Jason B. Ladd

Ask the Questions. Embrace the Answers. Make the Leap.

Bingo on the Ball: Are You About to Bolter?

carrier bingo

Are you tired of looking at life through wet glass?

I was.

How can we teach our children about a world we don’t understand?  

I ended up bingo on the ball while seeking answers to life’s biggest questions and pursuing the perfect pass at the boat: an OK 3-wire.  Don’t worry: I’ll explain.

I cruised over the Pacific off the California coast, scanning the horizon for the USS Nimitz.  At 600 feet, I flew directly over the carrier deck, lined up with the ship’s heading.

It was time to execute one of the most difficult maneuvers in Naval aviation:

landing on a tiny platform on a moving target, pitching and rolling with the ocean waves.

I took a deep breath and wiggled my toes.  No one wants to bolter (miss the cables) on their first attempt.  I completed the landing checklist and set up for the approach.  My goal was the trap on the third cable, or the “3-wire.”

“Shooter-21, three-quarters of a mile, call the ball.”

The Landing Signals Officer (LSO) announced, a litany given hundreds of times before. 

I rolled out and the golden glow of the “ball” came into view, slowly rising up from beneath the datums. 

“Hornet ball, 6.3, bingo.”

I keyed the mic and responded.

The last number represented 6,300 pounds of fuel remaining. 

Fuel quantity is the critical factor determining when an aircraft must cease carrier landing attempts and divert to the nearest land base.  This predetermined fuel state is referred to as “bingo.” 

The last thing you want to do when you’re bingo on the ball is bolter. 

“Come left,” the LSO commanded to ensure proper alignment.

The ball was still slightly low.  I added power.

Never lead a low ball.

I remembered one of the mantras of carrier landing corrections.  When fixing a low ball, the cardinal sin is to pull power too soon, creating a ball that rises but never reaches the datums.  In other words, after the correction, you’re still low.

I gave a power correction that put me above glide slope and then made a few choppy power modulations to work off extra altitude in the final seconds of the approach.  Pulling too much power could result in violating another cardinal rule:

Never trade a high ball for a low, especially in close.

“Power . . .” the LSO spoke calmly and slowly, indicating only a slight correction was needed.

I made final corrections as the ship grew larger and the sailors on the flight deck came into focus.  Lineup was good as I crossed the ship’s stern.  But one more power correction sent the ball creeping toward the top of the lens.

I was about to bolter . . .

Approach on the glide path. For wide is the corridor and broad is the path that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the landing zone and narrow the path that leads to the 3-wire, and only a few find it.

Developing a worldview allowed me to look at the world with freshly cleaned glasses. That which separates right from wrong is not made of glass, but can become equally distorted.

Are you making corrections in life to keep you on glide slope?

Or are you about to bolter?

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