All posts in “In Memorium”

Remembering Closeout 602 – 20 Years Later

E-2C BuNo 162617/Closeout 602

A common thread about life at sea and flying from/working on an aircraft carrier is ‘hurry-up-and-wait;’ mostly because your time, your life is run by others.  Whether it is Marshall trying to get everyone checked in for the last night recovery (only to wait until the ship finally turned into the wind) or stopping by the post office just to buy a stamp – hurry up and wait.  Another constant, usually in concert with the first is “never mind”  or words to that effect.  In July 1992,  the John F. Kennedy (CV 67), with Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) embarked had just undergone such a yo-yo series of events.  Underway in the Caribbean, JFK and CVW-3 were off Puerto Rico for CQ and CompTUEX as part of their necessary preparations for deployment, slated for later that fall.  With CarGru FOUR  (RDML “Bad Fred” Lewis) embarked,the Kennedy/CVW-3 team had been at sea less than two weeks when tragedy struck with the loss of VFA-37’s CO, CDR R. K. Christensen during a night strike practice into Vieques on 24 July.  Slated for a 4-day in port period at St. Thomas, JFK dropped anchor the  25th expecting to also conduct a memorial service for CDR Christensen.  However, late that same day, the ship received orders to get underway as soon as possible. An emergency recall of the crew was ordered and the ship was underway 26 July, joining Carrier Task Force (CTF) 24.1, bound for the Med in response to Iraq’s continued foot-dragging in complying with the cease-fire agreement imposed by the United Nations. CTF 24.1, under RADM James A. Lair, also included the guided missile cruisers Gettysburg (CG 64), Leyte Gulf (CG 55), and Wainwright (CG 28), guided missile frigates Halyburton (FFG 40) and McInerney (FFG 8), the frigate Capodanno (FF 1093), and underway replenishment oiler,  Kalamazoo (AOR-6). On 28 July, however, the sortie was cancelled and the ships ordered to return to scheduled training in the North Puerto Rican operating area.  There, JFK/CVW-3 continued CompTUEX with Rear Admiral Lewis resuming command of the battle group.  Yet gain, tragedy struck the air wing, when on 31 July 1992 an E-2C (BuNo 162617) from VAW-126, Closeout 602,  reported experiencing difficulties and the cockpit filling with smoke. The plane crashed into the sea approximately four miles from the ship and 60 miles north of Puerto Rico, taking LCDR Alan McLachlen, LTs Mike Horowitz and Tristram Farmer, and LTJGs Richard Siter, Jr., and Thomas Plautz.

This by far wasn’t the first E-2 mishap – indeed by this point eight E-2B/E-2C crashes had occured since 1961, almost all fatal.  Yet even with that number of crashes, the aircraft still wasn’t considered to be as prone to mishaps as, say, the F-14 or AV8B.  Those mishaps that had involved loss of aircraft and life were by and large, attributable to human error of one form or another – a failed carrier landing and subsequent night ditching, fuel starvation and crash on approach or maintenance malpractice (improper installation of a cotter pin on an elevator bolt) for example.  Noteworthy, however, in all those instances there had only been one instance where all five crew were able to bailout of the aircraft under controlled conditions. Under controlled conditions (e.g., working autopilot, stable aircraft and clear path to the main entrance hatch, or MEH) bailout from an E-2 is an extremely difficult endeavor.  For the CIC crew in the back of the plane, even though it is a straight shot forward to the MEH, the passageway is both narrow and short in height, presenting any number of possibilities to get hung up on the aircraft structure, not to mention having to pass a number of electrical junction boxes, radar waveguides and hydraulic lines that could be the proximate cause of a fire, catastrophic leak or, in a real nightmare scenario, a fire fed by hydraulic fluid pressurized to 3,000 psi; a virtual blowtorch.  As bad as that is, it is even worse for the pilots who have to make their way from their seats, with parachute and seat pan attached, through the flight deck door behind them and a short right-hander to the MEH to bailout.  Under the best of conditions (bailout practice drill, on deck), it would take up to a minute to get everyone out, assuming no snags or hang-ups.

