I showed up in March 2013 as the FNG to VFA-131, the WILDCATS while deployed in the North Arabian Sea. I had showed up a day before the Air Wing was to support Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. Three months and three port calls later, my short deployment was coming to an end. With three months of flying and having not embarrassed myself around the ship, I was ready to get home.
“Dewclaw” Yelled the OPSO from across the ready room. “The Skipper wants you to be a part of the Air Power Demo. You will be part of the wall of water.” So I thought, “Great, how can I mess this up? I will drop four bombs, with an experienced Division Head as my lead, what could go wrong?”
The planning began. We looked at the gouge from the last air power demo. Checking and double checking how they used WASP to make the bombs drop and impact a mile abeam the ship, on time. After doing some math, appreciative now that I remembered SOHCAHTOA from High school calculus, we had determined what we needed to do to get the bombs off and make this presentation look good for everyone. The plan was for me to fly wing and pickle my bombs as I see the third drop from lead’s jet. Easy day.
First practice goes great, no issues, our timing was a few seconds off but still within the briefed timing window. In my head as we were SIM dropping I was imagining how the bombs would look coming off the jet in a high drag configuration and pickling when I imagined the third to come off. I had this suit cased, what could go wrong now?
The air power demo finally came. I was not particularly worried about how it would work out. The brief was the same as the first with one change, our load out now included a bucket of flares. My lead directed that he would dispense them on our ingress and I would dispense on the egress. Again, what could go wrong? Watch the flares come out, wait for the third bomb and pickle mine. We walked on our jets uneventfully, took off, entered the holding stack, pushed a little late, nothing that would detract from the performance, we were lined up and I was armed up.
I look to the HUD, waiting for magic number 1.2, the DME at which lead would begin his drop. I look back out, expecting 1.2 to come soon. Flares came out as briefed and I pickled. “Wait? Did I just Pickle? Yes I did, take your thumb off the pickle now!” By the time I realized what happened lead had dropped his bombs and we were on our egress so I dispensed my flares. I hear Skipper over the TAC frequency say with a somber voice “What happened?” I was speechless, thinking that “Something came off, but I am not positive.” I checked my Stores page and sure enough I dropped one bomb. I was furious, everything happened so fast, and I knew everyone was watching.
So, after the “short pickle” I finally had a chance to look out at both wings, saw 3 bombs sticking out from underneath the leading edge flaps. We had briefed that for whatever reason the bombs don’t come off we will clear an area, and execute the select jettison...