Tiger Cruise 1999

USS Constellation, CV-64

 

LT. Michael C. Biemiller, US Navy, above his landing strip,

the USS Constellation, CV 64.

 

The US Navy sponsors Tiger Cruises for family members and friends of crewmen to let the public see first hand the might of our Navy. I joined my Navy pilot son, Lt. Mike, "Beemer" Biemiller, on board the USS Constellation, CV-64. I kept a journal during my ride on the "Connie" from Pearl Harbor to San Diego. I hope you enjoy reading about my six days and seven nights aboard "America's Flagship."

Birds of Prey

 

The Journal

December 9, 1999, Thursday, 0955 EST

 

I left the house at 0755. Hugs and "Iíll miss you" from Keith. I beeped the horn as I drove away.

The traffic east bound on the Mass Pike was heavy as all the firefighters descended on Worcester for the memorial service for the six firefighters that died in the recent warehouse fire.

I arrived at Bradley Airport, Hartford about 0930. I parked in Economy Lot 4; caught the shuttle bus was checked in just 15 minutes from having parked the truck.

This is my first journal entry at Gate A1 awaiting Flight 1945 to Dulles, Washington, D. C. Iíll connect for San Diego there.

December 9, 1999, Thursday, 1410 EST

Iím now aboard United Airlines Flight 207 in route to San Diego. Estimated flight time is 5.5 hours. Great weather for travel today. Iím reading Sherry Sontag and Chris Drewís, Blind Manís Bluff, a factual tale of the cold war submarine service.

December 9, 1999, Thursday, 2020 EST/1720 PST

Iím in the Holiday Inn, Harbor View overlooking San Diego Harbor/Bay. I saw Monument Valley for the first time from the air. Itís just east of the Grand Canyon. An uneventful flight. I arranged for a cab to NAS NI (Naval Air Station, North Island) for tomorrow. Iíll call home and go get a burger at the little café in the Holiday Inn lobby.

Connie's escorts

December 10, 1999, Friday, 1000 PST

I had a burger for dinner last night and played channel roulette on the TV. I called home and talked to the FAM. Gave up on the TV and continued reading until about 2200 PST and lights out. A typical fitful, time zone switch sleep, but ok.

Iíve got the taxi scheduled to pick me up at 1130 for the short trip to NAS NI. A carrier is tied up there now (later learned it was the USS Stennis) and I saw another large Navy ship enter the harbor today. Iím on the 12th floor of the Holiday Inn which looks over the harbor and San Diego airport.

The Marines lost a helicopter yesterday and several Marines are missing. Eleven were rescued, six I think missing. The ship entering the harbor may have had something to do with the rescue operations.

December 10, 1999, 1200 PST, Friday

Iím sitting in the NAS NI terminal; all checked in. The terminal is a typical low (one story) military building. Military drab. Very small. I arrived early and so did many others. All Navy; controlled chaos. The plane will be open seating, so more chaos to come. We board the aircraft to Hawaii at 1400 or so itís said. Two hours to wait. I managed a seat near the boarding x-ray machine. Iím hoping for an aisle seat. Should be interesting. Cab fare and tip a quick $20.

December 10, 1999, 1600 PST, Friday

Airborne at last. Found out how controlled chaos works. Each arriving Tiger at NAS NI receives a number upon check in. The earlier you arrive, the lower your number. I arrived at check in around 1130 (early cab) and received #85; the 85th Tiger to check in. You board the aircraft low numbers first in blocks of 50. I was the second wave to board after all unaccompanied children were seated (parents on the Connie). Forgot to mention that the kids went first with appointed escorts. Bottom line, I got my aisle seat on the L10ll aircraft.

December 10, 1999, 2100 PST/1900 Hawaiian Time, still Friday

We made it, however the jetway is all messed up and they canít get a door open. 300+ passengers after a long flight are getting up tight and upset.

December 11, 1999, 0250 HI time, Saturday

I got my wish, walked into the ocean with Mike after midnight and smoked a Macanudo cigar. No sharks, just calm waves.

Prior to that we had dinner at "Dukes". DukeÖlong Hawaiian nameÖ.. brought the long boards to Hawaii surf. Mike had Opha, a fish; very good. I had the lobster tail, which is a spiny lobster here in the Pacific. Yum! I met lots of Mikeís buddies from his squadron and some from his primary training at Pensacola. The weather throughout was a soft warm tropical rain. Yep! Went swimming in the rain. 0300 now. Nite!

