To catch a Mockingbird.
It was a day like any other in the North Arabian Sea: hot, hazy, bright and humid. We had reached the second month of our cruise and were settling into a routine. I'm part of the E-2C squadron on board. We fly up to four or five launches and recoveries per day in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Because of the similarities between our two airframes, we also provide support for our sister squadron, VRC-40 "Rawhides," who operate the C-2A Greyhound.
We had just recovered Rawhide 54 and needed to do a quick turnaround for its flyoff and return to Bahrain. Passengers and mail were loaded for the return trip, and checks were complete. We broke down the aircraft, then returned it to the bow for launch.
The mighty COD followed the director and got into position for launch. I placed myself on the port side to perform my final checks during the run-up. As Rawhide 54 was placed into tension and came up on power, the starboard final checker and I scanned the aircraft from back to front, looking for leaks or other things amiss that might prevent the aircraft from safely taking off.
I scanned forward. With the COD at full power, tearing the air behind it, I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye: a bird was heading right for the port motor. In the blink of an eye, the now exceptionally confused mourning dove was snatched up in the prop wash of the mighty Rolls Royce T56-425 engine and hurled down to the deck and straight back-right toward the maws of several Hornets waiting behind the JBDs.
The only thing between the hapless dove and certain death--and a probable-FOD incident--was me. Instinctively, like a shortstop stabbing for a hot line drive, I reached out and felt the satisfying "thud" in my hand. I quickly tucked it into my float coat.
There was no need to further delay the launch, so I gave a proud thumbs up signaling my readiness to release the bird--I mean, the COD. The troubleshooter on the starboard side, though surprised at what I had just done, concurred and relayed our collective signals to the topside petty officer and the shooter. The COD was launched without incident, its aircrew and passengers none the wiser.
We took the shocked dove down to airframes, where we nursed it back to health and kept it as somewhat of a pet for a day. We then took him to the hangar bay and released him back into the wild--between launches, of course.
I get to say I caught a bird while launching a bird, which is something not many people, can say.
By AD3(AW) Luis Diaz
AD3(AW) Diaz is with VAW-124.