by Rogue Writer
While in the Navy I was witness to some strange occurrences.
|The Bizarre Happenings. Number Two.
During my three-year tour of duty, with the Navy, I was attached to the US Naval Air Station New York. Affectionately known to all that lived there as NASNY Land, for those who have no knowledge of the place, it was located at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn at the mouth of the inlet to Jamaica Bay, just across from Riis Park. Our organization supported a large number of Reserve Squadrons, weekend warriors; we maintained over one hundred aircraft and helicopters. All but twenty-six were slated as Anti-Submarine-Warfare (ASW) weapons.
Of all the personnel on board, about twenty percent lived off station. I was one of those twenty percent. Except for duty nights, we were allowed to leave the station after evening muster and had to be back for morning muster. We stood duty one in six nights, which consisted of either gate guard duty, fire watch or security detail at the BOQ and Enlisted men’s club. Our days off were either a Monday or Tuesday; weekends were workdays to support the Reservists. We had a small regular Navy ASW operation going on around the clock.
Now I am going to relate three true stories about incidents that occurred at NASNY Land, one of which was never fully resolved.
Lend me that plane. Please?
One of the aircraft that we maintained was a Jet designated as an A-4 Skyhawk. It was a single seat, single jet engine, carrier based fighter and ground support aircraft. Our line had twenty-five A-4’s. On any given weekend there would be fifteen to twenty out on training missions.
Every weekend we had reservists shuttled in from upstate with our C-117 transport. On this particular Saturday, one Reservist claimed to be an officer with a squadron in Virginia and needed an aircraft to fly down and meet up with his group.
Not being the sharpest tool in the shed, our flight Operations Officer authorized one of the A-4’s to be put on loan to this young gentleman. Without double-checking his story.
They outfitted him with a flight suit and had him sign the receipt form. The Line Officer on watch walked him out to the line and helped him into the cockpit. He helped the guy get strapped in, then dismounted the ladder and stood back. The Line Officer and crew chief realized something was drastically wrong when the man in the cockpit called down, “How do you start this thing? You didn’t give me the keys!” This particular bird was started with an external ground start device.
If this imposter had been able to start it, taxi it out to the runway and attempt to take off, he would have succeeded in doing one of two things. Steal a one million dollar fighter aircraft from an active Naval Air Station or crash it into Flatbush Avenue with three thousand pounds of jet fuel in the middle of a busy Saturday Morning.
Needless to say, the imposter was arrested, it was hushed up and the officers involved were transferred.
The Mystery Van.
I mentioned that we stood a watch every sixth night. The evening was broken up into three four-hour watches, six, ten and two. The O.O.D. (Officer of the Day) was responsible for anything that happened on his tour or watch. On this particular night I was assigned the ten to two fire watch at hangar ‘A’.
Every evening started with the Petty Officer of the watch (POOW) taking a step van, with all of the men assigned to the first watch and distributing them throughout the base at their appropriate locations. He leaves each man with a clipboard designating his patrol area and where and when he is to be picked up and relieved. Four hours later the POOW does the same thing with the next watch crew, dropping them off and retrieving them on the way back. The last two stops are Hangar ‘B’ and then ‘A’.
These two structures are ten stories tall, half of one of them housed a Christmas party for over two thousand of us, so you can imagine the floor space in those buildings.
On your duty night, your day starts normally, you work your normal job during the day, and you stand your post that night. The following day you must make your normal morning muster, work that day and after evening muster you are released on your own time.
On this particular evening, at two AM, I am sitting in an office desk chair, in the middle of Hangar ‘A’, my feet up on the tire of a P-2V Neptune Patrol Air Craft, Dozing and waiting for my relief to show up. I had the perfect position, a clear view of the entire hangar, no obstruction. I was daydreaming of better times and places; I was rudely awakened by the sound of a nightstick banging on the metal access door at the side of the hangar. My queue to move my ass, after all, I was assigned to watch for fires.
So I jumped up and started to walk in the opposite direction, around the tail of the Neptune, then behind three A-4’s in various stages of maintenance and back along the rear apron of the concrete hangar floor. I could see the POOW’s flashlight sweeping around as he almost followed me around the same path. As I approached another Neptune on the other side of the floor, I ducked into the belly hatch aft of the bomb bay and lifted myself into the plane. I watched the occasional reflection of his light as he passed under the tail, never calling my name, just kept on looking to see if he could catch me sleeping.
He had moved under the wing past me, I dropped down out of the aircraft and followed him. Then I yelled out. “It’s two oh seven, where’s my relief?” He stopped dead in his tracks and turned to me, flashing his light in my face, I did the same to him with my flashlight.
“Where the Fuck you been Sailor!” His southern accent was thick enough to spread on bread.
“Following you, can I take my nap now?” This seemed to burn him a little and he laced into me.
“You’re suppose ta watch this hangar, keep movin, don’t just set there and sleep.” He continued on, reading from the clipboard. I kept pointing at the door, and mentioned how he had to pick up all those men waiting in the cold. As we started to exit the building I flashed my light over at my relief and saw him walking over directly towards that same chair I was in.
I stepped one foot out of the door and heard the POOW exclaim, “SHIT, Where the F...!” then, “Oh my God!” He was looking to his left. Normally he parked the van right in front of that door. But there was no van; we could hear the faint sound of the engine.