By many accounts fire broke out when Closeout 602 was on the downwind leg of the pattern after completing a touch and go on JFK.  Analysis of small amount of wreckage recovered afterwards, pointed to the source being a hydraulic line that fed the hydraulically-operated emergency generator where an electrical wire’s Kapton © covering had so deteriorated that it cracked (a common problem with aged Kapton) and the current arced across the hydraulic line, opening an pinhole leak and creating a blowtorch.  This is problematic on a number of levels.  First – any hydraulic leak in an E-2C is cause for concern as the flight controls are hydraulically boosted – with no backup.  Unlike the A-6, for example, which used hydraulic fuses to isolate sections of the hydraulic system in the event of damage, the E-2,which was not thought of as “going over the beach” in harm’s way solved the problem of a hydraulic leak by isolating the system – flight or combined; it originated from, and landing as soon as possible.  A total hydraulic failure called for ditching or bailout if unable to land as soon possible.  On top of the compromised hydraulic system – a hydraulic fire dumps a tremendous amount of thick, toxic smoke into the close confines of the aircraft, making it almost impossible to literally see your hands in front of your face.  Lacking a full face mask to block out the smoke and fumes, even going on oxygen with the O2 mask in place and visor down would not keep the smoke and fumes out of the eyes.  Finally, the location, opposite of the MEH significant;y compromised the abliity to successfully bailout of the aircraft – at mission altitude, there is a slim chance of getting the fire to extinguish itself and trade altitude for time, briefly, to enable a successful bailout.  At 800ft (pattern altitude) and with hydraulics rapidly depleting, there was no chance and five good men lost their lives.

Yet there was still something good that arose out of this tragedy.  The Hawkeye community is a small one by NAVAIR standards and we are pretty close to one another.  A scholarship fund was established initially to aid the children left behind – but a year or so later it was languishing.  When VAW-124 lost a plane and crew a few short months later, the commodore at the time, CAPT Ed Caffrey (who, sadly, left us earlier this year) decided the community needed to act to support its own and through his efforts, his wife, Rosemary and the VAW community CO and XO spouses, established the VAW Memorial Scholarship Fund (later VAW/VRC Memorial Scholarship Fund with the addition of the C-2 community) and the VAW/VRC  Spouses Association, which would include administration of the Fund as one of its charter responsibilities.  Specifically, the purpose of the fund was to “honor those men and any other member of the VAW community who died while in a duty status, to let the spouses and children know how deeply that sacrifice was appreciated and to help provide for the children’s higher education as their parent would have wanted.   From its inception, the fund has always been for all members of the community on both coasts and in Japan.”  This legacy continues through today with eligible children ranging in age from 2 through 22, the most recent of which came with the loss of LT Miroslav “Steve” Zilberman in the March 2010 VAW-121 crash.

Tomorrow, 31 July, marks the 20th anniversary of this loss.  The passage of time dims the memory and softens the previous sharp edges of the loss – except for those for whom these five were family; and it is for them we offer our respects and gratitude for the sacrifice made.  Our prayers are with them on this 20th anniversary remembrance.  And perhaps, in that spirit, a visit to the Memorial Fund would be a fitting and appropriate form of recognition and acknowledgement on our part.  In the meantime, we wish the crew of Closeout 602 peace and eternal rest.

(h/t Ponch)

Flightdeck Friday — The Ties That Bind (II): Remembering Ned Geiger

Another Flightdeck Friday and sadly, another memorial – this time for another pillar of the E-2C Community, CAPT Edward C. Geiger, USN, ret. (“Ned”).   Ned passed away suddenly earlier this week just as he was beginning to enjoy a well deserved retirement having wrapped up his post-Navy career.   Services are tentatively slated for Saturday, 31 March 2012 in Norfolk; time and location TBA.


Memorial Service in Honor and Memory of Ned Geiger: Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 4:00 pm; Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church, 6901 Newport Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia 23505

In lieu of flowers donations may be made in his memory to either of the following organizations.

