02 January, 2006

My Navy Day, pt. 2

After lunch with Lex, I was supposed to meet Sean (Doc in the Box) and his wife Heather at the MIDWAY Museum at 2:00. In consonance with the rest of my day, I arrived (after accidentally "taking the long way"), found a parking space, got change for the parking machine, and got in the door about 2:45 (so sorry, guys!). Even worse, Heather wasn't feeling well and they had to leave early. I felt so bad about leaving them waiting for me! It would've been so nice to just sit down and hang out with them (as Sean lamented), since in wandering around the museum we tended to not talk much, just take in and comment on the sights. But the companionship was great, and the museum itself was wonderful (probably why I kept paying attention to it, instead of being more friendly and sociable with Sean and Heather).

U.S.S MIDWAY served from 1945 (end of WWII) through the Gulf War of 1991, making it the longest-serving ship in U.S. Navy history. It was called "Magical MIDWAY" in reference to having a crew that consistently accomplished the impossible.

With no waist catapults (the ones in the landing area, angled outboard) the flight deck crew had to do a full re-spot of all the aircraft from the preceding recovery prior to the next launch. On a NIMITZ class (with a much bigger flight deck), this could take 2 hours. MIDWAY's crew could somehow do it in less than 45 minutes. This flexibility coined the expression "MIDWAY Magic," and it became a part of her legend as a fighting ship:

For the MIDWAY crew, the difficult was easy, and the impossible merely took a little longer.
Sean took a lot of great pictures that I hope he will post soon. Here are a couple of mine (click for full-size):

This model is one of the most fascinating things I saw on the tour. It was the scale model for the ship's developers/builders, and MIDWAY was built to it with very few adjustments/changes. Notice the contents of the hangar deck.

Upon seeing the Engine Room, I instantly understood where the creators of the original Star Trek had gotten their inspiration for the Starship Enterprise Bridge and Engineering. From the seats at the station to the wall of dials, it looked startingly familiar.

This is a view from the catwalk that leads to the bridge, looking down at the flight deck, towards the stern of the ship. If you look very closely, you can see the stern, under the the protrusion on the left (the Air Boss's "office"). In presentations that were given about plane landings, the presenters (former naval aviators) used that light, square building to the right as an example of what position they would be in relative to the ship as they began their 180 degree turn to the left and lined up for a daytime landing.

This is Ordnance Control, the tracking center for any activity on the ship involving moving around ordnance. My mind boggled at the complexity of apparently tracking it all by hand on a large chalkboard during combat flight operations.

And finally, here's a little puzzler for the non-aviator types out there. The sign just really tickled my funnybone. But the question is, what is it attached to?

Thanks to having read Lex's captivating and powerful descriptions of naval flight and life aboard a carrier, I largely saw the ship through the eyes of naval aviation. I think that made the tour ten times more interesting than otherwise, as I found there were things I already knew that went far beyond the basic museum explanations and gave me a deeper appreciation of what I was seeing.

The tour is worth every penny of admission, and I enjoyed myself immensely (it has lots of interactive exhibits, and I got to sit in a jet cockpit!). But something nagged at me: it was so quiet. I longed to know what the catapults sounded like from the deck underneath them, what the rumble under one's feet on the various decks must've been like at times, what the squawking intercom sounded like... I longed to see and hear sailors rushing around in ordered chaos on the flight deck as jets screamed in and out at regular intervals... It all just seemed so sterile now, so lifeless. The signal lights for the landing aircraft were removed, there were no catapults to see, there was no hum of engines or any of the other sounds Lex has described on his blog. There was no life. Just an Old Girl at rest, which I suppose is as it should be. Still, as interesting as it all was, I felt like I was seeing a ghost. And that made me rather wistful.

MIDWAY, as she once was...