Douglas Waller on writing Air Warriors: This is an adventure story about young men and women learning to become Navy carrier pilots. Movies such as “Top Gun” and “An Officer And A Gentleman” have glamorized the life of Navy pilots. Air Warriors tells the real story with real-life people who are now flying for the Navy. It is a book for flying enthusiasts, for anyone interested in the military, and for students who want to know how to become a Navy Top Gun.
For two years, I followed different groups of men and women through Navy pilot training. I interviewed over 200 pilots. I watched them plunge into water in simulated cockpits, where upside down they had to unstrap themselves and swim to the top to escape drowning. I watched them take their first solo flights. I watched them dive bomb and fight in aerial dogfights. I watched them land on carriers for the first time during the day and night. To experience what they were experiencing, I was able to fly as a passenger on most every flight they flew. Carrier pilot training is physically and mentally demanding. Just imagine a 30-ton jet flying 140 miles per hour and coming to a crashing halt on a rocking steel runway 200 feet long. That type of landing has to be carefully choreographed like a ballet. If the jet is off by just a few feet in the landing, the pilot can end up in a fiery crash. That’s why pilots must have nerves of steel and a surgeon’s touch at the stick and throttles.
Or, take a catapult shot from an aircraft carrier. In just two seconds, this multi-ton jet goes from zero to 120 miles per hour. The g-force from this catshot is so great it plasters you to the back of your seat. It would cause my eyes to roll back so I couldn’t read the dials in the cockpit. But in those two seconds, the pilot has to decide if he has enough speed from the catshot to begin flying. If he doesn’t, he has to eject off the bow and hope that the ship doesn’t run over him. What does it take to become a carrier pilot? Mental discipline is most important. There are thousands of things you have to memorize about the plane and flight procedures. You have to be able to do several things at once. Some student pilots will juggle balls and recite flight rules as practice. You have to be fast with your eyes, your hands and even your fingers. Carrier pilots have to practice special eye movements so their eyes can dart from the outside to various readings in their cockpit within microseconds in order to absorb hundreds of bits of information almost instantly. A jet pilot almost has to be a pianist with his fingers dancing over so many switches and knobs. In fact, at the Naval Academy some of the students who want to become jet jockeys are told to go out and buy a Gameboy to limber up their fingers.