December 11, 1999, 2120 HI time, Saturday night

Saturday and a rainy night in Pearl Harbor. Mike and I boarded the Connie about 1800. An eerie big ship in the dark and rain. I was issued a little Constellation duffel with stuff to read inside.

Mike and I did a mini-bus tour of the Diamond Head section of the island, circling around, crossing the Pali and back to Waikiki. The standard circuit I used to know by heart. Diamond Head, Hanamah Bay, Blow Hole, windward side and Makapuu; up to the Pali (mountain ridge) through the tunnel and back to Waikiki. We had picked up the tour at our hotel, the Hale Koa, which is new and is on what I used to know as Fort DeRussey.

Mike and I also toured that Fort while waiting for the tour. A rainy day thing to do.

After we checked into the Connie, we went out in search of an officerís club for something to eat. Interesting, but no officerís club. Just "All Hands" clubs now. The desegregation of the Navy ranks.

Ship movement was scheduled for 0500 tomorrow.

To Eric's

To Dad's

December 12, 1999, 0725 HI time, Sunday

So much for ship movement at 0500. Looks to be a man overboard drill at 0730. This forces a muster of all hands and sets the schedule for things to come.

Iím sitting in the VS-38 Squadron Ready Room. Red floor for the Red Griffins. Same bulky heavy chairs that were here since Connieís commission in 1961. The USS Constellation has been in service for 37 years. Many of these chairs were once occupied by flyers who never returned to Connie after missions over Vietnam and elsewhere. My back is aft and Iím facing forward in ship space. To my left are three computer stations used by the Squadron for "stuff" and E-mail. A video camera on the flight deck sends pictures of the deck area onto a TV screen set up in front and on my right. The video is mounted over another TV set which is used for ships information, movies and whatever. Aircraft launches and recovery operations are monitored by the video camera and recorded on a master tape somewhere else.

Ready Room

Center stage in the ready room is a large white board used for briefs (color markers vs the old chalk black boards). A movie screen can be pulled over this board for movies and slide presentations. Pictures of family members are everywhere. A December poster to the right of the "white" board has Christmas greetings from family. Between that poster and the white board hangs a Viking helmet complete with metal horns. Left of the poster is a joke Army meat-ball helmet. Probably for the Squadron goat whenever.

On the left side of the bulkhead (wall) forward of the computers hangs the Red Griffin Greenie Board. Each "trap" or landing made by a pilot on the ship is graded. A green dot sticker is the best landing/trap. Yellow is ok; orange-brown an "ahem you made it." Just okays are not the standard looked for.

The ready room has become crowded. The "lets walk through the man overboard drill" has been announced and is in progress. After we leave Pearl Harbor a real drill will occur. We are told that 20 minutes to muster all ships hands and account for them is the standard.

I sort of slept ok last night. From 2300 to 0100 dicey; solid sleep to 0500 and a head call. I hit the showers at 0615. Sneaking in the dark stateroom, I got dressed and headed down to the wardroom café for breakfast. Two wardrooms. The standard large wardroom on the #2 deck and the café on my stateroom level 03. Same fare, just a little more spartan in the café. I had a muffin and fresh strawberries. I also met some other Tigers. The LTs slept in.

Part of the Connie duffel kit is a PQS book. Personal Qualification Standard. A series of questions about the Connie and ship spaces visited. An on-board qual of sorts to help us Tigers learn about the Constellation and the many functions. Iíll try to finish that this trip.

December 12, 1999, 1400, Sunday still

A busy day so far. Various briefs and tours. Mike took me around to spaces he is familiar with. Navigation, meteorology, communications, etc. We watched an S-3 Viking launch from the Primary Flight Operations (Pri-Fly) area of the carrierís island. The island is the structure that rises above the flight deck and holds the bridge and other areas used for ship operations. The S-3 that launched was the last of Mikeís planes that are being rotated to Hawaii. Their maintenance is up to date. The planes that Mikeís Squadron flew on with are marginal, but headed for San Diego and major up keep.

We hit the open ocean/sea about 1100. A solemn moment as the USS Constellation with the "rails" manned saluted and passed by the USS Arizona Memorial. The sailors all in their whites at attentions and saluting. Impressive!