  •  The Baldwin Fund of The Williams School,419 Colonial Avenue, Norfolk, VA 23507     (757)627-1383
  •  VAW/VRC Memorial Scholarship Fund, Post Office Box 15322, Norfolk, VA 23511-0322

It has been said here and elsewhere that all the advanced technology in the world isn’t worth squat if you don’t have the people to go with it.   How many bright ideas and technological wonders have ended up on the rocks of time, rusting and forgotten because the human element was absent?   Perhaps no area is this more noticeable than in naval warfare, especially the Naval aviation side thereof.   When you look at the life of carrier aircraft, the successful ones have had people of all stripes come along at key points in their life to give direction, purpose and advocacy.   Sometimes they are in highly visible positions — VADM Tom Connolly (DCNO-Air) whose famous (or infamous, depending on which side of the table you were on) spike in the heart of the TFX (“There isn’t enough thrust in Christendom to fix this plane”) was key in getting the F-14 off the ground.   But for all the FOs, high level SESs or heavy-hitting industry program managers, for all the slick brochures and eye-popping PPT presentations, unless you have skilled aircrew who can raise others in the stead, who have both an affinity for the mission, a vision of where the community needs to go and leadership skills in the plane and on the deckplates to reinforce and grow the aircrew and maintainers, the aircraft will ultimately fail and be relegated to a footnote.   In the early 1970’s, the VAW community was faltering despite the growing needs of a Navy pushing ever farther in to the digital revolution.   The E-2B, an improvement over the hapless E-2A, was nonetheless beset with material problems and had fallen far short of expectations.   The leap in capabilities over the WF/E-1B that were expected of it had yet to fully materialize – and many outside of the community openly doubted it ever would.   Mission assignment often came as an after thought and the very idea of putting the E-2B in a critical role for a particular mission just wasn’t considered.

The entry of the E-2C came via muted applause – and much skepticism outside the community.   It would take the concerted efforts of a group of tactically astute visionary aircrew – and especially NFO’s (recall we are still less than a decade from the creation of the NFO out of the NAO community) to work within the community to build NFOs who would be technically and tactically adept with the new technology the E-2C was fielding, and at the same time, advocates outside the community and within the airwing to raise awareness and relevance of the new Hawkeye.   As has been the case since the beginning of US Naval aviation, the core of the effort was centered on a group of “senior” JOs who brought experience and hard lessons to bear in the Fleet and in the RAG (Fleet Replacement Squadron for you young pups).

Ned was not only one of those folks, he stood head and shoulders above the pack.

Ned brought his considerable skills to bear with the VAW-122 Steeljaws in the mid-70’s as they not only transitioned to the E-2C, but became one of the two East Coast squadrons to end up with a West Coast airwing and all the challenges that ensued with a continent between them.   As the squadron NFO NATOPS officer, and later, head of NFO Training (aka “Mayor of Mole City” at RVAW-120),   the standards and expectations that Ned set would have far ranging effects on those who would later go on to other squadrons and positions within the VAW community and elsewhere.   Among those were an expectation of a level of knowledge about the system and how it worked that was at once detailed and integrated — not only would, for example, you have to be able to understand how a radar return was processed in the (then) new digital processing system the E-2C (and later E-2C ARPS), you had to combine it with what the IFF system and main computer and display processing system was doing with it to eventually display it on the scope.   But it also wasn’t enough to be radar or system geeks — Ned was also one of the forward thinking VAW tacticians who looked to expand the mission beyond mere radar-based early warning and in the process, grow the capabilities of the CVW as a whole.   And to do so, you had to get out of the hangar or VAW Ready Room and into the fighter, attack and others’ home turf.   Face-to-face debriefs were emphasized, early participation in mission planning and always, an aggressive, assertive approach that sought to push back the residue of the E-2B years and show what we could do. The Ensigns, LTJGs and LTs that emerged from the RAG and squadrons in the late 70’s/early 80’s epitomized this new approach and formed the nucleus that pushed for continued advancements in the weapons system and standing in the airwing.   And again, Ned’s fingerprints were all over them.   The crews that flew over Bosnia and in OIF and OEF had links, directly or indirectly to Ned’s efforts.   The fact that we are pusing the envelope even further today with the advent of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye can be directly traced back, in no small part, to his body of work.

