In December 2000, The aircraft carrier USS George Washington transited the Mediterranean, bound for Norfolk, her home port. It had been a long cruise in the Arabian Sea for Operation Southern Watch, responding to the terrorist attack on the USS Cole, and joining the search and recovery of a missing Gulf Air airliner. She also cruised the Adriatic for NATO exercise Destined Glory and covered the first free elections in Serbia. After port calls in Corfu, Naples, Trieste and Palma de Majorca, the GW and her air wing sailed for Christmas at home.
To celebrate, Fighter Squadron VF-103 painted one of their F-14B Tomcats in Christmas colours, decorating their famous “Jolly Rogers” livery with a Santa hat and crossed candy canes. It became known in Tomcat lore as the ‘Santa Cat.’
Fourteen years later, Century Wings released a 1/72 scale die-cast model of the ‘Santa Cat. It was a collectors’ item, with only 1,200 made. I had to get one, even if the e-Bay price had gone supersonic since release.
Like every kid who loves airplanes, I slapped plastic scale models together before puberty. Decades later, I decided to get serious about the hobby, and eked out a slow build of an aircraft carrier deck diorama for the Santa Cat.
I dressed up my tiny “Village People” deck crew — camo pants, bare torsos and all, and inhaled copious vapours of air brush paint. I used up an eye shadow compact before discovering Tamiya’s weathering pastels. After taking over the dining table for several weeks, I finally finished the damn thing.
That night, when all through the deck, not a creature was stirring, I spotted a stowaway on my aircraft carrier. There, behind the catapult ‘shooter’, was an extra crew member. My hair stood on end. Who the heck was that?!
The mysterious fellow was soon surrounded by the cat crew and squadron safety officers. Up in Pri-Fly, the Air Boss tore at his hair. But CAG had authorized the evolution. A new aircraft was to be switched onto the catapult.
The Santa Cat made way for a new strike package. The deck operators had their hands full with fresh paperwork for the new launch. They were stupefied by the weight boards. The vehicles’ payloads maxed out the catapult’s rating.
Eventually we sorted it all out. The Madagascar Penguins ensured discipline, the deck crew preserved operational efficiency and, er, everyone pitched in with the Christmas Spirit.
Another year has gone by, an extremely busy year. Looking back, i was lucky to have found the time for the diorama, and to fly again at Air Combat USA, six dogfights against a fellow pilot and ACM enthusiast.
We wish all our readers a very Happy Christmas!
Postscript: A friend on Facebook alerted me to a new photo from the USS George Washington. Life is imitating art! US Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Wyatt L. Anthony,, a week ago.
Posted from Manila, Philippines
24 December, 2016