After lunch, Mike and I ran into a Lt.Jg from Engineering. I started quizzing him about the Constellationís power plant. This was the state-of-the-art fossil plant when I went to Machinist Mate "A" school in 1963. The plant is a 1200 pound (psi) superheated steam plant. Eight boilers which provide steam for various turbines and components and whose turbines drive four shafts which turn the props to make Connie go. Mike was lost in the acronyms I was using with the Jg, but the Jg was very helpful and knew I knew what I was talking about. He gave us a phone extension to call to set up a special one on one tour of the engineering spaces. Score one for an old salt!

Mike and I then went up to the bridge. Have I mentioned that the Tigers have free run of the ship, except where marked for sensitive areas? Well, we do. On the way back from the bridge, we passed by the Flagís quarters and mess. Flag, meaning Admiral. Stars as in General in the Army. The Connie is the Flag ship for Admiral Harte who runs the battle group. Anyway, we peeked in a saw quite the "restaurant" set up. A Captain Langley then greeted us from a small space off the hallway to the Flag table area. Captain Langley is Admiral Harteís Chief of Staff. It also happens that Langley flies the S-3 and Mike has flown with him to maintain the Captainís flight qualifications. Introductions were made and I mentioned my past service. Shortly thereafter the Admiral popped out to get a cup of coffee and greeted us warmly. We discussed Blind Manís Bluff, the cold war submarine book and other things, including my upcoming visit to the engineering spaces. I mentioned to the Admiral that my "boat" the USS Kamehameha had received the Meritorious Unit Citation (MUC) for the period that I was aboard and I only just found out about it by reading the book. "A hell of a way to find that out!", was his response. The book authors had listed various awards given to the subs in the back of the book. Mike was just a tad uncomfortable about the Admiral showing, but Admiral Harte made us all feel welcome. Just a single star on the lapel, for those interested. Langley has been encouraging Mike to transition to the Super Hornet scheduled for fleet use in 2001. The S-3 Viking will be phased out over the next three years. A chance encounter with upper management, as it were. Very nice folks!

December 12, 1999, 1700, and still Sunday the first day.

We finally had the real-fake man overboard drill. After that, Mike and I ran into a petty officer third class, Airedale. (Note: Seaman go up the enlisted ranks for general ship tasks/rates. Firemen head up the enlisted "Engineering" ladder for various rates. Airmen (Airedale slang) head up the aviation enlisted ranks.) The Airman 3rd gave Mike and I a course on how the flight deck arresting cables work. The wires that trap the landing aircraft. The wires that catch the aircraftís trailing hook. Hence, Tailhooking, Hookers, etc. Slang for the Navy pilots. The arresting wires/cable stop the aircraft within 2 seconds after the hook is caught. The pilots apply full throttle upon hitting the deck so as to be able to take off again, should the hook miss the cable. This miss is called a bolter.

Using a combination of air and hydraulic fluid, a piston is allowed to extend at a set rate to let the arresting wires give or play out the "fish" that is the landing aircraft. The valving of the hydraulics is governed by the weight of the aircraft and itís type. This information is fed into the electronics of the hydraulics for each and every carrier landing. Pretty amazing when you consider that a carrier can recover aircraft in 45 second intervals. One plane every 45 seconds. Airmen man the arresting gear room for the recovery operations.

The number 2 and number 3 wires take the most hits. The wires (inch and a quarter thick cables) are numbered from aft to forward and are approximately 40 feet apart. The number 1 cable/wire is most aft; number 4 most forward on the flight deck. For emergencies, a nylon barrier can be erected and that is the #5 wire. Not one wanted by the aviators, but used and the crew is well practiced at it. The number 3 wire is the "target" wire for a green sticker for the Greenie Board. The deck wires are replaced after every one hundred hits. The payout wires in the arresting compartment that are part of the hydraulic/arresting system are changed after 4000 to 5000 hits.

Coming Aboard

Still going strong after the arresting room visit, we entered the Engineering spaces. I met Chief Fulher who admitted to being just two years old when I attended Machinist Mate A School. We had fun showing Mike the stuff that makes Connie go. The boilers, the turbines the propeller shafts, etc. A BT3 (Boiler Tech 3rd Class) took Mike aside and gave him Boiler 101. How they are fired, fed fuel and maintained. This was Mikeís first ever visit to the Engineering spaces. He was amazed when we ducked (really had to stoop) under one of the spinning shafts that had a propeller on the other end. And yes, it was very warm down there in the bowels of the ship.

