Catapults and eyeballs

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It looks so easy, doesn’t it? Smooth, gentle…even serene. Easy.

It isn’t.

If you have ever had the privilege of being in an aircraft being catapulted off an aircraft carrier, you will know that laws of physics are against you. Man was not designed to go from zero to 150 knots in 2.5 seconds. We are designed to go from zero to maybe one knot in as long as it takes to get up from the couch and actually start walking, which in my case is about thirty seconds since I have to wait to let the blood flow back to my head.

Catapults are steam driven tractors whose primary function is to push your eyeballs toward the back of your skull. Oh, and they launch aircraft. But their real function is to compress your chest until you can’t breathe.

On a C-2 Greyhound, also known as a COD for Carrier On board Delivery, the passengers sit backwards. When the aircraft launches, they are thrust not against the back of the seats, but against the seat belts. For the next couple of seconds, there are several thoughts that run through your head.

1. “Did I buckle the belt right?”
2. “I…can’t…breathe.”
3. “What did the Petty Officer say about evacuation again?”
4. “How do I UNbuckle this thing?”
5. “I should have kept a tighter hold of my camera.”
6. “How in the world can the pilot STEER this thing?”

And then you are free. The brief panic you felt is gone (especially after you feel the aircraft climbing). You discreetly wipe the saliva from your chin and give your best smile in case anyone is watching. Here is a video from inside. Notice the bravado before and after (but not during) the launch.

As for number 6 above, I don’t have a good answer for that. But here is what it looks like from the cockpit.

He looks like he’s out for a Sunday drive.

Somehow Navy and Marine Corps pilots do this every day, 365 days a year. That’s a tough thing. But do you know what makes it tougher?

They have to land again.

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