Review: YouTube’s Ward Carroll, F-14 RIO

By Scott Spangler on May 31st, 2021

A pandemic addiction to YouTube has delivered consistently interesting, entertaining, and educational interludes when its selection algorithm introduced me to Ward Carroll, a retired naval flight officer who spent most of his career as a radar intercept officer, aka RIO, in the F-14 Tomcat.

Based on my past searches and binges, YouTube’s algorithm served up “21 Cringeworthy Errors in the Movie TOP GUN.” This film sustained me during my recovery from Hepatitis A in 1987. Having worn out my VHS copy that summer, I’d noticed a few errors, and I was curious to learn what I missed, and I had 9 minutes and 35 seconds to spare.

It was a worthwhile investment of time, and I subscribed to Carroll’s channel when the episode concluded. I won’t spoil, but I will tease. What hooked me was his conversational finite detail. Only someone intimately familiar with the F-14 would know the dimensions of the Tomcat’s vertical stabilizers and that they would have tangled with the fuselage of the “MiG” in the famous inverted dive scene where Maverick “communicated” with the bogey’s pilot.

Intrigued by its title, I cued up “The REAL Truth About Kara Hultgreen’s F-14 Tomcat Mishap.” In the same conversational style I learned about that the F-14A was prone to compressor stalls and how that affected the Tomcat aerodynamically. But what got me to ring his channel’s notification bell was a discussion and display of the BOLDFACE recovery steps that aviators must memorize because these NATOPS procedures “are written in blood.”

For those unfamiliar, NATOPS is the Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization, the Navy’s aircraft specific general flight and operation instructions. Safety seems to be a consistent theme in many of his episodes, and this made sense when explaining “RIO Responsibilities” using examples from his career. It turns out he did a tour as editor of Approach, “The Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Safety Magazine.”

Having interacted with a number of aviators during my six years’ service in the Navy, I respected their abilities, but I have new respect for RIOs and their successors, WSOs (weapon systems operators, pronounced “whizz-oh”) after Carroll expanded my knowledge and understanding of their duties and responsibilities. And he’s earned my respect and admiration for not spewing an endless stream of Mil-speak and aviation jargon.

But I guess that’s not surprising, given that Carroll is also a novelist published by the Naval Institute Press. (The Punk’s War trilogy is now on my to-read list.) When he utters an acronym, he spells it out in English, and as applicable, he gives a topic deeper context by relating it to a scene in Top Gun or other film. (Don’t miss “The Truth About the F-14 and Goose’s Death.”)

Carroll’s YouTube channel will satisfy more than an individual’s Tomcat curiosity. It offers valuable insight for anyone interested in pursuing military aviation, including those considering the US Naval Academy or US Military Academy. A 1982 graduate, and later in his career an instructor at the Naval Academy, his episode on “The Real Story Behind the West Point Cheating Scandal” is a concise summary of a challenging educational environment that any prospective student should watch before seeking an appointment.

But I’ve gone on too long here. Check out Ward Carroll’s channel for yourself. I’m going to see what he has to say in “Chuck Yeager and True American Greatness.”

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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