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From the Archives

Digging back through my collection of shots of this now-retired Beasty Fire-Breathing Aerospace War Machine known as the F-14 Tomcat, I came across this shot looking back over my left shoulder immediately after a cat shot from the waist catapults on USS John F Kennedy.  About 5 Launch waist seconds before I snapped this we were at a standstill, traveling at whatever speed the ship was moving, hooked up to a mechanism that ports steam at 512 pounds per square inch into 2 steel tubes where 2 rather large pistons (weighing about 3,000 lbs each) sat, connected to an above-deck contraption called the shuttle that hooks up to the aircraft nose-gear.  When the catapult officer gets a salute from the pilot in the aircraft (or when the pilot turns on his aircraft lights at night), which is the signal he is ready to go flying (after all, anytime you leave the ship you salute!), he (cat officer) does one last scan of the entire environment (bow, cat track, catwalk, hook up, aircraft, final checkers, the island  light signals, then back to the aircraft and pilot), checks the pitch of the bow (don't want to launch an aircraft right into a wave as the bow buries itself in some heavy seas), and either gives the signal to launch to the deck edge operator or he (cat officer) pushes the button himself.  A rather complex sequence of events follows, all in a matter of about a second, which ends up with the opening of the catapult launch valves, letting that 512 PSI steam into the cat cylinders, pushing the pistons down the 307' cat track, pulling the attached aircraft from that aforementioned standstill environment to about 150 knots in 2 and a half seconds.  About a second or two later, Pinch puts his camera over his left shoulder for a quick shot of where we were.  Repeat that launch sequence every 30 seconds or so for a dozen or more aircraft on 3 or 4 catapults and you have a launch cycle.  Wrap the deck and get ready for recovery.

Just another day at the office.


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