Flight Ops

[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007]

April 4

PO Dorothy Davies, who was one of the Support people serving pizza last Saturday, sends out the XO’s P.O.D. (Plan of the Day), where we find out what we’re supposed to be doing tomorrow, as opposed to what we actually will do, given altered circumstances and alternative tasking to meet same. (This happens a lot. Like that hellish weekend trying to find and fix the helo fueling problem, or when we get a go fast green. Like that.)

PO Dorothy Davies

One thing that’s almost always on Dottie’s P.O.D. is flight ops, which means launching and recovering the helo. This is a long and involved process, an elaborate choreography that simultaneously involves a whole bunch of the crew on the bridge, on the hangar deck, on the flight deck, in the aviation gas pump room, in Combat and in main control. It is further complicated by continual fine-tuning and by the fact that we’re breaking in new personnel somewhere along the line almost every flight ops (Chief Greg Colvin and Chief Wes Gilmartin as LSO, CWO Tony Parker and CWO Jimmy Olson as HCO, and more coming up behind them).

Sometimes we do it twice. Sometimes we do it at night.

First there’s a flight brief in CIC where the flight plan is discussed, the comms and route reviewed followed by the GAR evaluation to ensure it’s safe to proceed (I’ve heard about all this – a bunch of the details are classified). Then we pipe flight con I, getting manned up and ready for flight ops. The starboard boat is the ready boat, off the boat deck davit and at the main deck rail, ready to load, lower and launch in case of splash (which is just what it sounds like). The LSO and the flight deck crew, consisting of four tie-downs and the five-man fueling detail (four fuelers and one of those two poor guys in the fire retardant “baked potato suit” (which is a great suit for the Bering Sea but not so much for an EPAC patrol), muster in the hanger to get geared up. The LSO wears yellow, the tiedowns blue (aka ‘The Blueberries’), and the fueling detail purple (aka ‘The Grapes’) – the pumps in the aviation gas pump room are painted that same color. Fire team

On the bridge are assembled the twin towers, the XO at port and the Captain at starboard, who share a positively preternatural ability to monitor every scrap of conversation and radio communication on the bridge (I’ve seen both their heads whip around when someone mutters something they think nobody else can hear. Then CO and XO look at each other across the bridge and have a whole conversation without saying a word, with maybe an occasional eyebrow lift, head tilt or lip purse, after which there is usually an order of some kind. It’s spooky.).

Also present of course is the standard watch including the conn, the OOD (who are sometimes the same person but not always), the quartermaster, the helmsman and at least two lookouts either on the bridge wings or at the lookout station above.

By the time flight con I is set, also present on the bridge are HCO (helo control officer) talking to the LSO (landing signals officer on the flight deck), an ET (that would be an electronics technician, not the phone home guy) to make sure all the comms and cameras work, and the phone talker who is communicating with everyone else. Meanwhile, down on the hangar deck, the fire team is suiting up in case the worst happens (they’re in red – ‘the Strawberries’), and the tiedowns deploy two to port, two to starboard, while the fueling team waits to starboard. Baked potato guys

The HCO gives the helo the numbers (altimeter, wind speed, direction, the pitch and roll of the ship, like that), the aviators confirm using hand signals and start the engine, the rotors start to turn, the Captain gives permission to conduct flight ops, the HCO gives permission to the helo, the LSO waves their right arm counterclockwise once and points to port, and the helo lifts off and roars past the bridge.
Or it does when it doesn’t crabwalk around the stern to immediately return for touch and goes, either on the center line or on the oblique (at a 45 degree angle, corresponding to lines painted on the flight deck), and possibly a hot gas refuel (Hot is when the rotors are turning. Cold is when the rotors are stationary.). The tiedowns and the fuel team members bend very low and trot very fast between the sides of the hangar and the helo beneath the rotors at the direction of the LSO – they get a little something extra in their paycheck for this chore. Tiedowns in action

Then the helo goes away for a while, and we set flight con II, where everyone has to be able to achieve flight con I in five minutes, and when it comes back we do everything all over again, except in reverse.
Fueling detail
It is always the same. It is never the same. It’s Fred and Ginger, and we’re the ones dancing backwards in high heels.

And it’s almost always on Dottie’s plan of the day.

