.

″By being out here, hopefully we’re providing the punch to make him pull back,″ he said of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

Lt. Timothy J. Naughton, 27, of Sheldon, Iowa, an A-7 pilot like his father - who is now NASA’s chief of operations at the Johnson Space Center - said ″no one ever wants to go to war.″

″It’s always fun to drop bombs ... if you know there’s no one around and no one shoots back at you. But no one wants to get shot at,″ he said.

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