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After learning the ropes, reporter goes along for the ride

Jan. 12, 2014 - 09:52AM   |  
Navy Times reporter Mark D. Faram went for a ride Dec. 4 with Airborne Early Warning Squadron 113.
Navy Times reporter Mark D. Faram went for a ride Dec. 4 with Airborne Early Warning Squadron 113. (Lt. Danika Denzer / Navy)
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Being part of an E-2C Hawkeye aircrew isn’t for the faint of heart.

For one thing, unlike their pointy-end fighter aircraft counterparts in a carrier air wing, they don’t have ejection seats. So if circumstances make it impossible for the aircraft to fly anymore, the five officers — two fliers and three tactical controllers who operate the consoles in the rear of the aircraft — must bail out manually through a door on the port side.

It’s not for the faint of stomach, either, especially for the tactical controller aircrew who must operate in a pulsating airframe, bouncing around in the sky with their workspace blacked out so they can see and operate their tactical control displays.

“It’s an airframe that’s well-known to get people to throw up,” said. Lt. Cmdr. Bill Brody, a pilot with Airborne Early Warning Squadron 113, based at Naval Base Ventura County on the Southern California coast.

On Dec. 4, I got to experience briefly what it’s like to ride in a Hawkeye — something I’ve wanted to do since I first saw an E-2C as a young photographer’s mate onboard the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy in 1978.

But you don’t just get in a Hawkeye and go for a ride. For one thing, there are no extra seats.

On my flight there wasn’t any tactical controlling going on, so I was allowed to sit in the back between two naval flight officers who are normally busy doing their tactical missions. Instead, they were assigned to baby-sit me.

The squadron provided me with a flight suit, boots and helmet, as well as a harness and a life vest chockablock with survival gear such as flashlights, radios and flares.

I had to be trained on just how to bail out, in case the flight didn’t have a happy ending. My trainer was Lt. Danika Denzer, a naval flight officer with VAW-113, who walked me through how to snap my harness into one of the tactical controller’s seats — which contain a parachute — and how to leave that seat with the parachute strapped to my back.

“There’s no way you’ll get to the door without touching the sides and there’s all kinds of gear to get hung up on,” she told me. “So the key is to wiggle side by side and keep moving through the tunnel until you get to the door.”

During the flight brief, I was warned by the pilots that if I froze in the door and couldn’t jump, not to worry: I’d get a boot in my back to get me going again.

Fortunately, none of that was necessary. We crewed up our aircraft not long before sunset — about 1600, Navy time — in preparation for a two-hour flight to another airfield where we’d do some touch-and-go landings.

My training prepared me well: I was able to strap in without difficulty as the pilots warmed the aircraft engines and unfolded the wings.

After a rough start on the ground — I’ve had smoother horse and buggy rides — the ride evened out once we took off.After five touch-and-go landings at the airfield, we headed back to base.

The pilots allowed me to wiggle my way through the tunnel to get a view of the sunset over the Pacific as we headed on our westerly course.

I guess the mission was a success. We all made it back in one piece and didn’t have to bail out — even though we were well-trained to do so.

And the best part was, nobody got sick.

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