To a young NFO just entering the community in 1979, Ned was central in shaping and directing my focus as a Hawkeye NFO, both in RVAW-120 and later, when he joined us in VAW-121 as one of our department heads.   We learned much from Ned — even as a standout squadron on the seawall, Ned was the sort that prompted you to raise your personal and organizational bars and push out even more.   Flying with Ned was always great – whether it was watching him handle a covey of fighters or deftly influencing Alpha Bravo towards a particular course of action on the AAW net, no matter how much time you had in the aircraft, you always took away something from flying with him.   On the ground, Ned was a leader without peer as a DH and later, as many will attest to, as CO of VAW-126.   As VAW/VRC placement officer, he played a vital role in guiding and slotting up- and coming talent in the community – not an especially easy thing as CO’s from time to time have their own interests in mind and their own desires which may not always mesh with the individual’s or community’s best needs.   And later as Chief of Staff for the Eisenhower Battle Group,   he brought those abilities to further fruit.   In fact, now that I think of it, Ned’s ability to convince someone of a particular COA without them actually being aware of how they were being influenced brings to mind another master of the skills of persuasion – except he wasn’t fictional…

Ned will be greatly missed by a large and geographically dispersed community and his family are certainly in our prayers..   He was a pioneer for the Hawkeye community, a consummate Naval officer and aviator, a leader, mentor, husband, father and a friend.   A fitting epithet when one thinks about it.   Godspeed and rest in peace.

The Ties That Bind

It has been said that in a world intricately and inexorably connected, individually, we seem to draw apart from one another.   That those connections we have are tenuous, virtual and of little lasting substance or effect.   Like spiderwebs on the wind, we connect and (temporarily) bond with whatever object we come in contact with, only to be pulled apart and float until the next object enters our space.   We see this in our personal and professional relationships on a regular, daily basis.   And yet, every now and then we are reminded of the ties that bind – that survive the immediacy of the moment no matter their outward, gossamer appearance; which bespeak a deeper level of common interest and shared values.   We are reminded, if you will, that no man is indeed, an island.

The events of the past few weeks have underscored the above for me.   In no short order, I learned of the loss of three persons of note to myself, and to many others around them.   They were many things to many different people – writer, poet, leader, aviator; but in the end they each, in their own way, made a difference.   There was CAPT Carroll LeFon – Lex to almost everyone, whose legacy and loss has been chronicled here and across the web.   His writing is timeless, coming from the head and heart with the rare ability to find common points of intersection with his readers and relate a story in such manner that even those who never tasted salt air or viewed the world through sun-drenched canopy could readily relate.   We saw that gift brought to life last night at our gathering in DC and across the nation and the world as people from all walks of life came together to pay honor to his legacy.   But did you know that three of the JOs under him when he was a VFA squadron CO so many years ago screened for command this past week?   There’s a living legacy for you.

On the way to the wake last night I also learned of the passing of CAPT Ed Caffrey, USN-ret.   Himself a gifted aviator, CAPT Caffrey was a leader and pillar of the Hawkeye/Greyhound community.   The term “people person” is overworked to the point of material failure in this day and age, but he was an original in that manner.   There are today, many a former VAW and VRC CO, XO and Department Head who were mentored (again, an overwrought but apropos word here) during his tenure as CO and AEW wing commodore.   More than a few of us, myself included, owe a deep debt of gratitude for his support and advocacy on our behalf and on the behalf of the VAW/VRC community.   Easy words to say now, but there was a time when the community had, shall we say, less than enthusiastic support at the CVW level and higher because of the “support” label broadly brushed on anything that didn’t have an “F” or “A” in the 2-letter designator (and if it had an “H” or ended with a W or Q, well, bonne chance mon ami and don’t let the hatch hit you on the way out).   More than that, he cared deeply about people – his people, be they residents on the Breezy Point seawall, his nav division on JFK, students at Naval War College or even later, students at Valley Forge Academy.   Just ask the recipients of the VAW/VRC Memorial Fund which he took the lead in establishing.   He made a difference.

