ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN—Richard Mynatt kneels under a broken-down Super Hornet jet, trying to figure out what's wrong.
He puts his hands inside the engine and closes his eyes, working by touch, twisting the power transmission shaft, trying to spin the blades of the engine, but they won't budge.
Mynatt, of Phoenix, wipes sweat off his face, unable to solve the mystery.
Why won't this bird fly?
If the United States goes to war against Iraq, some expect the Super Hornet, the Navy's new long-range strike fighter, to be the star.
On Tuesday, this Super Hornet was on the flight deck with its engines fired up, hooked up to the catapult, getting ready to take off the USS Abraham Lincoln, but the engine backfired four times.
It's the job of Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Mynatt, 36, an aviation machinist, to figure out why. Working in the hangar bay, he takes out a fancy tool, a tiny camera with a hand-held video screen, and maneuvers the camera inside the engine, looking at various parts.
Finally, he decides to replace the engine. It takes only about 20 minutes to pop out the bad one, but he waits to get a new one. "It's a quick turnaround," he says. "It will be ready to go tomorrow. When stuff like this happens, I'm used to it. I've been doing this type of work for 16 years. Nothing really surprises me anymore."
And you never know what to expect with a new jet.
This is the first deployment of a Super Hornet aboard an aircraft carrier. The plane saw its first combat action Nov. 6, 2002. A Super Hornet from the Lincoln fired at two Iraqi surface-to-air missile launchers in the Southern-No-Fly zone.
By all accounts, the Super Hornet is an amazing, dependable machine. It is an upgrade of the F/A 18 Hornet.
"What makes the Super Hornet better than the Hornet is this one has a larger fuel capacity, and it's got two extra weapon stations," Mynatt says. "It can carry more weapons, and the avionics are better."
Mynatt joined the Navy in 1987. "I was going to Scottsdale Community College, and I wasn't doing very well, and I didn't want to waste any more of my parents' money," he says. "I was bored in Phoenix and wasn't sure what I was going to do. I ended up joining the Navy. It taught me a lot of discipline. It kept me out of trouble, that's for sure."
Mynatt lives in Lemoore, Calif., where the Super Hornet squadron is stationed.
He is married to Pamela Mynatt and has two children, Tiffany, 18, and Kyle, 11.
He has done six Western Pacific cruises, and he says they're a lot better now that the crew has access to e-mail. "Now, we talk to each other two or three times a day, just through e-mail. That makes it a lot easier, just the experience of doing this before."
Recently, he received an e-mail from his wife.
"Honey, you wouldn't believe what I did today?" Pamela Mynatt wrote. "I traded in the minivan for a 2000 Firebird."
At first, he was shocked. Then he was excited. He has always liked Firebirds.
"Luckily, the kids are older, and we are out of the minivan syndrome," Mynatt says. "I look forward to getting home and driving that Firebird."
The man who works on jets all day plans to make the Firebird go a little faster.
"I'll juice it up a little bit."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): faces+mynatt