Who Was Behind the Navy Tomcats?
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Inside the cavernous hangar, the 13 sailors on the day shift of VF-51’s line division are changing into coveralls for another eight or ten hours of dirty work. The line division supervisor, Tony Gibbs, is checking on the posted plan of the day for the scheduled launch times of his airplanes. Gibbs, a 29-year-old first class petty officer, has charge of the biggest shop in the 250-man squadron: 26 sailors, most of them airmen, E-3s not long out of boot camp, the lowest rank in the fleet. It’s also the youngest shop. Most of his airdales are between 19 and 22. This is where the plane captains work, the boys who have the most contact, on a daily basis, with the airplanes. It’s where the action and the danger is, especially on board ship, where their work is concentrated on the flight deck and can be more perilous than a fighter pilot’s. “For young guys, the line is the place to be,” says Gibbs as his plane captains josh and grab ass and skylark. Here it is, still chilly graylight, and the plane captains are behaving as if they’ve been up for hours.