Wildcat     
    Be Careful What You Wish For
    by Dave Morss

    As it turns out over the last 25 years I've managed to accomplish most of
    these goals. I had an acrobatic school and taught acro in a Pitts, I was a
    partner in a Mustang, flew Lears for four years for an air ambulance
    company. .My vision improved and United ran out of perfect- visioned
    pilots although I found I hated the regimented life of an airline pilot, I'm
    glad I got to try it. And , I also started a company to test fly new
    homebuilts and have done over twenty prototypes first flights.

    This was way more than I could have hoped for but my aircraft carrier
    goals were not forgotten either. In 1978, I found a program that if you're
    in the navy and wear glasses, you can transfer to a flying job and have
    less strict vision requirements. This was a gamble but seemed the only
    way that I'd get to fly off a carrier so I enlisted in the navy. Twenty-three
    days later I was discharged because of an allergy that prevented me
    from having the required flu shots. They offered me submarines or a
    discharge and that was an easy choice. At this point I thought that I'd
    never realize that dream but the best was yet to come.

    About two and a half years ago I read an article about the CAF
    (Confederate Air force) and the sponsor program. It listed the aircraft
    available for sponsorship and their location. I'd just sold my helicopter
    and had some cash and this seemed like a good time to get in. I was
    amazed that there were two navy planes on the west coast that were
    looking for sponsors. One had a waiting list and the other had an
    immediate opening. I made several calls to people about the Wildcat and
    how it flew and decided to send in my ten grand. I then received a call
    confirming my deposit and informing me the airplane landed gear up and
    it would be a while before I could check out as the repairs were going to
    take quit a while. A long fifteen months passed before I got to fly the
    plane but I used this time to meet all the CAF requirements and take the
    checkrides etc. so when the Wildcat was ready to fly I was too.

    I'd been flying the cat for about a year going to as many events as
    possible and was invited to display the plane at the Alameda Naval Air
    Station in June of 95. During the display someone official looking asked
    me if I'd be interested in flying off the USS Carl Vinson for fleet week .
    Although I said yes, I really didn't think much of this as it barely qualified
    as rumor and this guy didn't really seem to understand all the logistics
    required.

    Then at the end of July out of nowhere comes a letter from Admiral
    Spane stating that the Yankee Aviation Museum is the point of contact
    for the civilian fly off? As I'm sitting reading this letter the phone rings
    and I meet Bill Klaers .He is the coordinator for YAM (Yankee Aviation
    Museum) and wants to know if I'd like to go to Hawaii with the Wildcat, if
    so, be in Alameda next Wednesday for the plane and pilot qualifications.

    Thus began one of the truly great adventures of my life. Before we went
    to Alameda we received a condensed version of what we'd needed to
    know about carrier operations .All the hand signals needed to be
    learned and the basic procedures were outlined. When we arrived in
    Alameda the navy's attitude was not only to check us out but they had a
    big learning curve as well since they (the modern crews) had no idea of
    our operations requirements. One of the first and to me funniest events
    was we had to devise a new way to taxi the airplanes. The planes on a
    carrier must always have a plane director and as a pilot you can't even
    move a control surface let alone the airplane without direction from your
    assigned plane director. In our pilot briefings we were told if we lost sight
    of our director stop instantly and don't do anything until visual control is
    regained. The navy had drawn the outline of the carrier on the ramp at
    Alameda and we would practice lining up and staging our launch just as
    we would in Hawaii . The problem came when the plane director started
    me turning, as my nose would cross in front of him. I'd lose sight and
    stop as ordered, plane directors are not allowed to move themselves
    when directing a plane, so we had the perfect Mexican stand off. I knew
    where he was and what he wanted but couldn't move he couldn't move to
    reestablish visual on me and so a new method of multiple directors and
    handing control over before and during turns was worked out.

    Having made the cut and been asked to go to Hawaii the fun was just
    beginning . Leaving Bob Lombard to try and finalize sponsors for this
    undertaking, Bill Klaers and Alan Wojciak started a whirlwind tour going
    from Alameda to Hawaii who knows how often. Some of the problems to
    be addressed were that in Alameda the planes would take the same
    route to the carriers as Jimmy Dolittle did with his B 25s but in Hawaii
    there was only one pier big enough for the Carl Vinson and it was
    nowhere near any place we could land airplanes. Arrangements were
    made to rent barges and a floating crane to take the planes from Ford
    island to the carrier at its pier in Pearl harbor. Also event insurance and
    liability insurance was secured as well as damage insurance for the trip
    over all this in about three and a half weeks.

