NIGHT INTERCEPT

by Ptero Art Ladley

Bong!, Bong!, Bong!, Bong!....,

Bong!, Bong!, Bong!, Bong!

The raucous alarm rips the silence of the tranquil night.

"Now launch the ready 4Y, Intercept"

Resounds across the Air Station.

 

Only a minute ago it seemed

I fell asleep fatigued

But now it's one AM  and instantly awake

Like the other two pilots I roll out of bed,

Quickly donning flight suit and boots.

 

Down to the OPS center on the run,

The duty chief has the skinny.

"Clipper 26 Victor inbound from Wake,

No. 1 feathered, three hours out,

Requests intercept."

 

Out to the plane on the warm, sultry night,

A distant shower dims the lights from Pearl.

Up through the bomb-bay doors I scramble

Finding my seat at the nav table.

Up front the crew chief has started No. 3,

The noise, the eerie dim red lighting,

The quick scurrying of the other crewmen,

The smells of oil and fuel and leather

And a sense of unreality

 Add to the excitement of the moment.

 

Now we are taxiing to runway 4 Right.

"Coast Guard Rescue Six Six Three Zero Four,

You are cleared to intercept Clipper 26 Victor,

Proceed via rhumb line track,

Climb and maintain eight thousand,

Turn right after takeoff, ........"

 

"Pilot to Nav, I need an intercept time ASAP."

Quickly advancing the last position of 26 Victor

 With our mutual airspeed I have the answer.

"Nav to Pilot, Intercept at 1250 Zulu."

 

Slowly we climb through five thousand,

Skirting the edges of a large shower

We are soon above the clouds and heading west.

The stars above are brilliant and everywhere,

Their beauty an easy distraction

From the work to be done.

 

 

 

 

 

I stare at the Loran-A receiver.

On this course towards Wake

There are good signals for a while.

Soon there's a series of neat little fixes on the chart.

It won't last long!

"Nav to pilot, groundspeed one six zero,

On track, ETI still looks good."

 

We rumble along on autopilot,

The P4Y is a lumbering relic (no boosted controls)

With a beauty all its own.

The eighteen thirties breath fire from the exhaust stacks

And cast an eerie glow.

 

Thoughout the plane all the crewmen work

Or contemplate their tasks.

The radioman is forever busy, talking with 26 Victor

 And other Coast Guard  units.

The ordnanceman thinks about the possibility

Of flares and equipment drops.

The pilot muses through all the what-ifs.

Supposing 26 Victor loses another engine,

Supposing he has to ditch!

Supposing we lose an engine!

 

"Pilot to crew, we have a line of heavy showers ahead.

We're gonna punch through them shortly,

So batten down the hatches!"

 

I scan the night sky from my nearby port.

 The stars are flickering through the sudden clouds above,

Quickly they are gone!

The smooth air begins to change,

The plane begins a series of unpredictable lurches.

 Nearby lightning fills the night,

In an instant it frames the picture of a tortured sky.

 

Suddenly the bottom seems to fall out.

We are descending rapidly in a down draft.

"RPM twenty three hundred, climb power" calls the pilot.

 

Some of my carefully placed charts

 And Nav tools are now scattered on the deck.

A wayward cup of coffee has added to the mess.

 

For ten minutes or more the 4Y goes through

A series of unnerving oscillations.

The turbulence is frightening!

Each crewman concentrates on the task at hand.

Suddenly it is over, the stars are out again.

A feeling of relief for all.

 

 

 

 

"Nav to pilot, twenty minutes to intercept.

Recommend left to two six five."

"Clipper 26 Victor, Coast Guard Three Zero Four here.

We estimate intercept at five five.

Please key you mike for the next thirty seconds

While we try for a bearing."

 

I rush up to the cockpit.

Another pair of eyes to look for the approaching Clipper.

Ten minutes drag by.

Our bearing effort was indeterminate.

Maybe our homer was bad.

We don't want to overshoot!

 

Suddenly a star, fifteen degrees to port

And low on the horizon looks a bit different.

Is there some motion there?

A minute later both planes confirm each other's sighting.

 

Slowly we turn to port while keeping 26 Victor in sight.

She has another hour and ten to make Honolulu.

We will fall slowly behind but should

Be able to keep her in sight.

 

The Clipper captain requests we slide by to port

So the passengers can see us

(Just a comforting silhouette in the night)

 

I trade places with the copilot

For the rest of the flight

And am anxious about reeencountering the earlier squall.

But it has wandered away

Or given up its energy to the night.

 

Soon there are lights off to port, - Kauai.

"Center, Coast Guard Six Six Three Zero Four,

One hundred west, approaching Swordfish, request descent."

This is always the best part of the flight!

 

"Pilot from radio, 26 Victor is on deck at Honolulu

 And says many thanks and good morning."

Soon Oahu and Barbers Pt. loom ahead.

A few showers linger in the distance.

"Coast Guard Six Three Zero Four cleared to land 4 Right."

 

Now flaps and gear are down,

The landing lights illuminate

The crashing surf against the beach below.

Quickly the edge of the runway slips beneath us

And we are home again.

 

I wonder if the XO will let us sleep in?

 

 

Renton, WA 9/22/98

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