Next, surprise, surprise, a replenishment at sea (RAS). The Connie had caught up to the USS John Ericson an oiler/tanker. The Ericson maintained station and the Connie pulled up along side. Small lines were then shot across from the Connie (yes shot as in rifle). Little by little larger lines then cables are strung and the fuel hoses are run across on the cables to the thirsty USS Constellation. Quite the sight to see it all first hand. One of Connieís trivia questions was how much fuel is consumed an hour at 15 knots. Answer, 64,000 gallons of diesel fuel. Eight boilers, remember.

By 1800 the Ericson had pulled away. Still left was an ice cream social in the hanger deck for 1900. Hard ice cream on a ship at sea is a treat.

The overall sea state was one to three foot swells and a windy chop on the Pacific. The Connie had a very slight roll to her. Great for sleeping.

December 13, 1999, 0900, HI time, Monday

Morning world! I woke around five am and made a quick trip to the head. Woke again at six when they piped All Hands and woke a third time at 0745 and got up. Last night I took my shower to avoid morning rushes and continued that practice for the duration of the cruise.

I had some cantaloupe and a muffin for breakfast with coffee. I then went down to the ready room to send E-mail out.

Some ship facts:

We use key cards to access the state room and officerís head. The LTs asked me why it was called a "head." Comes from the days of wooden ships and iron men. The ships head in days of sail was indeed the head. The menís business was done up there so it wouldnít blow back in their faces. After all the wind was pushing the ship.

The Constellations hanger deck is the 00 deck. Decks above that are called Levels. Mikeís stateroom (there were seven of us sharing that; bunk beds and a cot) is on the 03 Level. Decks below the hanger deck are true decks. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Seven is the bottom in Engineering. 01, 02, etc. Levels. 1, 2, 3, etc. Decks. I think the shipís bridge was the 07 Level.

Fore to aft are the shipís frames. 00 to 249. Spaces are numbered from the shipís centerline. Even numbers port side; odd numbers starboard side. So Mikeís stateroom, 03-100-1L is:

The third level above the hanger deck at the 100th frame, first space from the centerline on the starboard side.

An "L" space is a living space. A "Q" space is a working space. And all that is how to find yourself on a large Navy ship when you are lost.

Just over the loud speaker. "1855 miles from San Diego!"

Ship Lesson 101.

December 13, 1999, Monday, 1530

The Connie launched jets and planes at 1230 for a 1300 air show. What a show! No less than three sonic booms over the carrierís flight deck by Tomcats and Hornets; small charges, but live ordnance dropped on "smoke" in the ocean. Helos provided the smoke markers. As the jets rolled by, missile decoy flares were dropped for show. The various jets did Imelmans (a vertical roll/flip maneuver), went completely vertical in ascents and many other maneuvers. Destroyer escorts came along and fired their five inch guns. Lots of stuff. The day was perfect for it. Partly cloudy, high ceiling sky and comfortable to be up there in a short sleeve shirt. Breezy across the flight deck with the shipís movement.

After the show and recovery of show aircraft, additional jets were launched for check flights. Because Mike is a Landing Signal Officer (LSO) I was allowed with him to go onto the LSO platform for the last recovery of planes. Up close and personal with fast moving landing jets on a carrier deck. Quite a sight to see a jet come in at 120 knots and stop dead as the arresting wire pulls it up tight. The wires are only a couple inches above the plane of the deck.

December 13, 1999, Monday 2000

Last entry for Monday. The "Dads" are crammed around the stateroom TV watching "Pulp Fiction" on the VCR. Mike and I ate dinner which was steak and baked potatoes. If you have ever eaten a Navy steak, youíll know why Mike and I opted for a burger. Burger, onion rings, small salad and soft ice cream.

After dinner we wondered up to the flight deck. I wanted to see a night at sea. Unfortunately, by then it had become very overcast with some rain. Not much to see. Mike and I then went down to the Combat Direction Center (CDC). A First Class Petty Officer (E-6 enlisted rate) and a Lt.Jg gave us quite the tour. I understood all the concepts but not all the "links" with intelligence information, satellites, etc. Lots of acronyms too.