    I also had some logistical problems as the CAF general staff wasn't sure
    they wanted the plane so far from home. The staff kept assigning me
    what seemed like impossible tasks(given the time frame) and whenever
    I'd complete one there would be another. Their concern wasn't with the
    event, the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. Or the chance to
    display the plane in front of millions of people at one of the biggest
    events of its kind. They just wanted to be sure all chances of getting
    stuck in Hawaii were covered beforehand. Finally Bob Reiss (the aircraft
    donor) and I were able to offer enough assurances and it was time to
    load aboard the Carl Vinson.

    Here again Bill Klaers worked his magic in arranging for all the special
    bridals and tools for the load aboard as well as assembling a crew that
    treated loading vintage warbirds as an every day job. About half the
    planes had someone present to oversee the load aboard but everyone
    just chipped in and helped where ever needed. That was another of the
    very special things about the whole experience. Most of the planes were
    privately owned and the owners ran from doctors, lawyers and TV
    producers, to big I mean big, business men. Yet with all these egos
    running unchecked, Bill managed to keep us focused on the tasks at
    hand. Even though most of us had never met before, we worked on the
    ground or shipboard and flew together like a well oiled machine. The
    Navy was also really into this event as I remember Capt. Baucom (the
    skipper of the Carl Vinson) scurrying around the number one hangar
    deck with a tape measure and scale drawing of how the planes would fit .
    And fit they did without a scratch. The only concern was these navy guys
    can't waste one inch. They are so used to not having any spare room
    that they'd drive you nuts towing your plane inches from the edge of the
    deck when there wasn't anything in sight to hit inboard. When they
    brought the Wildcat on deck to take a picture with a Tomcat, next to the
    island, it took five tries before they were happy that it was as close to the
    other plane as it could possibly get without trading paint.

    Several people from our group accompanied the aircraft on the carrier
    over to Hawaii. The interest in the airplanes was incredible and endless
    tours were given and many friendships started on the transit over. My
    crew chief Cal Howell and I elected to fly over commercially and then Cal
    would return with the Wildcat on the return transit. We arrived a day
    early just in case there was any chance to go out to the carrier and
    watch some air ops. Luck and good planing prevailed and we spent a full
    day watching air ops and getting an arrested landing and cat shot to
    boot. The next day we flew out for real and stayed with the ship until our
    fly off.

    Our fly off was the first event in a week of events to celebrate the 50th
    anniversary of the end of the war. Some of the other events were a
    parade of ships with 16 ships from five nations. A massive flyover with
    nine formations from three different airports comprising well over a
    hundred planes and helicopters. A special commemoration aboard the
    Vinson. The President visiting the Arizona memorial, a hangar dance
    aboard the Vinson ,a huge airshow and several static displays of the
    vintage warbirds at various functions around the islands.

    I don't think any of us slept very well the night before our fly off. Aircraft
    carriers aren't pleasure boats and in Hawaii it was always hot and loud.
    the one exception was my bunk as an air duct was pointed right at the
    middle of my bunk at full blast so I slept in my clothes with my flight suit
    over them and still shivered until morning. Morning started with a very
    long and intense briefing from the navy. Everything was printed out and
    handed to us in a briefing packet. The emergencies were all gone over
    again and nothing was left to chance. Briefing over we moved on deck. It
    was a beautiful morning and with the low sun angle there were several
    images that struck me as scenes from WW II. We were just off Diamond
    head and we all started up and warmed up our planes as they'd been
    sitting for about ten days. The navy never really believed so much
    smoke could come out of a plane and not be on fire. Some of the navy
    guys really wanted to extinguish the fires that they were sure had to exist
    from so much smoke. We assured them this was a normal occurrence for
    a radial engine that had been sitting for a period of time. On my runup I
    had a wet mag (the aircraft were spotted on deck the previous evening )
    and collected my share of attention with backfires before I got it warmed
    up and dried off. All the planes checked out and we headed out to about
    thirty miles for the flyoff.

    Waiting for the start time most of us were getting pretty pumped up. This
    was the event I'd been dreaming of for years and I didn't have to give up
    six years of my life to get it. Some of the pilots had flown off before but
    this was different and we all were very up handshakes and good lucks
    etc. .But as we started engines and followed all the hand signals all as
    we'd done before in the training, it felt very familiar and all the repetitions
    paid off in this being just another take off. I remember the plane director
    signaling me to go and a huge calm came over me knowing my dream
    was coming true so enjoy it. As I started my left turn and was cranking
    the gear up I had the biggest smile you could imagine. My assigned orbit
    was a half mile astern of the ship as the others launched. Wow that ship
    got real small real fast. As I watched the others launch, I just kept
    grinning and circling until I was called down to my flyby and roll. As I
    climbed up from the pass the ship called and said Wildcat head to the
    beach. As the others landed at Barbers point we all shook hands and we
    all had those silly grins that you get when you do what you thought you
    might never do.

    So what's next, well I've got some new goals, one is to do some flying for
    motion pictures and some other stuff that I'm almost afraid to think about
    for it seems anything might be possible.
WildCat