Vintage Wings of Canada: Landing Signal Officers, then and Now

You are standing at the very edge of a steel cliff, high above the Indian Ocean. You look backwards across a hot steel deck shimmering in the 100ºF heat to the vast expanse of pale white-blue ocean. A white churning wake recedes in an arrow straight line, like pale smoke, until it disappears into the steamy haze that hides the line where the warm ocean meets the heat washed sky. A long, quiet ocean swell steadfastly raises and drops you 15 feet through a twenty second period. The soles of your feet burn through your tennis shoes. You do not have the benefit of a wind screen, so you lean backwards against the hot 35 knot wind pushing down the flight deck. Your feet are set far apart to steady your movement and your heart. Behind you, below you and in fact as part of you, lives one of the greatest and most storied aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy–29,000 tons, 1,900 men, 60 fighters and bombers, 750 feet long, nearly 100 feet wide.

120,000 steam driven horsepower hums up from six decks below, firmly vibrating the deck beneath your feet. You feel the rhythmic thrashing of the ships screws, the steady pulse forward, the rise and the fall, the push at your back, the sweat in your hands as you grip the two bakelite handles of your signaling lamps, the heat of the harness you wear with a third lamp strapped to your chest. You smell the acrid, black scent of diesel, your own unwashed clothes, the hot smell of sun-blasted paint and cable grease. You hear the winding down sound of the landing aircraft’s radial engine approaching, the snap of signal flags, the passage of water hissing down the hull 60 feet below you, the twang and crash of the crash barrier going back up behind you. You taste the salty air, the dry bite of stress, the grit of an aircraft carrier in the peak of performance.

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Source: Vintage Wings of Canada

Author: Vintage Wings of Canada

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