Day 3: Feb. 28, 2004
Entertaining the Tigers



Another 6 A.M. wake-up then a decision to give breakfast a try. As usual, the food was good and the line was long. I can certainly deal with standing in line for a few days - especially when I'm surrounded by professionals.

The wind & waves were enough to cancel plans for a ship to ship replenishment demonstration and put the rest of the scheduled air show at risk. But, after everything was considered, plans to "recover" 14 airplanes moved forward. Landing on a carrier is called "recovery" and I didn't have to think too long to realize that it's a pretty good name for it. The weather did keep the planes circling a bit extra and there were a few flagged off attempts but eventually all were safely on board. The prop-driven Hawkeye was the first plane recovered. It's somewhat slower than the jets, so maybe this is a test. My location wasn't very good for getting pictures of the planes as they touched down but I could certainly see, hear, & feel them and did manage a few photos. All of these planes were part of the group that had gone to & from the middle-east with the Enterprise and which had been flown from the ship to their land bases shortly before the ship docked in Mayport.

From the vantage point of a floating airport, keeping sizes in perspective isn't easy. That's no rowboat out there. That's the 446 foot long USS Laramie that was to participate in the canceled replenishment. Earlier reports had the waves at 12 feet and I can't tell you whether these are higher or lower. Whatever the height of the waves, the water is anything but smooth. Watching the planes approach the ship before landing can actually be deceiving. As the pilots maintain their trajectory toward the deck, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the deck is slowly bobbing up and down several feet.

When the planes launched, I found myself, thanks to Fletcher & Joe, with a view from the tower. I had to maintain that vantage point for quite some time before the first plane took off and the 40+ MPH over the deck winds took their toll. Watching the planes leap into the air was incredible but I was ready to head inside before all were airborne. We moved to the Public Affairs Office and that allowed me to experience the sound of fighter jets taking off from the roof over my head. By comparison, the loudest upstairs neighbor is just a whimper.

Once all planes were launched, we were treated to an Air Power Demonstration. Quite a few of the air wing's weapons, defensive as well as offensive, were shown. Pictured here are a "wall of water" bombing run, mid-air refueling, and a high speed short radius turn. The demonstration also included an F-14 super-sonic pass with its accompanying boom. These were common in the '50s but are just about unknown to younger generations. The show's finale was a diamond formation fly over.

Tigers were divided into three tour groups based on the pictures on their badges then assigned a starting point based on the color. I was a purple F-14. An early tour stop was one of the galleys where thousands of meals are turned out daily. And those meals are quite good. In February, the Enterprise picked up the annual Captain Edward Ney Award for Food Service Excellence. We also stopped by the barber shop and the plastic disposal area. Scrap plastic isn't actually disposed of here but is formed into easily stored disks until the ship returns to port.

Unlike the Public Affairs Department, the Personnel Department was not actually working during with the Tigers on board so many of the "volunteers" involved in Tiger activities were from there. That was the case with our tour guide whose mother was a member of the tour. I'm not sure of all the details but the mom decided to leave the tour rather early and so did the daughter. As a result, Fletcher "volunteered" to serve as guide for the rest of the tour.

Climbing up the tower, we visited Primary Flight Control - Pri Fly. Planes are tracked on the vertical clear plastic panel by someone writing backwards on one side so it can be read from the other. Excellent views of both landing and launch areas are available to the Air Boss and Mini Boss sitting in comfortable (I tested the Mini Boss chair) elevated seats. I'm not sure of the names of the other three areas pictured here. The first is sort of the surface version of flight control. Every aircraft on board is tracked with small models on the accurate deck layout on the table. Craft in the hangars are tracked on a shelf below. Equipment conditions and requirements are indicated by color and "accessories" such as a nut or small bolt. Not surprisingly, on newer carriers, tools like this table and Pri Fly's panel are replaced by electronic gadgets. The Enterprise is, you'll recall, about forty years old.

The next picture shows where parachutes, flotation vests, and survival kits are packed. The last picture is of the cylinders that operate the wires that capture landing airplanes. On this cruise, my son often took pictures of Adventure Bear to send home to his own son. Here Adventure Bear and I listen to the presentation together.

Here is the Hall of Heroes where every room is named for an aviator lost from the Enterprise. The rooms are where visiting V.I.P.s are quartered. Next it was all the way forward to th fo'c'sle where things like very big chains and very big anchors are handled. Adventure Bear takes a break at the very center of the fo'c'sle's forward bulkhead. The final tour stop is the F-14 Tomcat Ready Room. As the tour went up & down ladders and into meal time, members dropped off until only a half dozen or so remained. Each air squadron has a ready room and all were on the tour agenda. There was hardly time or apparent desire to visit them all but Fletcher asked the group what they wanted to do. One fellow wanted to see the Tomcats so the remaining two men and a boy plus Fletcher and myself, got the last Tomcat presentation of the cruise. Adventure Bear even got a seat in the front row.

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