Adventures At Sea (Part 3)
November 5, 2013
Continued from October 29, 2013
The Captain turned us over to the Public Affairs Officer and two of the Safety Officers and tells us he will see us on the Bridge later. The Safety Officers tell us what to expect while we are out on the flight deck. Yes, out there amongst the planes taking off and landing. They show us on a diagram the route that we will take across the flight deck to the boundary where we will be safely out of the way of the aircraft and any of the sailors working on the deck. We have to put on long sleeves (its August and we’re in the southern part of the North Atlantic so the outside temps are in the upper 90’s but no one goes onto the flight deck without long sleeves on), a safety vest, and the cranial helmet and goggles again (the foamy earplugs are optional, but I opt for them). We are lead through some doors into a room where they control everything that is going on, on the flight deck. They have a scale version of the flight deck on a raised counter; they call it the Ouija board. There are tiny scale models of all the aircraft on board so they can show where each is parked or which ones are moving. They use colored thumb tacks to put in the plane models to show if the plane needs fuel, or if it needs something repaired. They even have a really huge push pin to show the Admiral’s plane. Below the counter is a scale version of the hangar bay so they know what is down there as well. After we spend some time there, we head out to the flight deck.
This really feels like a scene from a movie. I would have thought so if it had not been for the sounds, the smells, and the feel of everything around me. I hear the engines of different jets starting up and beginning to move into position. I smell the jet fuel, the salt air, and a rubber smell I’m assuming is from the tires when they land. I feel the heat of the air around us, the heat from the sun shining on that deck, and the heat from the jets. I feel the wind which seems to blow constantly across the 4.5 acres of flat flight deck. I also feel the blasts from some of the jets as we move around the deck. I see all the action and all the different colored shirts (each color has a purpose that I’ll tell more about later) on the deck all working in sync to accomplish the job of launching all the aircraft waiting to become airborne. It is an amazing and utterly breath-taking process. They communicate mostly with hand signals to each other and to the pilots in the jets. We make our way over to the out of bounds area where we will watch the aircraft launch. We are probably less than 20 feet away from catapult 1. We stand out there for probably 30-45 minutes watching plane after plane take off. The first one to launch is the C2 that we flew in on. It’ll come back tomorrow and take us away, but for the time being, it is leaving without us! Then next are the F-18 Hornets and F-18 Super Hornets. I do not have words to describe what it truly feels like to stand there beside this air plane as it is launched and knowing that it goes from 0-165 mph within about 3 seconds is absolutely astounding. You can feel the blast of power, air from the back of the jet as the blast deflector rises into place and feel in the deck the shuttle moving toward the front wheel of the plane. Once the plane is secured to the shuttle and all the checks are made, the plane will rev up to full power and that force feels like it’s going to knock you off the deck. I’m so amazed and impressed by the men and women that deal with that blast each and every day for hours on end. And then, the shooters give the go ahead and the plane is launched into the blue sky. You feel the blast as it’s going by and then you feel it a little bit in a jolt on the ship itself. Wow!! What a feeling! The only thing that would be better to me than standing there watching one launch would be to be in it and be launched!
I don’t want to leave where we are watching the planes launch, but they take us around the back side of the island to the rear of the ship where the arresting cables are. It’s time for them to switch over from launch mode to recovery mode. They can do this in roughly a little over a minute and aircraft can start landing in their set pattern. This side of things is just as breath taking and awe inspiring as the launching, probably even more so after I learn more about aircraft landings later in my trip. As we stand there watching I am amazed at how precise it is when the plane comes in with the tail hook in the right position and snags the arresting cable and is totally stopped. You can feel the cables catching with such force. It’s amazing that the cables are capable of stopping such aircraft, but they do, time and time again. Most of the pilots seem to snag the second cable and that part amazes me too that they are able to be that precise with such a huge piece of airplane. If a plane misses the arresting cable when trying to land, they are called bolters, and they keep going and take off on the other side of the deck and get back into the landing line up to try it again. We were fortunate enough to have a Navy cameraman with us when the jets were landing and he snapped a picture of us with the landing jet behind us.
Check back next week for more to this story!