Thursday, May 14, 2015

Carrier Embark onboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77)

By Elijah Palmer
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

“Here we go! Here we go!”

(Photo by Elijah Palmer)
As I heard those words yelled over the engine noise, I clutched my knees a little bit tighter and said a short prayer.  Mere seconds later, I felt my body shoved into the back of my seat with great force as the C-2 “Cod” aircraft caught the arresting wire with its tailhook. But just as quickly, I was unpinned, and I felt the plane rolling forward.
Our plane touching down (Official U.S. Navy Photo)
And just like that, I realized I was 120 miles off the coast of Virginia on USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).

USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) (Official U.S. Navy Photo)
How did I end up there? Well, the previous week a few of us from the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in Norfolk, VA were invited to participate in a carrier embark. Four of us, along with eight other “distinguished visitors” were flown out to USS Bush for an overnight stay to see what life was like for some of the men and women of the Navy.

As soon as we landed, we were escorted into the ship's “island” (the tower on the flight deck), to meet the captain.  He welcomed us onboard and introduced our group to a few other people who would help us with our stay.  One of these was Ensign Mack Jamieson who shepherded us around for the next 24 hours.  Another was the safety officer who gave us a quick brief on flight deck operations and safety, and before I knew what was happening, we were all headed to part of the flight deck near one of the forward catapults.
The group with the CO, Captain Andrew Loiselle (second from left). (Official U.S. Navy Photo)
Flight deck safety brief (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
The flight deck was a marvel to behold. At once seemingly huge and small, the deck was a hive of activity, with sailors in brightly colored shirts running around in all directions, and various airplanes maneuvering around.  As one can imagine, it was also very, very loud.  Everyone was wearing double ear protection, but even so, often you had to shout to be heard over the engine noise. We were also standing only about 30 feet from the F-18 Hornets and C-2 Greyhounds being launched, so you could feel whenever one of them catapulted off, as the whole deck vibrated.
F-18 getting prepped for launch (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
A Plane Captain guides a C-2 Greyhound Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) aircraft around the flight deck. (Photo by Jerome Kirkland)
After watching them launch, we headed aft to view the planes landing.  I respected Navy pilots before, but after watching them land on a moving ship, I am in awe.  The planes came in at over 100 mph, and had to catch one of three wires just right, so that they could land safely.  While this was impressive during the day, it was even more amazing at night.  All I could see were a few lights in the darkness and then “whoosh” and the F-18 had landed.  Some of the air officers remarked that being able to do night flights were one of the aspects of the U.S. Navy that set them apart from most other navies.
Tailhook down. (Photo by Jerome Kirkland)
Catching one of four arresting wires on the aft flight deck. (Photo by Jerome Kirkland)
The author. (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
(Photo by Jerome Kirkland)
(Photo by Elijah Palmer)
After a full day, including visiting other areas of the ship like the library and chapel, as well as dinner with some senior officers, it was time for bed.  While we were treated to some very nice rooms, the night flights kept going until after 2 a.m.  I fell asleep after a bit, with the help of earplugs, but not before gaining additional respect for the officers and Sailors onboard who had to live with similar noise on a daily basis.

In the morning, we were taken to see several other areas of the ship, including the maintenance department, the hangar deck, the galley, the forecastle, and the tower (where the “air boss” runs things on the flight deck).  It was clear that the ship was a living organism of sorts, with various parts supporting and assisting each other to make sure that the ship was able to operate as needed.  At the center of this cooperation were the Sailors and officers.  What struck me most about those we talked to was the sense of pride and purpose that these men and women had in their jobs on the carrier.

Hangar deck (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
Ship's bridge (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
Air handler (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
Boatswain's mate talking about lowering the anchor in the forecastle (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
View of the bow from the bull nose (Photo by Elijah Palmer)
Searching the deck for debris (Photo by Elijah Palmer)

After lunch it was time to head back home. By this time we were only about 50 miles off the coast, meaning that our return flight would be a bit shorter.  However, first we needed to leave the ship, which would involve the catapult taking us from 0 to 130 in a few seconds!  So we strapped in and waited.

“Here we go! Here we go!”

And with a jolt, away we went, back to our civilian lives after a small taste of the Navy life.  

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