And there was Jeff Huber – a retired Hawkeye NFO and writer with a pen of steel and a mind of sharper wit.   Jeff was another ground breaker for the Hawkeye community, as Skippy-san so very eloquently lays out in a fine tribute over at his site today.   Jeff had the courage and determination to drag E-2 tactics out of the moribund 50’s and 60’s and lay the foundation for the missions that lay just over the horizon — Kosovo, Desert Shield/Storm, Southern Watch, OEF and OIF. Later he took that same determination and sought to be a conscious for a Service and country that seemed determined to ignore its roots and founding principles.   I didn’t always agree with his assertions – but they provided a reference point and more importantly, a prompt for me to evaluate and re-evaluate my own assumptions and analyses.   Too often today people want to reside in the “amen” section and decline to think critically for themselves – deferring instead to the opinions and assertions of others whose best or only attribute is their shrillness.

Different paths, with seemingly random co-mingling or intersections – what are the ties that bind?   In each case you are witness to someone who deeply cared about their nation, their Service and the people under their charge or in association.   Each, in uniform and in retirement, sought to continue to serve, in their own way and do what they could to better their fellow humans and the Navy to which they had dedicated a substantive part of their life in its service.   Some few years back the Navy was casting about for a definition of ethos.   I and several others demurred on the end, corporately derived and committee driven statement that emerged from the “process” preferring instead to point to the 200+ years of example driven ethos and the principles detailed therein.   Of things like service before self, courage in the face of overwhelming opposition – of conviction and standing firm for principles when all else was sinking beneath the waves.   If I were asked today for more recent examples, I can think of none finer than the three I highlight above — outstanding aviators, naval officers without peer and human beings who cared deeply about and for their fellow mankind.

And I am honored to have worn the uniform and served with them.


Ave Atque Vale

I lost a friend today.

We have lost a friend, a father, husband — a comrade in arms. Fellow aviator and blogger-at-arms, Neptunus Lex, was killed earlier today when the F-21 Kfir he was flying in support of Top Gun’s adversary squadron crashed at NAS Fallon.   No word on the cause as yet.   Prayers and thoughts go out to his family — please likewise keep them in your prayers in the days/weeks to come.

Lex would be the first to tell you, upon asking (or not), that he was a fighter pilot.   And he was an accomplished one at that – having reached the pinnacle with command of a Hornet squadron and XO at TOPGUN (“not two words” he would say…).   He was a sailor at heart with a love for the sea and those who set forth thereon in grey-hulled ships – befitting of one who wore the gold wings of a naval aviator.   And he was a patriot in the truest and traditional sense with a deep love for this country and her people.   Indeed, his last work in this life was training a new generation of fighters to defend this nation.

Even so, what really set Lex apart was his eloquence, obvious love of the classics and an abilty to turn a phrase that would do his Irish ancestors proud.   Anyone who has spent time in the air or at sea comes to appreciate the change in perspective those alluring mistresses offer and how they come to change you.   It is the rare person, however, who is able to more than adequately express and convey that imagery, that perspective.   Lex was one of those rare individuals and you could readily see it in his work – almost all of which he shared gratis online.   Whether it was a semi-fictional account of a young aviator wrestling with carrier flight ops or surgical disection of a controversial subject, his wit, grace and command of the language marked him as a finely honed rapier in a field cluttered with dull broadswords and broken battle axes.   And it will be missed.

The time will come when we will take position and give our formal farewells with appropriate ceremony.   For now, I’ll leave with this thought from a fellow naval aviator and friend – part of a discourse from last night…

” We are, actually, pretty few, and we count our fellows as friends of a different sort.. And so when one of us leaves, it is noticed. It is one thing to fade, fade away. It is another to be taken by the mistress, to be here, and then gone. I thought she was done with leaving me to count. So I thought.”

I too thought my counting days finished – alas not so…

Fair winds Lex and God bless and uphold your family.   We’ll meet you at the rendezvous point…on the other side  at the Green.



See Also:

USNI Blog  (and here too) (also here) (SECNAV weighs in)

CDR Salamander


Steve @ The Woodshed



Padre’s place


and of course, over here at Lex’s place (courtesy of Whisper)