Lt. Cmdr. Przemysław Kaczyński, US Navy
Przemek J. Kaczyński was born in 1973 in Otwock near Warsaw, Poland. His whole family immigrated to the USA when he was 3 years old. Przemek graduated from University of Washington, Seattle WA and after the graduation he joined the US Navy as pilot. At the moment he is stationed on the USS "Constellation" aircraft carrier.
Earning the coveted American Naval aviation wings of gold is a long and rewarding path resulting in a career I cannot call a job, but rather a privilege and adventure. Frequently I would talk to my good buddies on late nights on the ship or in our on shore ready room to only find out I was not the only child with a drive to fly tactical warplanes to and from a US Navy aircraft carrier. Ladies and gentleman, a Naval Aviator, I assert, is more often than not, a dream cultivated at a young age and only achieved through a dire thirst for accomplishment and team success. I knew at the young age of five or six that I was going to need to be a pilot. What kind was a different story. My Dad had a strong hand in this matter since he had been a sailor in the Polish Merchant Marine and a reserve officer in the Polish Navy. I knew secretly that he had wanted me to somehow follow in his Naval footsteps and perhaps one day sail the seven seas and earn my Shellback certification. While growing up, my mom and dad provided a lot of care and attention to schools and activities, and I kept supplying a desire to fly from a carrier.
For the Navy, the entire process starts by enrolling
in an officer-commissioning program, graduating from a University, and
becoming a Naval officer. Sometime towards the end of the commissioning
path, the midshipman (or officer candidate) is evaluated physically,
academically, and psychologically for the Naval aviation program. The Navy
profiles candidates to either be pilots or NFO’s (Naval Flight Officers for
navigation, weapons systems operation, and radar control). There are
numerous sources of officer commissioning in the US military. For myself, I
was fortunate to accept a scholarship to the University of Washington (in
Seattle) Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. Upon attaining the
commission, the prospective Naval Aviator travels to the cradle of Naval
Aviation, Pensacola, Florida. Here the Student Naval Aviator (SNA) undergoes
extensive familiarization in aerodynamics concepts, engineering,
meteorology, navigation, and flight regulations. Also, a dynamic physical
training, aquatic survival courses, and land survival training. Usually, the
most memorable instance in this phase of training is the famous “dunker”.
This is where the SNA’s are inserted into a mock aircraft fuselage,
blindfolded, and dunked into a pool. They all must egress out of the wreck
by using their remaining senses and their calmness to escape the sinking
hulk. I clearly remember all of the water I needed to purge out of my nose
following this evolution.
Following Pensacola, the SNA is sent to either Whiting Field, Florida, or to Corpus Christi, Texas for Primary Flight Training in the T-34 Turbo-Mentor aircraft. This high performance prop trainer introduced the SNA to the principles of piloting and navigation as well as basic aerobatic maneuvers. After spending several months learning the basics of flight, the student pilot will be evaluated by his or her grades and platform availability to move on to flying one of many other types of Naval aircraft. I
continued on to the arts of learning to fly ship-based aircraft to from the carrier. The next aircraft in the path was the venerable T-2C Buckeye twin-engine jet flow in Meridian, Mississippi. Here the student naval aviator is introduced to the precision landing procedures required to bring an airplane onto a carrier. After the Buckeye I finished my carrier qualification and high performance flight training in T-45 Goshawk jet trainer in Kingsville, Texas. At the end of this syllabus, a student will see the carrier, the first time completely alone, flying formation on the wing of an experienced fleet aviator. The first time behind the boat is an experience that the SNA will never forget and more than likely get through on pure instinct. Hundreds of practice landings at the field are required to prepare a student for the initial landing on the ship. Nevertheless, the first approach to the carrier for me was a blur of apprehension and adrenaline, never to be forgotten.
Following the completion of carrier landing training, I proceeded to the T-44 King Air training program in Corpus Christi, Texas to learn asymmetrical and multi engine flight as well as crew coordination techniques. This was the final phase of training prior
to receiving my Wings of Gold. From this point, I learned of my assignment to the E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning Community. The Hawkeye Fleet Replacement Squadron in Norfolk Virginia gave me the fundamental knowledge of piloting a difficult and non-user friendly aircraft like the E-2C. After a quick seven months of E-2C familiarization and my first night carrier landings I was whisked away across the country to fly with my first operational Hawkeye Squadron in California.
