Our seats faced backward, adding disorientation atop dread. We were buckled into what proved to be a reliable rattling relic. The C-2 Greyhound ferried us sweating rookies from Coronado Naval Air Station to the floating high-tech projection of power called the USS Abraham Lincoln.
It was like riding a reeking dinosaur to a tightly orchestrated yet lurching dance floor of jet landings and launches.
The memories of 2011 were revived on Thanksgiving after hearing a similar C-2 Greyhound had crashed near Japan while delivering 11 passengers to the USS Ronald Reagan. Eight survivors, three missing and presumed dead.
The C-2 Greyhound is a workhorse, designed 50 years ago and in the air ever since in some form, with phaseout not beginning until 2020. Hard to imagine the Navy doing business without this bus.
Without doubt, the most white-knuckle moments in my two-day Lincoln shipboard visit were my C-2 flights and watching nighttime shipboard landings.
Mortal peril is a close companion to military service. Nothing can be taken lightly, one Lincoln sailor told me, any mistake or bad break and you’re done.
I tracked down a series of blogs I wrote for Fresno’s Community Medical Centers, my employer during my Navy trip. Here’s what I wrote on the C-2 shuttle experience, with condolences to families in the recent crash.
“Layered like a mummy. Tucked into darkness. Awash in fumes of fuel and gusts of heated air.
“Welcome to the belly of a C-2 Greyhound – you’ve been fed to the COD – “carrier on board delivery.” You and 14 others are today’s special meal, part of the Navy’s Distinguished Visitors program, in this case social media writers, photographers, thought leaders who been invited to overnight aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
“But as the twin-engine COD lifts off from Naval Air Station North Island, Coronado, you are only socializing with yourself, your anxiety heightened and your excitement tempered having just heard news of the deaths of Navy SEALs and other American personnel in Afghanistan.
“When F/18s and other aircraft descend onto a carrier, it’s often called a “controlled crash,” as they measure angles at high speeds and aim their tail-hooks for one of four wires strung across the ship.
“But when your COD is trapped, it’s called an “arrested landing,” going from about 105 mph to zero in two seconds. And, a day later when they “cat” – catapult – you off, you’ll be shot from zero to about 128 mph in three seconds.
“And you think of the 4,500 sailors, aviators and others you’re going to eat and chat with, and marvel and watch and worry with as well, however briefly. Where does their day take them, how do they deal with separation, if there’s something they want to world to know – the Navy has imposed no limits, other than no flash photography during nighttime landing. Sure, it’s a time-controlled snapshot but you want to be illuminating.
“And so, you sit there in the dark, waiting, as you’ve been warned, for the flight officers in the COD’s belly to yell and wave their hands to alert you that the trap is imminent.
“In your horse collar, cranial, ear plugs, ear muffs, goggles and spin-buckle, four-strap seat belt, you’re sweating and maybe hyperventilating just a tad, as you head for the gentle violence of a landing atop 4.5 acres of sovereign U.S. territory about 90 nautical miles west of San Diego.”
The recent accident near Japan, the latest in a sad string for the Seventh Fleet, drew me to old photos and a souvenir badge purchased from the “Providers” VRC 30, the crew of my twin-propeller Greyhound flights.
Again, I could smell nauseating fuel, feel the carrier deck quiver as engines thunder through my ear mufflers and my knees seesaw. Again, I am sealed in a dank, muggy metal purgatory, compelled to re-experience scattered memories while hurtling toward “Apocalypse Now.” Eternity was real as the sweat trickling down my spine.
John G. Taylor, a former Fresno Bee reporter and editor, is owner of JT Communications Company. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.