Learning To Love The Rooster Tail And Burble

Many years ago in a land far, far away I was taught to love the rush of the “rooster tail and burble.”  No it was not a sex act, a drink, an erotic dance, or some unimaginably beautiful women. It was a physical experience that only a few people ever get to enjoy or hate as the case may be. This all happened in the early sixties whilst I was seconded to the U.S. military on exchange duty for two years. At first I hated it as it scared the living shit out of me but now I remember it as something I loved.

This all came back a few weeks ago when I met an old service mate who served with me in an American Marine Aviation Squadron on an American Aircraft Carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin. He told me about his son who is now qualified as a U.S. Naval Aviator. As we reminisced I remembered when I was introduced to the “rooster tail and burble.”

I was posted to a unit based near San Diego on the coast of California. This is an area that contains many Marine and Naval Air Units. Shortly after my arrival I was informed that I would be required to do “CARQUALS.” What the bloody hell are those I asked? You have to ride the “rooster tail and burble” was the reply. Yeah pull the other one was my answer, which really confused them and I think they thought I was stupid which was about right.

“CARQUALS” was the acronym for carrier qualifications which required me to do ten daytime traps/ landings on an aircraft carrier and ten daytime accelerator/ catapult shots/launches followed by four each night ones. These were done a short distance off the coast as if one was unable to do them one had to be able to divert to a land base. Prior to the carrier I trained at an airfield, this had a flight deck painted on a couple of its runways fitted with arrester gear. After passing these tests the Marine Squadron deployed to the Essex class carrier U.S.S. Oriskany in Harbour and then she proceeded to sea for the tests and all the aircrew qualified.

Matt 1

I qualified on an early marque of” Heinemann’s Hot Rod,” the famous A4 Skyhawk jet attack aircraft. Just after this the unit converted onto other attack aircraft. I guess that I was disappointed not fly the A4 more but those were the breaks. For those without knowledge of the famous “Scooter” this was an aircraft that came about from the perseverance of an American flag officer who was present at a presentation on fighter aircraft growth factors by Ed Heinemann the design engineer from Douglas Aircraft.

Rear Admiral Soucek asked if these factors could be applied to attack aircraft. Apparently the answer was yes. So came about an aircraft that reversed current thinking that said that to get better you went bigger and more complex. Thus was born the “Tinker Toy Bomber.”

What is a “rooster tail” and what is a “burble”?

The answer is simple they are products of the air flow over an aircraft carriers deck. As one approaches a carrier it is steaming into wind for all air operations. Wind over the deck passes down the length of the ship and if it has an angled deck this affects the air flow quite seriously as does the island superstructure, with eddies and turbulence. As the air flow goes over the stern which has a round down it drops reducing the lift co-efficient [the burble] then rises up into a vertical column {the rooster tail.} As carriers have different catapults at different positions these all have slightly different wind strengths and conditions plus at sea the wind will vary in strength by 1 to 3 kts in normal conditions at all times.

As one approaches for a trap aboard the carrier he has to radio his aircraft type and weight so the deck force can make the correct settings to the arrester gear. Each aircraft type has a maximum weight allowed for landing plus a set glide angle for the landing approach. Each landing is controlled by an L.S.O. A pilot was assigned this duty,  he is then trained to tell when an aircraft is on the glide path correctly, too high, too low, to the left or to the right too far, as well as descending too fast or slow.

He is stationed on a small platform about 130 ft forward of the stern and about 30 ft to the left of the glide path. At any time he had the authority to wave off a plane and sends it around again. The deck is equipped with four arrester wires and the desired result was to hook the third wire from the stern, a one or two wire were assessed as a little too short and a fourth wire to long as it left very little room to “bolter” or open up everything and get off again safely. When one hooked any wire one opened the throttle up to full power as if the hook bounced or if you had any failure you only survived and got airborne again if you were at full power. The deck crew signalled to cut power and if you ignored them the smelly stuff really hit the fan.

Join me on approach in the landing pattern

Matt 2

L.S.O.: “Sky Devil 184 clear to trap, Skyhawk ball

Me “Sky Devil 184, 14,800lbs, Roger have ball

L.S.O.: “Sky Devil 184 drop 10 knots increase descent rate 20ft

Me: “Sky Devil 184 Roger slowing and sinking

L.S.O.: “Sky Devil 184 come left a bit and  reduce power

Me “Sky DEVIL 184 Roger

L.S.O.: “Sky Devil 184 looking good increase descent a bit

Me: “Sky Devil 184 roger


I can only click the mike button as I have reduced too much power in the rooster tail and the carrier`s round down is in front “LEVEL” with my windscreen as the burble catches me.

Slamming the throttle lever into full power my valiant little “Hot Rod” shudders as the J65* turbine winds up and heaves us upon to the deck. Meanwhile the L.S.O is calling out “184 CUT, CUT, CUT.

I cut power and slam down and push the throttle lever to the fire wall as the turbine winds up into a banshee scream. I am thrown hard against the harness straps as the hook snags and belt my head on the gun sight`s top pad. Do up those straps harder or grow a new nose I tell myself as I throttle back and select hook up as the deck monkeys race in and clear the hook for me and then guide me up to behind number three cat for relaunch.

My vernacular is showing

So I guess I should explain some of the unusual vernacular used.

The BALL: referred to above is the name given to the Fresnel lens landing system employed on aircraft carriers. This system was invented by the Poms and has been refined and improved with newer technology. The system consists of coloured lights set in vertical and horizontal baffles and projected up the glide path at a set angle and if you are too high the green light you see will appear to rise up and unless you correct it will disappear completely, if you are to low it will slide down and turn red and silently scream at you “You Are Going To Die On The Round Down” if you don`t apply more power you will die on the round down.

The L.S.O.: The landing signals/systems officer is also referred to as the bat man as originally he used paddles or bats that were just like table tennis bats. He also grades all landings by all pilots regardless of rank or seniority. The best one can achieve is a good three wire because that is considered the perfect landing. The grading goes good, fair, poor and I can`t remember if there was a bad. The wires were rated three, two, four and one in that order if I remember correctly. The above landing of mine was rated a poor four. I guess that I was somewhere in the middle/ middle ranking within the squadron.

When we deployed we ended up on a different carrier as the “ORI” was at that time only being used as a “CARQUAL” carrier as she was due for a refit. On our new carrier we sailed to Subic Bay in the Philippines, which was a real eye opener and then on to the gulf of Tonkin but that is another story.


I would like to dedicate this short little epistle to the memory of two of my mates who were K.I.A. and have no known resting place.

Major Ronald Shiner U.S.M.C.

Lt.[Junior Grade] ‘Lofty’ Zubrauzky U.S.N.

Notes from the text

*The J65 was a license produced copy of the British Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire which was in later models replaced by the more powerful Prat & Whitney J52.

The photo`s used in this article where taken on H.M.A.S. Melbourne by myself on the way back from “Pearl” on her final overseas deployment.



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