AERIAL PARTY ON A STRIKE AIRCRAFT CARRIER

 

In my day, I can well remember a much hated task of aerial party on an aircraft carrier. The carriers of WW2 and those built during the war/very early post war years, Eagle, Ark Royal, Albion, Bulwark, Centaur and Hermes, all commissioned in the 1950's. Then in no order of age but still around in the RN in the 50's were the Ocean, Theseus, Illustrious, Formidable, Victorious, Indomitable, Magnificent, Vengeance, Warrior, Perseus, Pioneer, Triumph, Implacable, Indefatigable, Unicorn, Glory, and these are only listed to show you that it was highly likely that you could or would be drafted to a carrier experiencing that awful aerial party job!

So why were aerials, and an association with them, so terrible: although others might disagree with me of course!

Well there are not too many places on an aircraft carrier to site wireless telegraphy aerials, and by the way, we in the RN call them such and not antennas - see this:-

AERIAL NOMENCLATURE

Specifically that referring to
chunks of naval metal which
are known to emit or receive
radio waves.

Get it right! A device which emits and receives radio waves is an A E R I A L - full stop. If you were a German or a French man you would say ANTENNE:  if a Spaniard,  ANTENA [one letter 'n'] and if an Italian, ANTENNA. Marconi [an Italian] is known as the father of radio communications, but, in the Royal Navy, Admiral of the Fleet H.B. Jackson [then Captain Jackson R.N.,] had as much to do with radio communications as did Marconi, at least in the embryonic days of the late 1890's. Unfortunately for us, our American friends copied the Italians, but we Brits say AERIAL. This little opening paragraph is taken from Chapter XVI of the RN W/T Manual dated 1920.

......and now back to the carrier spaces.

The reason for having a carrier is to use aircraft to attack targets [instead of by using guns, torpedoes etc] so all areas on-deck and below deck in substantial areas [hangars], are sacrosanct for the use by the FAA [Fleet Air Arm]. Putting aerials on deck is a non starter, so despite the sheer size of a flight deck [that's flying off and on and parking airframes either fixed wing, helicopters, and for parking/manoeuvring tractors and ammunition boggies, not to mention crash-on-deck fire-fighting crews.

So that leaves the Island, that great mass taking up virtually half of the starboard side. Believe you me, what is on and in that Island is a work-of-art, and departments have been known to fight other departments for a square foot [whoops, sorry, 0.09290304 square metre] of spare space. It has aerials for a whole set of situations in addition to those used for wireless telegraphy which includes radar, electronic warfare, homing beacons and even domestic television which was pumped around the ship. And as for those wireless aerials on the Island there were dozens of them of many different sizes and shapes. My story however is were there any others? Yes there were, all alongside the port side of the flight deck, raised high in the sky when not at flying-stations, and lowered down to the horizontal position  when carrying out flying operations leaving the flight deck absolutely free of obstacles. The masts were called "hockey-sticks" for they were shaped like one, and on the early carriers were hand cranked up and down, and on later carriers so fitted, were hydraulically moved at the push of a button. These 'hockey sticks' usually in groups of four in two sets, one set for transmitting and one for receiving, 6 to 8 hockey sticks on a large carrier [Eagle and Ark Royal] were strung with wires rather like a cello musical instrument.  The wires up to eight in number, had to be taut when the 'sticks' were raised, lowered and all positions in between and the aerials were continuously in use twenty-four hours a day, unless rendered inoperative for maintenance. My little animated picture depicts the situation for 'flying' v 'non-flying' ops. The animation exaggerates the position of the wing-span of the departing aircraft [shown in yellow] but it does show the safety of flight-deck operations. Wait for the .gif to finish before moving your scroll bar down!

 

This picture is self explanatory

Aerials of course must never touch an earthing metal part/point and the fixing part which is earthed is connected to the aerial wires via a glass insulator.

The next picture shows a typical aerial of a carrier in those times

Now these hockey sticks carrying their precious aerials without which a carrier could not communicate to receive orders*, rendezvous details and the like, when lowered, got quite near to the sea, or at least sea-spray which deposited large amount of salt onto the wires and the glass insulators.  When a carrier is operating into the wind and the near 50,000 tons hull is speeding along at 30 knots, that spray is all pervading requiring copious amount of fresh water to wash airframes [fixed or rotary] either reigned on deck or airborne for SAR [search and rescue] purposes.

 I started this section by referring to the hated task of aerial party. When in harbour we used to scramble over these aerials wearing knee-pads, brushing each and every wire throughout its length and circumference with a wooden cradle loaded with fine brass wires, as opposed to a conventional wire-brush, the like for stripping away rust on an exposed upper deck, and washing each and every glass insulator to restore the wire aerials to their intended efficiency. Fortunately, being on the port side we were not challenged to get rid of funnel emissions, which could and did burn FFO [furnace fuel oil] where emissions when mixed with soot, turned into black treacle. Superstructure in the vicinity of such a polluting funnel could be cleaned with a steam-hose, but not so delicate aerials however employed fixed or rotating. They were cleaned by hand either by climbing into the superstructure or on safe but nevertheless precarious ladders [is that a paradox?] and safer still, from a scaffold rigged specifically for Island maintenance....but enough of all that!

Way back in the early times of carriers and hockey sticks, Commander Air, when at flying stations also known as "GOD" and his Squadron[s] officers saw another use for hockey sticks when at flying stations, remember, lowered horizontally towards the sea as shown below.  Too many pilots/observers had "ditched" when attempting to 'land on', some crippled by defects/action damage, some mis-judged, but however, ended up on the port side of the carrier in the 'oggin' a naval word for the "sea." At all times without fail, such a ditching brought the SAR chopper into being, and if they missed the hapless aircrew then there was ALWAYS the RESDES [Rescue Destroyer] awaiting orders stationed on the port quarter of the carrier, ready to launch its seaboat to rescue these brave aircrews. But, thought the aircrew, why not add to our chances and use these hockey sticks as a third form of close-in rescue. This was approved by their Lordships, and safety nets were added to the lower parts of the hockey sticks to be used as "a grab as you pass" type life jacket.

Look at these pictures which we had in the Eagle in the 1950's. They are NOT thumbnails.

      

Thus ends my saga about hockey sticks and their aerials and operating positions. I leave you with a few details. In Eagle, the largest ship we ever had, and that remains vogue until the Queen Elizabeth gets going, passes her ORI [operational readiness inspection] and receives her F35 squadrons [2023?????], we had the ability to provide 15 simultaneous UHF frequencies; in the BWO [Bridge Wireless Office] we had 22 main receivers B40/B41 and in the LRR [Lower Receiving room] a further 25; in the MCO [Main Communications Office] we had another half dozen] all fed from those hockey sticks on what we called, a CAW [Common Aerial Working] system. Thus, the hockey sticks were not "knock about" [sorry for the pun] sticks, but crucial to the operation of this massive carrier. Many departments depended upon them and their functionality, but we poor bloody sparkers had the job of keeping them in tip top condition, even to the point of checking the "arrestor nets" slung low under the sticks. Mind you, a nice job in Malta for example, but not so nice in the Moray Firth or when blowing a s'westerly whilst hiding off Falmouth.