When the Connie was doing Operations in the Persian Gulf, itís fighter aircraft belonged to the Army/Air Force whatever Ground Director as soon as feet dry (carrier plane is now over land vs feet wet or over water). The carrier at all costs is never put in harms way. The destroyer squadron picket ships and other aircraft are itís shield. The largest threat to the battle group is submarines. Apparently the Iranians have some pretty quiet diesel subs operating in the Gulf. The battle group has counter measures for that threat.

December 14, 1999, Tuesday, 1215

The Connie moved the clocks ahead one hour last night. One hour away from San Diego time. Caught me off guard.

Another "Dad" and I went down to fire a 50 caliber machine gun mounted off the hanger deck. After a pretty good wait in line, we donned flak jackets, ear protection and eye protection and almost made it to the gun before time was up. Long lines, so I never did get to pull the trigger. They allow the Tigers five rounds apiece. At 400 plus rounds a minute, that isnít long. I did bring Keith home some shell casings.

Connie launched air craft at 1230 (while I was writing this). Mike is grading the recovery of his Squadron jets for the Greenie Board. On the 03 Level we are one Level below the flight deck. A launch sounds like someone is slamming a long file drawer shut followed by a loud roar. The drawer sliding is the catapult firing the plane; the slam, the catapult hitting itís water brake or stop. The roar is the jet engine accelerating overhead.

With all the Tigers aboard, it is hard to watch all the flight deck operations from the island area above the flight deck known as vultureís row. There are only so many safe places one can be when the flight deck is busy.

I had a Western omelet for breakfast. Salad and soft ice cream for lunch. Ice cream, a basic food group. Soft ice cream is pretty much a standard except some days itís good, other days like paste.

I talked to a DESRON 6 LCDR about the role of Destroyer Group 6 and the battlegroup in general. DESRON worries about a 600 mile radius from the carrier. The Connieís crew sweats just a 25 to 30 mile radius from the ship. 600 miles is a lot of ocean if you want to compute the area of a circle whose radius is 600 miles. Donít forget to worry about the Z direction too. The X-Y plane is the ocean. Z extends vertically in air space and down into submarine space.

From the discussions with the Admiral and others on down all complaints, if you want to call them that, center on too few resources for too many areas to cover. Neither the ships, subs or air groups have enough to go around for the "hot" areas Washington wants to cover. Also, the Connie has been in service for 37 years. Some of the S-3 Vikings are 22 years old. Tomcats, Hornets, all are older than any automobile you or I would ever want to drive. Yet in harms way they are sent.

I went with Mike to Pri-Fly for the recovery. Pri-Fly is where the Air Boss rules. The LSOs grade the landing pilots for later de-briefs and the Greenie Board.

S-3 Vikings

December 15, 1999, Wednesday.

Good Morning Pacific Ocean!

I had lights out at 2200. Iím sleeping really well now for short bursts. Weird dreams are the clue. My bladder woke up at 0430 and together we found that the key card reader on the closest head was not working. I was ready to use any receptacle when someone walked by and pointed out several other options. I found another head and went back to the rack until 0700.

The ship held an amateur night/Foícle Follies show last night. After a couple of skits, Mike and I wandered off for other things.

Mike is the Assistant Operations Officer of his S-3 Squadron. "Growler", the OPs Officer (sitting next to me in the ready room as I write this now) has put Mike in charge of the Squadron fly-off scheduled for tomorrow. The entire Air Wing flies off tomorrow to go to their respective air fields and home. The helicopters will all leave just before we put into San Diego Bay. Mike has been up late working on his presentation and been in busy contact with NAS NI to coordinate the arrival of the Vikings. Apparently the Navy is doing some missile tests in the air route, so all the details need to be worked out in advance.

One of Mikeís senior Squadron members will fly off today for NAS NI to pick up some parts for either the Tomcat or Hornet Squadron. A tease for Jethro, the pilot. To get all the way home only to refuel and come back to the Connie.

December 15, 1999, Wednesday, 1515

We just spent about an hour on the flight deck watching helicopters watch a submarine. About 1420,the USS Salt Lake City, a Los Angeles Class fast attack sub, broached and showed us her sail and rudder. She had been riding herd on the Connie and finally let us see her. The copters were playing sonar games with her as well.

