Military Aviation

US Navy F/A-18 pilot recalls when he was launched on Alert 5 to intercept an Iranian patrol aircraft that ended up being a C-2 COD

Alert 5

Alert 5, also referred to as Ready Five, is a condition of high alert for aircraft crews on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, in which they are ready to launch within five minutes. As per Wiki, fighter aircraft are placed on the steam catapult complete with flight crew, armament, and fuel, ready to defend the carrier battle group from any unforeseen threat.

Kelly Williams, former US Navy F/A-18 Hornet pilot, recalls on Quora;

‘Here’s my story of an Alert 5 I stood on the USS Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf, circa 2000.

Iranian P-3 patrol aircraft

‘I drew the 0400–0600 F/A-18 Alert 5 on the bow cat after I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before due to strike planning and other duties. I was exhausted. There was intel of an Iranian patrol plane that was supposed to be paying us a visit, but no alerts had been launched recently and I expected to just sit in the jet for two hours then head straight to my rack for some much-needed sleep.

Launch the Alert 5!

‘It’s quiet and peaceful on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the night with no air operations going on. Even so, I could never sleep in the cockpit. I read a magazine until 10 minutes before 0600 when my relief pilot showed up for his 0600–0800 shift. Great, after his preflight inspection of the aircraft, I’d climb down and he would climb up to replace me and I’d be headed to my rack. About half way through his preflight, the call came down. “Launch the alert 5!” With no time to switch places, I found myself hurling off the pointy end about 4 minutes later. Crap!

‘So much for my much-needed sleep, but at least I might get to intercept a foreign aircraft. The cool thing about alert launches is that nobody else is usually airborne. In normal ops, you had to fly out to 10 miles at about 500 feet so as not to conflict with other aircraft that might be in the pattern, but since nobody else is airborne, you can do pretty much anything you want. With burners lit, I took a vector south toward Bahrain. The bogey was at about 150 miles and closing. It seemed odd to me that an Iranian patrol craft would be coming from the south, but that was my vector. My orders were to intercept and escort.


Just a C-2 COD aircraft

‘I was visual from about 15 miles out, it looked to be a medium size twin engine prop aircraft. As I closed to a few miles I was able to get an ID and transmitted to the ship that it was one of our own C-2 COD aircraft, as it turns out, making a scheduled morning run out to the boat with mail and supplies! What the hell? I launched for this? I broke off and headed back to the ship, looking forward to a quick recovery. With luck I’d be asleep in my rack within a half hour. I asked for an expected recovery time and was given a curt “stand by”.’

Williams continues;

‘As I arrived overhead the ship, I was dismayed to see the landing area fouled with aircraft. I again asked for a Charlie time and was once again put off. My saving grace, or so I thought, was that I’d used up a lot of gas in the intercept and they would have to recover me soon before I ran out.

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Airborne alert

‘As my fuel dwindled, I looked forward to landing and getting my much-needed sleep. Then I received a call, “Ah 302, your signal is tank, we’re launching an S-3 to fill you up to remain overhead the ship as an airborne alert” Crap again! With a full bag of gas, I could remain overhead for a long time when really all I wanted to do was get some sleep. I dutifully plugged the S-3 and resigned myself to boring holes in the sky for a couple more hours at max conserve.

Williams concludes;

‘Then maybe 5 minutes after tanking, I get an immediate Charlie call. I guess they changed their minds about the airborne alert as I ended up dumping about 8000 pounds of the gas I had just received to get down to landing weight. Since it took several minutes to dump all of that fuel I couldn’t make an immediate Charlie. I recovered shortly after and was happy to finally be able to make my way to my stateroom for some much-needed rack time.’

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Photo credit: U.S. Navy

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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