Today we also had a General Quarters drill, where the crew is tested on how ready they are to respond in the event of an attack. PO Tracy Mellott was manning the AFFF pump. She is responsible for the system that sprays the Aqueous Film Forming Foam to coat the engine room bilges, Dirty Oil Pump Room, Helo Hanger, Incinerator Room and JP-5 in case of fire. PO Tracy Mellott Her chic ensemble (see photo) is complete with flash hood, fire retardant shirt, radio, flash gloves, and self-contained breathing apparatus. I’m sorry to report that we failed our drill (we should have been ready in 4 minutes, it took us 11:35, and yes, there is a stopwatch involved), but I have a sneaking suspicion that the devil, oh, I’m sorry, of course I meant to say training officer LTJG Morgan Barbieri has already thought of a way to improve our time.

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Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

16 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Dana,
    Wow! what a description of “the day”, reading it felt as if we were on board. By the time our son (FN Justin Ramirez) makes it home, we’ll have those Coastie acornyms down. Any chance or person we can contcact to start a “Have Dana Stay ’til The End of Underway” petition? Our youngest starts her day (even before breakfast) loggin into your website. Thank you so MUCH!

  2. I had to wait until I saw flight ops enough times to make sure I kinda sorta knew the process. Although I think only the Captain and the XO really have it all down. Although again I’ve seen them both get out the SHOP (ship handling and operations plan? I’ll have to check) manual and make sure. It’s a really involved process, with many many moving parts, most of them with two legs. Thanks, Ruben!

  3. Ship Helicopter Operations Procedure manual (courtesy of BMC Wes Gilmartin, and thank you kindly, sir) or SHOP Manual. Can’t believe I beat the Captain and the XO to this.

  4. Dana, thank you again for the day to day (sort of like play by play). We are visiting Chris’s (Susalis) grandparents in Florida. We spend morning coffee hunched over the latest news from Munro. His grandparents are thrilled with the opportunity get this insite into Christopher’s underway experience. We would appreciate it if you would wish him a happy birthday (07 April) from us. We only just received the FPO, and there is no way we could get a card to him in time. Thanks again for all you do.


    Chris & Terri

  5. To All,
    I had invited Dana for as much time as her schedule would allow. At one point, we had her in touch with the University we work with to certify our college course instructors as she gladly volunteered to teach an english class but she won’t be on board long enough. Due to a previously scheduled committment, she’ll be leaving us at our first port call and everyone will have to start writing home again!

    We have incredible talent on board -from artists like PO Lang, to personalized trainings, teachers, photgraphers, and craftsman like our Damage Controlmen. We don’t have writers that I know of and certainly not world class Dana-types who notice all the stuff we just do cause it’s the way it is.

    The Captain

  6. Dana,

    My family and I just wanted to say thank you again for your daily report. We love it!

    I’m getting that nervous feeling I get when I’m reading a great book that I don’t want to end.

    You have been a life line to our loved ones these past few weeks and we are so grateful.

    Sincere appreciation from a forever fan,

    Val (Chris’s Mom)

  7. Dear Captain,

    You have at least one excellent writer on board! This would be SN Critchfield who’s intentions are to go into PA (Public Affairs) in the Coast Guard.

    I’m sure I speak for dozens and dozens of family member who would love to have a continuing update on the state of the USCG Munro!

    I know y’all are busy, but, SN Critchfield doesn’t need THAT much sleep! 🙂

    His proud and loving Mom.

    Go Munro!!!

  8. Dana,
    I am so excited, I try to keep up to date with your entries, but I am 1 day behind. I am so happy to see that my neice, PO Tracy Mellott’s picture is posted on April 4. She looks great, and I am going to share this with the family. Keep up the great work. Thank you!!!
    Aunt Deanna

  9. Dear Dana,
    My name is Cara and it seems that fate has drawn me to you for assistance and an answer.
    Several months ago, I came across a photograph of my cherished old friend,Tracy K. Mellott. On a whim,I googled her name and was directed to your site.I then read a posting from Jody La Cava. Wow! My Tracys’
    father had passed away many years ago and she had two sisters, one named Jody. Not wishing to intrude in her life after an
    absense of many long years,I found myself curious but content.
    But now,it’s June and as a special day approaches, I feel compelled to cast aside my doubts and fears, temporarilly. I am taking a huge leap of faith(fingers crossed)that Jody and I are refering to the same Tracy.
    So,if it is at all possible, could you relay this message for me?
    ” Happy Birthday, Tracy K.”

    Thank you, Cara H.

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