Thomas is a Tiger. That is, he's in his first year of Cub Scouts and he and his friends are known as Tigers (go Pack 464!). This gets Thomas and I doing lots of interesting things: going on outtings, building cars, and... spending the night on an aircraft carrier!
The USS Hornet
is a floating museum docked in Alameda, just south of Oakland and across the bay from San Francisco. As part of the Hornet's "live aboard" program, Thomas and I spent about 20hours on the ship from Saturday afternoon to noon Sunday.
Neither Thomas nor I had been on a military ship before, let alone an aircraft carrier. The Hornet was built over 60 years ago and refitted multiple times since then. It served in WWII and picked up the Apollo 11 crew upon their return to earth. Saved from the scrap heap 10 or so years ago, it's been renovated by a welcoming and dedicated group of people.
After orientation, setting up our bunks, muster, and chow, we spent the evening exploring the ship from top to bottom. Being able to roam around a floating city (3,500 crew members during WWII) was a lot fun. We got lost a few times but, as long as you know which way is up :-), it's easy to find your back to the hangar deck.
The Hornet's team is doing a great job at procuring and restoring navy aircraft, including many that once served on the aircraft carrier. Our favorite is the F8 Crusader. Looking down its air intake was truly like looking into the gaping maw of a great white shark. Indeed, we were told the story of a 260lbs man being sucked in from 10 feet away and literally pulverized. BTW the plane you see to the right took 1,000 hours to restore and is in beautiful condition.
By far the best part of our stay was the fact that ex-crew members of the Hornet and its sister ships were giving us tours and answering our questions. It made all the difference in the world and gave us a window in the lives of the crew. We learned a ton:
- Frank, who worked on the flight deck on the Hornet in the 50s explained, with the help of a model and cardboard planes, how the carrier managed its fleet of 90 aircraft.
- He also told us of the time he was burnt by jet thrust and being blown 400ft down the flight deck. Thomas was very impressed.
- The Hornet's flight deck is made of teak (by far the most valuable part of the ship we were told!). Metal would make it too easy for sparks to fly and fuel to combust.
- Rich gave us a very detailed tour of the flight bridge and told us of his experiences working on deck: how planes were launched, how pilots lost their lives in the event of cold catapults (i.e. ones that didn't propel their jets from 0 to 120mph in 2sec flat), and of pulling pilots out of burning aircraft wearing an asbestos suit.
- Michael (?) gave Thomas and I a private tour of the CIC (Combat Information Center) and turned on all the green and blue "mood lighting" for us. Very cool.
I could go on and on. Suffice it to say it was an incredible experience and Thomas already wants to go back. Many thanks to our hosts on the Hornet and esp. the former crew members. You made a tremendous and often very moving difference.