The Grumman E-2C Hawkeye is a carrier based early warning command and control aircraft that is the “eye in the sky” for every carrier battle group. The Hawkeye is always the first to launch and last to recover from missions, which can last any where from two to five hours. The entire air wing depends on the situational awareness of the Hawkeye crew to bring the efforts of the carrier’s strike and fighter aircraft to success. All five member of the crew must interact well in order to maximize the effectives of the aircraft’s mission. The process of crew coordination and planning begins hours prior to launch and is not over until the mission is over and the crew debrief with themselves and other squadrons of the air wing. The whole evolution of a single flight event may take up to eight hours, at any part of the 24-hour day.
Flying the E-2C is really a question of dancing skills. Two high performance T-56A-427 turboprop engines sit far off centerline
on each wing and produce a significant amount of yaw during power transitions requiring fancy footwork to keep the fuselage of aircraft aligned with the carrier landing area. Landings during the day for a fleet aviator are a fun challenge that is always gratifying. Sometimes marginal weather will cause the visibility to decrease and the decks to pitch. This is when pilots often rely on the trusting words of the LSO’s (Landing Signal Officers) to guide your aircraft safely onto the glidepath and centerline of the pitching deck. At night, the whole idea of fun and healthy challenge is quickly tossed out the back of the plane with the exhaust. No matter how difficult or long the mission, the most trying aspect of flying the Hawkeye, and any other carrier aircraft, is recovering back to the boat at night. Imagine locking yourself in a dark unlit closet, strap four other souls and $85 million to your back, and look forward to only see a small pinhole of light the size of a faint star floating in a black ocean. Know in the back of your mind that the small spec of light you are going to try to land on keeps looking smaller as you get closer to it, all due to the anticipation of landing.
As your copilot takes care of all the communications and navigation to the ship, your focus sharpens and narrows into a few basic elements that will bring your plane aboard at night. Strongly relying on your instruments, as the pilot, you watch your
T-44 King Air
needles, listen to your copilot’s critical lineup and glide path data, and keep yours ears open for the critical LSO calls that can make or break your night. As the distance closes on the carrier, the corrections to stay on speed, on glide path, and on centerline become smaller and more rapid. Typically within the last ¾ of a mile (1.2 km) the pilot’s pulse is at its peak as this is the point where he completely adjusts his instrument scan to viewing the outside. Inside this distance, the pilot has approximately 15 seconds to make his last corrections. The shadowy outline of the boat and the landing area come into view and the LSO will make any last second calls to the pilot as he closes on the ramp and the wires. Upon touchdown on the deck the pilot must assume he has not caught any wires and be prepared to go around one more time and attempt another landing. At night, this extra flight time is quite unwelcome and the levels of anxiety increase with every attempt to land. Ultimately, once the aircraft violently decelerates to a stop the pilot and the whole crew usually breathes a large sigh of relief for yet another successful approach to the carrier. Once in a while when the nights are dark and the deck is pitching pilots will find their legs shaking after a trap due to the collection of adrenaline and anticipation in their blood. During our catapult launches it is a great rush of fun to accelerate from 0 to 150 knots (0-240 km/h) and hear the entire crew scream with joy across
the interphone communication system. But once again, at night, with a lack of a discernable horizon, all the joy is stamped out by the lack of physical orientation and the need to only rely and trust the gauges in our aircraft during the rapid launch.
I am always at awe with the contributions of my past with my performance and job today. As a young child I knew what kind of a person I wanted to be because of the dreams I knew I needed to attain. To be a Naval Aviator, I needed the requisite demeanor, disposition, and ethics to become an officer, all supplied by the strong upbringing of my Polish-Czech family, which now decisively adds spice for my friends and squadron life. My Dad identified my strong interest in aviation and kept supplying me with opportunities to immerse myself in related matters. My Mom pressed hard for good Catholic schooling and surrounding me in an educational environment conducive to learning and high on morale development. My Father’s Polish Merchant Marine Academy roots clearly poured over into raising me when it came to all the discussions promoting honor, courage, and commitment; all core values in our Navy today. Athletics and team sports not only conditioned my body to be able to undergo the physical requirement of high performance flight and Naval Aviation training, but also taught me to function as a
CV-64 USS Constellation
member of a high paced and vigorous team. Sports also prepared my mind to focus on immediate tasks such as landing on a carrier and to compartmentalize other issues and problems for a more suitable time. Small psychological distractions and stress are contributors to decreased performance while flying in a carrier and tactical environment, so they must be handled appropriately and with honesty. A crew member is always able to be honest with themselves and their crew as to risk they may pose on a flight and mission. This kind of candor and honesty is promoted by an upbringing of integrity and honor, once again, supplied by parents, heritage, and good teachers. Ultimately, there is no definitive recipe for raising a child and the direction they will go as they mature. However, in the discussion of probabilities and chances, the parents, the heritage, and the environment all provide greater opportunity for a child’s dreams to come true.
The "Top Hook" prize
winners. Przemek is 4th from the left