Sea Stories: The Time I Launched a Jet! ✈


Hi, all—

I have a confession to make. I once stepped out on the mechanical love of my life…and I still savor the memories.

You all know I love ships. The bigger and faster, the better. But I have to be honest, I haven't been completely faithful to the floating steel behemoths. My first infidelity on the beasts of my heart occurred with a helicopter. At the time, I'd been crawling around the cockpit and then flying in the belly of an SH-60 Seahawk. (The Navy's seagoing, grayed-up version of an Army Black Hawk.) But the flirtation was brief. And then, a few days later, it happened again. This time, the adoration was seared into my bones. I can still see, hear & feel—and smell!—the precise moment I fell head over heels.

I was in college at the time. (Isn't that when you're supposed to experiment?) It was during the summer, in Jacksonville, Florida, and already a warm, muggy day. The Navy had sent me to NAS Jax for the first leg of my second class cruise. A busload of my fellow midshipmen and I had been driven out to the middle of nowhere and told to walk deep into a field, then stop inside the clearing. Which we did. As we arrived, the grass was taller than we were, so we couldn't see a thing. And then, we felt it. That low, rumbling growl of massive, manmade metal as it gathers itself together to make its move. It rose from the surrounding grass and weeds like the gorgeous, snarling beast it was, kicking off waves of scorching heat and belching jet fumes. It hovered there for several gravity-defying minutes, slowing turning around to show off its sleek iron lines and haze gray paint. And then that deafening thunder increased as the beast nozzled out, shifting the lift from its engines to its wings as it roared away.

Yep. We'd just witnessed the vertical takeoff of a Harrier AV-8B jet and I was in love. Unfortunately, at the beginning of that sophomore year, I'd noticed that the numbers on the clock across the study room of the library were getting fuzzy. My eyes were never going to make it the official, preflight visual that was still two years away. So I settled into an unrequited affair from afar and returned to my first and truest love: surface ships...until an opportunity to step out on my beloved steel platforms cropped up again.

It was years later and during a deployment. Our ship had been transiting the Pacific with the USS Peleliu. I'd spent countless bridge watches, drooling over Harrier takeoffs and landings at all hours of the day and night, and yep, the open lust was back. So when the opportunity to cross-deck to the Peleliu presented itself, I jumped. I boarded another lovely SH-60 Seahawk and flew several miles over open ocean to land aboard the Peleliu where I spent hours touring the amphibious assault ship (they look like smaller aircraft carriers) & performing tasks on their bridge and elsewhere. But my vacillating heart drove me back to the air tower. There, I reintroduced myself to the Air Boss. But I wasn't there just to drool. My goal: to see & touch my guilty love up close.

I told the Air Boss straight off what I wanted. Let me climb into the cockpit. Please. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible. A pilot's dependent had done so recently & had pulled the eject and been blown through the canopy. There was a new, ironclad, fleet-wide safety standard in effect. Only qualified pilots in the cockpit. I was polite as I continued to plead my adoration for that specific beast. Alas, the Air Boss didn't relent. Undaunted, I remained persistently helpful over the next hour. I even got the man coffee. (Something I didn't do for my own husband.) Pretty soon the Air Boss wanted me out of his hair. Exasperated, he finally looked me in the eye and spit, "Do you want to launch one?" Oh, baby—h*ll, yeah!

Half an hour later, I'm standing on the flight deck, suited up in a borrowed yellow jersey & vest with goggles & rabbit ears, finishing a crash course by the landing chief complete with hand signals. The bird is going to taxi into position. You're going to check this, this and this. The pilot will do this; you'll do this. And then, you'll watch the inclinometer. When the bow of the ship hits the correct angle, you give the thumbs up. The pilot will salute you; you'll return it & voila. Launch. Got it? Yep, I had it.

It went down exactly like that, too—except for the massive punch of hot air that slammed me back 45 degrees, flattening and nearly melting my eye and ear protection into my face. For a few, gloriously singeing moments, I was breathing in atomized fire and bathing in the roar of that Harrier's acrid jet wash. And, yep, I was utterly in love—again. Guys, I didn't even notice the landing chief's hand until it was all over. If he hadn't planted his palm in the middle of my upper back at the last second, I'd have been blown overboard and ended up as fish food along with the fresh chum being spit out from the Peleliu's giant propellers.

So why am I sharing this sea story with you today?

Because at precisely 11:59 my time last night—yep, I looked at the clock—I finished the 1st draft to Chokepoint! 😁🎉🥳🪅

My reward? Top Gun: Maverick. The new jet eye-candy movie has been sitting in my iTunes account since it dropped, unwatched by me. Not for much longer! In fact, by the time you read this newsletter, I may already be sitting down on the couch & punching play. Nah, I'm not much of a Tom Cruise fan. And I definitely didn't buy him as Jack Reacher on the big screen. It doesn't matter. I'll be there for those sweet, massive iron beasts that can move.

Okay, so Chokepoint's going to be another hefty one—especially since that word count tally tends to grow as I revise the manuscript. And check out that red bar that started creeping in from the left. Even my snarky word counter thought I should've been done already. 😏

Follow this link to see some of that awesome Harrier action on YouTube:


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