Not much doing tonight unless you play bingo.

I did walk around the Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Department and asked questions. AIMD handles the higher tech. electrical and other maintenance for the aircraft. Things like inertial guidance systems, etc. Later I walked over to the ordnance area set up around the 50 cal. machine gun and asked an officer some PQS questions.

"How many sailors does it take to run a bomb assembly table?"

"Eleven."

"What is the Weapons Department Head called?"

My instructor pointed to his chest patch and said, "The Gun Boss."

I had run into CDR Glenn the Gun Boss himself. Head of all weapons on Connie. Hell of a nice guy. We yakked about the Navy and Tiger Cruises and stuff.

Later up on the Bridge, I learned that the Connie had steamed in excess of 60,000 miles since leaving San Diego for the "Southern Watch" duty station. While I was on the Bridge, the Connieís Commanding Officer came up and said hello to all of us wandering around. Captain James Kelly.

From the Bridge I linked up with a tour by a Airman 3rd Class of the catapult systems. Like the arresting gear, the catapult is set up via hydraulics and electrical input based on aircraft type, weight and KEY, the wind speed across the deck. It is not unusual for the Connie to be able to create a 42 knot wind across the flight deck by steaming into the wind. This of course aids aircraft take off. The catapult "bottle" holds 520 psi steam pressure. The launch valve, hydraulically controlled, admits a predetermined amount of steam pressure to a piston which then carries the "carriage", attached to the plane, down the flight deck at an accelerating rate. The piston then slams into a water brake at the end of itís run and is re-cocked for the next launch. The steam is exhausted into a large tank and vented. The Connie has four catapults and can launch planes simultaneously.

I visited one of the ships three stores for souvenirs. I had bought T-shirts earlier for family. This late in the cruise pretty much everything is picked over by now.

Iíve just sent some E-mail out and now at 1550 got booted out of the ready room for a classified brief.

December 16, 1999, Thursday, Fly Off Day, 0930

Today is Dadís birthday. If born in 1912, my guess, 87 today.

The stateroom was up early. My guess is the pilots didnít sleep much as home is beckoning. The Vikings are scheduled to launch at 1030.

I had my first breakfast with Mike this morning. As I mentioned, the "boys" have been sleeping in. The Fly Off brief started at 0800. Mike had given his route brief yesterday. LTCDR "Cubbie" gave the fly in information. Where to group, how to look in formation, flowers will be given to you to give to your significant others after you park the plane; press will be set up, etc. The Commander of the Air Group (CAG) also stopped in to give his well wishes. As he, Captain Trotter, was talking the familiar sound of a jet trapping was heard with the announcement that the Admiral of the Pacific Fleet had just arrived to wish Connie home. Tradition!

Cubbie then went over the final brief. Radio frequencies and call signs. Mike is Griffin #8 in the launch scheme. Nine planes make up the Squadron. Lots of banter now in the Ready Room.

December 16, 1999, Thursday,1035

Iím in the Ready Room now with a few others. Vultures Row and elsewhere is cramped with spectators watching the fly off. Here I can watch the video camera thatís on the flight deck and write the description of the fly off as it happens. There are three TVs in here now all tuned to the flight deck. The non-flying Squadron members are here also. The E-2s, prop planes with radar domes on their backs have just launched. The Vikings are next.

The sea is moderate with three foot swells. The sky is slightly overcast. I can see the Connieís bow pitch a bit as it hits the swells. Temperatures are in the mid to low seventies. I was on the flight deck briefly earlier. The Connie is about 350 miles from San Diego.

Someone is playing a CD of Christmas choir music. The mood is somber here. The sailors have been away for six months; this cruise soon to be a memory. Griffin #1 is moving onto a catapult; the Squadronís Skipper. Griffin #1 is away.

Viking coming aboard

They are using just two catapults at this time as more deck space is cleared, more catapults will be used. Griffin # 2 is now on itís cat. They are right on time with the launch. G#2 is away. G#3 now on the cat. itís wings being unfolded. G#4 moving to the other cat. G#3 away. You can hear the cat slam home as they launch. G#4 away. G#5 and #6 moving to their cat.s. Mikeís Viking is numbered 716, Griffin #8.

There is a pause on the flight deck. The sea is picking up a bit. Connie is rolling a tad. Bang! G#5 is away.

