How important is the safe handling of the ordnance that is used to arm today’s Navy aircraft? Consider this: Of the seven jobs available in the Aviation Ordnanceman (AO) rating, three of them—Armorer, Squadron Ordnance Technician, and Weapons Department Technician—are specifically tasked with the inspection and maintenance of magazines and Ready Service Lockers, including ensuring sprinklers and other safety systems are also operating properly.
Such a degree of safety is completely understandable, particularly when you take into account the fact that on many Navy ships, the bulk of the firepower is delivered by aviation assets. A good example of just how deadly any mishandling of ordnance occurred in 1967, when the inadvertent firing of a Zuni rocket on the flight deck of the USS Forrestal led to an explosion and subsequent conflagration that resulted in 134 deaths, 161 injured, and ship damages totaling over $72 million.
Of course, this accident did not involve magazines or Ready Service Lockers—but another naval tragedy did. In the now-famous engagement that eventually led to the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, the HMS Hood was hit by a shell from the German cruiser Prinz Eugen—a hit that happened to start a fire precisely where the Ready Service Lockers containing the ammo for anti-aircraft guns and the rockets for a rather bizarre AA weapon system called Unrotated Projectiles were located. A second hit led to a magazine explosion that almost literally ripped the ship in two. These Ready Service Lockers and magazines did not contain aviation ordnance, but the lesson is still clear.
And the mishandling of even small arms under the watch of an Aviation Ordnanceman can lead to a large loss of life. In a report published by the Naval Historical Center, we read of an incident aboard the USS Oriskany on October, 1966 in which a Mk Mod 3 parachute flare was dropped during handling in a high-explosives magazine, pulling its safety lanyard which led to a fire that ignited not only more flares, but also 2.75-inch rockets and a cart of liquid oxygen. In all, 44 crew members died (all but one from asphyxiation) and 156 more were injured.
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