Captain N.J. "Dusty" Kleiss

Carrier Take-Offs and Landings

The ENTERPRISE flight deck was 109 feet abeam (including the island) and approximately 800 feet long. Less than half of that length was usually available for Scouting Six because the TBD's of Torpedo Six and the SBD's of Bombing Six were always in the pack behind us.

Frequently we watched a bomb-laden SBD drop out of sight as its take off run passed the bow of the ship. Then it reappeared, picking up speed, getting a boost from a 65 foot deck and "ground effect" between wings and water.

One day while I was watching on deck I saw a young pilot almost REALLY touch the waves ahead of the ship. Later he confided that he had taken off with his controls fully locked. He somehow managed to remove the unlocking pin, under the control stick, before crashing. He must have been a contortionist.

I turned down (refused) only one ENTERPRISE plane as I poised for take off. All the gages read perfectly, but I gave a thumb's down. Chief Dodge, probably the best aircraft engine man on the ship, ran up for a look. I again gave full power and the gages said OK, but I still downed the plane.

A younger pilot replaced me and took off. His engine failed, he crash landed just ahead of the ship, and was picked up by a destroyer. To this day I do not have the faintest idea of what was wrong. I do not believe in ESP but I do believe in awareness of familiar things beyond normal perception.

The ship had a hydraulic catapult located on the hangar deck, on the port side, 35 feet above sea level. An experienced pilot in an SBD was launched. He felt the lack of a "jolt" and stopped a couple of feet short of the edge of the deck. The catapult was removed. It was the only ENTERPRISE equipment which didn't perfonn except the original anti-aircraft guns. A few days after WW II started, a remotely controlled drone target passed back and forth over the ship, unscathed for half an hour, with all anti-aircraft guns blazing. They were quickly replaced with good ones.

The British called our carrier landings "controlled crashes," but they were not all that difficult. The pilot started downwind as he came abeam of the stem of the ship. His speed was about five knots above stalling speed and his altitude a few feet higher than the deck of the ship. He then made a semi-circle, keeping his eye on the Landing Signal Officer(LSO). Then all he had to do was watch the LSO's flags and go slower, faster, higher or lower, and finally make a "cut" or "wave off". The LSO's decision were inviolate.

On one occasion an F4F pilot was ordered to report on the ENTERPRISE if he successfully made his carrier landings. His first six attempts were total fiascos. On the next try he was given a "wave off" but took a "cut". His plane bounced on the deck and over the port side. Captain Murray was not impressed. Scuttlebutt had it that he ordered the ship's log book to read, "Lt.(j.g.) Blank reported aboard" followed by the exact day, hour, minute and second of the incident. The next item was almost exactly identical except "Detached. Duty completed" and the time was one second later. The pilot was recovered by a destroyer and returned to Pearl.

Pilots making a landing soon learned to take a quick look at the photographer perched on the top deck of the island structure. He never wasted a film or missed an accident. If he looked bored, you were OK. If he stood up you had better do something quickly. This area was called Vultures Row. I spent some time there watching new pilots land.

A safety net perhaps ten feet wide was placed a few feet below and abaft of the LSO. From Vultures Row I watched LSO Bert Harden signal a plane to take a wave off because the aircraft was too slow. The airplane responded slowly and headed directly for Bert, He dived for the safety net. He jumped so vigorously that he dived completely past the whole net and made a perfect swan dive of 65 feet. The destroyer behind the ENTERPRISE picked him up unharmed.

On another occasion I watched an airplane catch on fire as it stopped near the barrier. I was sure that the pilot would be lost since he was engulfed by flames. But in seconds the man in the asbestos suit had grabbed him out and he was on his way to sick bay in good shape.

On still another occasion a fighter, probably damaged in combat, landed so flat during a crash landing that it could not be moved normally. Within a minute, hundreds of men swarmed under it like ants and lifted it up on a dolly. {They were in blue suits, as I recall. Others, such as ordnance men, wore different color suits.) Meanwhile others were taking the trigger motors from the machine guns. Within a couple of minutes the whole mess was pushed over the port side and other fighters could land. The extra trigger motors would let more of our fighters use all of its guns.

The above might seem that crashes landed daily. Or during night landings. That was far from the case. The 16,OOOth carrier landing occurred in 1941, three years after the ENTERPRISE was commissioned. Only accidents get attention.

Operational schedules and battles did not permit new replacement pilots to make practice night landings. Like Torpedo Six pilots landing heavy, live torpedo loads on their first night landing. (They could not catch up with the fleeing Japanese on the night of the Pearl Harbor attack,) Similarly some new SBD pilots made their first night landing during the Battle of Midway. There were no accidents.

Accidents would have been more common if boiler room crews had not done unbelievable tasks to provide full power for the needed "wind over the deck".
Re-bricking the boilers was essential for full power. Putting the ship out of service for routine overhaul was impossible. The boiler room crews did this hot, hazardous task at sea, even during the Battle ofMidway.

One day all the warning bells sounded, speakers blared and the ENTERPRISE heeled hard to port. I watched a torpedo from a submarine pass a few feet astern of the ship. Thank God for those eagle-eyed lookouts and the boiler room crews who gave us those few extra knots.