716 just reported a wing lock problem. Mikeís plane. Not unexpected as this aircraft had earlier problems and this was part of the brief. Mike has until 1115 to launch and meet up with the Squadron. They will circle that long. Also part of the briefings.

Hornets are moving and launching now. They are clearing a path for the parked Vikings remaining. G#6 loaded and gone.

G#7 away on the forward catapult. Three cat.s now in operation. G#8 where are you? The first Hornet just left, now a second Hornet. Amazing to watch the ballet that is the flight deck. Each catapult crew doing itís thing. The deck handlers moving aircraft and unfolding the wings (folded up for storage and parking in crowed spaces) and preparing aircraft for launch. Another couple of Hornets gone. Very fast now the aircraft are launching. Okay, the number nine Griffin just left forward.

There is Mike now. Must have fixed the lock on the wings. Mike is moving over to the port most catapult. Things are set, the Shooter just hit the deck and G#8 is gone. Mike reported later that he had a wing lock warning light on all the way to San Diego. A bit unnerving, but the deck crew visually checked that all was well. On any other occasion, Mike would have refused the aircraft. His right to do that.

December 16, 1999, Thursday, 1440

The last plane a Tomcat has hit the air and came around on a fly by. I was on the flight deck for this last. Fly-off complete. The Connie looks naked with all of its aircraft gone. She is 1067 feet long and looks all of it now. Kids are below on the hanger deck throwing footballs around. That deck is also empty of aircraft. The hanger deck is large enough to hold two football fields and run two complete games if you wanted to. An USO troop is posing for pictures with the crew. Miss Mississippi and other Misses will entertain the crew tonight.

I went up to the wardroom café and had a little chocolate cake with some dog. "Dog" is the nickname for the soft ice cream. Has a little tail when it comes out of the machine. When pasty, add honey.

December 18, 1999, Saturday

The USS Constellation pulled into San Diego Bay at 1200 yesterday. I didnít have time for Friday entries into the journal. We were tied up to the dock by 1310 Friday.

The helicopters left the carrier at 1015 with the USO troop, ships boxes, bags and personnel. The sea 30 miles out from San Diego was like glass. No wind or chop or swells. One of the Dads reported seeing seals and sharks chasing seals from his vantage point up on the shipís island. The Connie still looked lonely with all itís aircraft gone.

The crew manned the rail for the entrance. Tigers and folks were all over the flight deck for the shipís arrival.

The Tigers of 03-100-1L, the stateroom, filed out around 2 pm or 1400 West Coast time, Friday. My suitcase was definitely heavy as I packed according to a list sent to us. Next time, if ever (I doubt it), Iíll take half the stuff.

I linked up with Mike and Jen on the pier at 1430. Mike handed me a Rolling Rock beer. There was a huge crowd departing the Connie as you can imagine. An accident on the Coronado Bridge kept us from my hotel for two hours. I got checked in around 1700 or five oíclock. Can you tell Iím leaving the Navy again? I called United to see if I could get an early flight out on Saturday vs Sunday and got no for an answer. Connieís schedule was iffy for the 17th or 18th arrival dates.

I took Mike and Jen to dinner at The Seafood Market. A nice restaurant on the harbor. Mike had oysters and snapper; Jen trout; myself halibut. After dinner we went to The Fields, an Irish pub in the "gas light" district of San Diego. I had an Irish coffee and we called it a night.

This morning (Saturday) I slept in a little. Lucky for me the Holiday Inn had a small laundry facility. I was able to wash clothes and repack for my trip to work on Monday.

I watched HBO and saw "Music From Another Room" and "Youíve Got Mail."

December 20, 1999, Monday, 2100 EST

My flight from San Diego was delayed two and a half hours. Fog the night before caused the aircraft to be diverted to Los Angeles. No morning planes for me. I missed my Hartford connection from Washingtonís Dulles and caught the last flight out. I got home Monday morning at 1 am.

I woke at 6:30 this morning to say Hi to Colleen and give her little gifts from the trip. I did Keithís at 7:30 and got up to do house errands and stuff. I got to work today at 1 pm.

Iím spending the nights down here to cram in hours for pay. Ten or eleven hour days until half a day Thursday to go home for Christmas.

End of Tiger Cruise 1999, USS Constellation CV-64.

Connie's wake

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