I looked in the same direction he did and saw the van wedged in under the wing of the C-117 that was parked a quarter of a mile down by the sea wall. It was backed in, in between the two starboard engines. It’s engine still purring away, and avgas fuel dripping down over the top of the van. Needles to say, I walked the five miles back to the barracks.
Pictures of this one appeared in the monthly Navy news. No body was ever caught or prosecuted for moving the van.
This is not mothers against drunk driving.
Magnetic Anomaly Detection is a device and system to detect submerged submarines, using the earth’s magnetic field. All large vessels and other large iron or steel objects on the planet exhibit the ability to distort the magnetic field. MAD can see these distortions and plot them. If you are flying over the ocean and suddenly detect a large anomaly, you look out and see nothing but water, you can be sure it is either a sunken ship or a submarine.
At that time I considered the P2V Neptune my favorite aircraft, I loved everything about the plane and still do, we had twelve on station. One night, on one of my watch nights, I decided to work on the flight line. My fire watch was going to be on the flight line anyway, so why not get some of my work done.
Neptune number four had a MAD system gripe so I drove one of the self propelled Ground Power Units (GPU’s) out to the number four Neptune. I parked the GPU under the wing of the aircraft; hooked up the power cables and turned on the generators. The aircraft lit up like a Christmas tree, the GPU straining under the heavy load. The last crew was sloppy, they had left everything turned on, just shut down the engines and walked away.
I crept up into flight deck and spent quite some time shutting everything down, which also took a considerable load off the GPU.
Next I climbed down and crawled into the nose blister and fired up the MAD system. Sure enough, it was completely dead, just like the gripe sheet said.
Crawling back through the airframe, from the nose to the tail, I checked all the thermal breakers and diagnostic check points. Everything pointed at the MAD sensor head. The device was housed in fiberglass and was mounted in the fiberglass tail cone, about eight feet behind the last metal of the airframe.
It began to drizzle as I walk back to the line shack where I discovered we had a spare sensor head. I hung out for a while to have a cup of coffee and bullshit with a friend. Then hefting the twenty-pound device up on my shoulder, it is shaped like a small bomb and walked it out to number four.
The passageway back to where the sensor is located is a place just big enough to get a man my size, stuck. No lights, just my flashlight. The passage is like a narrowing pipe, the narrow end being sixteen inches in diameter the widest thirty-five. Lying first on my belly, then on my back, twisting to my side, then twisting to my belly in that narrow space was almost impossible.
There is a pulley system that brings the sensor back the eight feet to where I can work on it. Now the rain is teaming on the skin of the plane, causing this constant roar in the confining space. I am drenched in sweat just from the effort to crawl in here. Manipulating the device is putting undue strain on my shoulders and arms, but finally it is free. I am ecstatic, as I shimmy back to the open area behind me.
Then my joy is dashed when I sit down and see the replacement unit in front of me. I take a break, go out under the wing, beside the GPU and grab a smoke. Smoking is something you do not do anywhere near one of these aircraft, but the rain is pouring down in torrents and I am standing in two inches of water.
My muscles ache, but it has to be done. I crawl back in and install the new unit. The intense thunder of the rain on the skin of the airframe is giving me a headache.
I am drenched in sweat, muscles aching and exhausted but the system needs to be aligned and tested. I look at the time and it’s eight forty-five. I start my fire watch at ten.
With help, the alignment normally takes thirty minutes, but by myself it took fifty.
I am now sitting at the nose MAD position. My shirt is wringing wet, my hair is matted on my head, my shorts are sopping. The nose blister is insulated and the rain is a rumbling murmur.
There is a dial to one side of the MAD ink-recording device that allows the operator to select how sensitive he wishes the equipment to be. I slowly twist it, one click at a time and watch the recording pens snap back and forth with every click of the dial. Finally it’s at maximum and I can see the pens shaking with every movement of the airframe. I stand up and sit back down; the pens recorded my action through the vibrations of the airframe. I heard a commercial airliner pass by over the bay, it must have been at five to seven hundred feet and I had about two inches of movement on the pens. Yep I fixed it. My body ached from all of that confinement and contortions, but I felt elated that it worked out so well.
Looking out of the nose blister, the raining had not let up at all. I see a blurry light through the water pouring down over the blister. Then turning my attention back to the recorder I start to reduce the sensitivity one click at a time. Before I could turn it down more than three clicks the pens began to move rapidly, first to the left instantly to the right. Slamming back and forth so violently that one broke off and the other bent up off the paper. I just watched all my work for the evening go up in smoke. I knew the new sensor had to be ruined.
I heard someone climbing the short ladder in the wheel well and call my name. I twisted my head around and looked down the short passage way. It was the POOW looking for me. He had driven that van directly under that fiberglass cone and overloaded the sensor.
“Youall gotta be on watch in two minutes! Are yua done he’a?” He smiled.
I turned to look at the ruined recorder and only could guess what the sensor looked like. “Yep. You got it. I am all done.”
I picked up my foul weather gear, shut down the MAD unit. After crawling out, I secured the power connections then drove back to the hangar. The rain was still coming down in torrents. The GPU had an open cab similar to a jeep; the POOW followed me into the hangar.
I stood that watch, walking in that rubberized slicker, the rain kept on pelting me and two inches of water covered the entire parking pad. I was looking out for fires. Muttering the whole time, “You stupid redneck son of a bitch!”
I have a couple more stories that are notable, but all of this happened forty-four years ago and my memory is not what it used to be.