Flash Fiction is a popular format. Typically the piece is no more than 1000 words, often less. Here’s a sample.

Landing an aircraft traveling at 175 knots onto a flight deck that is moving away at 25 to 30 knots and maybe oscillating up and down as much as 35 feet vertically isn’t child’s play under optimum conditions. I can’t imagine what it would be like at night when all you can see are landing lights moving on the flight deck. We have to hit a spot on the deck that is less than the size of half a tennis court or about 20 feet long and wide. Add to this that we are approaching at a fourteen degree angle to the path of the ship because of the canted flight deck. It means the pilot is “slipping” the plane slightly as he tries to line it up on his landing target.

As we near the carrier we hit a rain squall and the visibility drops; not good. We get into line to land by flying downwind along the left or port side of the ship. The planes are spaced 45 seconds apart. As we turn onto the base leg running at a right angle to the ship the rain stops. Thank you God.

Then, we turn onto the final leg headed for our landing target and have to fly through heavy mist that cuts our visibility in half. We have to either hit our spot on time or we go around and try again. Even if we land on the spot our hook may bounce and miss the three arresting cables that grab an incoming aircraft. These cables stop a 175 mph, 30,000 pound plane in just two seconds if the hook catches one of the three. Having to make a second pass is a very bad thing. It messes up the process and as the pilot you undergo not only significant ribbing from your squadron mates, you also have to have a talk later with the LSO (landing signal officer) who directs the recovery. Every landing is graded green, yellow or brown. Brown means you failed and your future as a carrier qualified pilot is in jeopardy.

Approaching the ship we’re fifth in line to land. That means five times 45 seconds, or nearly four minutes of white knuckle flying. Being in the front seat, if we make a bad landing I’m going to be the first thing that slams into the deck, takes a dip into the Atlantic or a crashes into the stern, or fantail as they call it, of the ship. There’s nothing I can do but watch and wait. In the end we make a good landing but our hook breaks and we accelerate and go around for another pass. The problem is that we no longer have a workable hook to catch the arresting cables on the next pass. Now we have two alternatives. One is to bail out and ditch the million dollar plane in the sea. If I have a vote I will vote for number two, which is to land and be caught in the barricade. Fortunately, number two is everyone else’s choice as well.

The barricade is an emergency recovery system used only when the normal arrestment cannot be made. The deck crew can set up a barricade in less than five minutes. To rig a barricade, it’s upper and lower horizontal straps are stretched across the flight deck between stanchions, which are raised from the flight deck. Five vertical straps, each 20 feet apart, are connected to the horizontal load straps. The barricade is raised to a height of approximately 20 feet. The barricade webbing engages the wings of the landing aircraft and pulls it to a stop by virtue of a purchase cable attached to the arresting engine. This makes a mess of the flight deck so the process calls for landing all other planes first and then the wounded duck comes in.

Finally, after about fifteen minutes of sweat we come around for the final leg as the barricade is in place. I get a front row seat of the system in operation. It’s both frightening and comforting at the same time. When we hit the deck the pilot cuts the engine, we’re wrapped up in the barricade straps and dragged to a halt. Then, the deck crew pulls us out of the plane and I walk rather unsteadily across the flight deck and down to the ready room for debriefing. I’m thinking that maybe it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t pass the eye test to become a naval aviator, if this is what it means.