Losses and Aviation Safety

‘Talk to me. I’m scared:’ US Navy F-8 Crusader pilot recalls when the LSO couldn’t talk to him during a night carrier landing

‘I came up on the radio and said, “Talk to me. I’m scared.” Nothing. Not a syllable,’ Larry Durbin, US Navy F-8 Crusader pilot.

It takes skills and nerves of ice for a US Navy pilot to land an aircraft on a carrier’s flight deck, essentially a miniature airfield, that is pitching, rolling and yawing in rough seas which these ships operate in.

To facilitate the “safe and expeditious recovery” of naval aircraft aboard aircraft carriers specially trained naval aviators, designated landing signal officers (LSOs), assist pilots by means of the “ball” and by giving information via radio handsets.

Beautiful profile artwork of the VF-13 F-8D that bore Durbin’s name in 1967. (Artwork by Mads Bangsø; you can purchase his art at www.artstation.com/aircraftprofiles).

Responsible for making instant judgments, LSOs direct aircraft landing aboard ship, and often know more about what’s happening with an approaching aircraft than its pilot. The LSO can tell at a glance whether a plane’s approach is too high, too low, too fast or too slow, and despite advances in technology (examples being the Optical Landing Systems on display such as the aforementioned “ball” aka Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System), the LSO still monitors and guides each landing and is responsible for calling wave-offs when an aircraft has entered a dangerous situation.

What if the LSO can’t talk to you during a carrier landing?

Late one night we were doing “quiet hours” for a reason I cannot remember or comprehend. [Note: Zip-lip or EMCON (emissions control) recoveries at night are extremely rare.] The LSO couldn’t talk to you. Figure that out. I was very uncomfortable aboard my F-8 Crusader, which never happened. I had a bad hop or something. As I was in the approach, I needed to hear the LSO. I thought to myself, the hell with their stupid rules. I came up on the radio and said, “Talk to me. I’m scared.”

Lieutenant Larry Durbin stands by “his” F-8 crusader in VF-13 in 1967, aboard the USS Shangri-La (CVA-38). 

Nothing. Not a syllable.

I trapped, went to the ready room, got debriefed by the LSO, not one word was mentioned about my transmission.

Ten or fifteen years later, I saw that LSO, Carl Jensen, at a reunion and asked him why he never said anything. He said, “If you had been off a whisker, I would have said something, but you weren’t. Perfect pass. And one more thing, I’ll bet no one else mentioned it either. We are all scared, but you said it.”

Naval Aviation has an endless supply of great stories and vignettes.

A trio of VF-13 Crusaders, painted with the broad red stripe on the tail. The design changed approximately 1966 to a thinner stripe.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

Larry Durbin

Larry Durbin spent 7 years as a US Navy fighter pilot and then 33 years with United Airlines. He also ran successful real estate businesses. He is retired and lives in Florida, and will share more flying stories with The Aviation Geek Club in the months ahead.

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