What an incredible adventure. First I need to thank Michael at AOL for arranging this for me through his connections as an Annapolis grad. Secondly I need to thank the US Navy and Admiral Mark Fox for running a program to show civilians the inner workings of the largest moving object on earth – an aircraft carrier. In this case, the USS Harry S. Truman.
I have always been proud to be a citizen of the United States of America – but seeing the energy, passion, and talent aboard the USS Truman was a moving experience. Fellow Americans, we are all in very good hands. I was allowed to take photos while on board and have all of them up on Webshots.com. All of the photos in this blog post were taken with my camera (so it is my fault if they are blurry or underexposed, etc).
This experience will be covered in three parts since I am off to Myrtle Beach and will not be able to fit it all into one blog. This first part will cover the arrangements through landing on the Truman. The second installment will cover all of the areas we toured on the Truman including the plane launch and landings and the last segment will cover my departure back home to US soil.
I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate in this program by the Navy through one of my co-workers that is an Annapolis grad. After filling out forms and registering for the hotel, I eagerly awaited the adventure. I was not quite sure of the details (confidential Navy info) – but knew I was being flown onto an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean on May 5th. A day or two prior I was told it was the USS Truman and that the meeting time would be 6:15AM. On the evening of May 4th I drove down to Norfolk, VA (in a torrential downpour) and spent the night in the Hampton Inn. At 6:15AM I met the Navy team and was whisked off to orientation. We were informed that we would be flying out to the USS Truman via a C-2A “Greyhound” transport plane.
This was not quite as exciting as flying in on an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet – but this is as good as it gets. Most of the 5,000 personnel on this ship never get to take off or land on it. They simply walk on and off when it is in port.
After some briefing and selection of life vests, hearing protection, and crash helmets (see – all things that are fun do require helmets), we were ready to board the plane. The interesting thing is that we were seated backwards. The best reason I heard for this is to protect you during the “arrested landing”. This is a wonderful invention where the plane’s tailhook catches one of the arresting cables and slows from 150 mph to a complete stop in less than three seconds.
As I was being strapped into my 4 point harness (see self shot photo above), it dawned on me that I was going to leave the ship facing backwards as well – on a catapult! At this point I was beginning to wonder if I was really going to enjoy this trip… It was sort of late to be having second thoughts, so I said my prayers (funny how prayers often come at times of loss of total control of a situation) and off the plane went on a normal take off.
There was only one window on each side of the plane and it was not near enough to my seat for me to see anything. After about an hour of being strapped in upright with my uncomfortable headphones and helmet on, I could tell we were slowing down and circling. The guys near the window seemed to perk up a bit. I assumed we were near the boat (no rocket science necessary for that call).
After a while we straightened out and began a slow descent. At one point one of the crew members in front of us got on the loudspeaker and let us know we were within 10 seconds. Since we were facing backwards, I straightened my back and prepared to get embedded into my seat. Within a few seconds we pounded down onto the deck of the carrier and caught the arresting cable. It was an incredible force that seemed to get stronger as we pulled the cable to maximum tension. In about three seconds (it felt like 5) we were stopped. I felt like my lung collapsed!
I realized I had lived through it, hypochondria and all, and was likely to be able to blog about it in a day or two. After they unhooked the cable and taxied the plane over to the side, they opened the doors and we took off our harnesses. We all stood up like we did this every day. Yes we were strong proud Americans. The petite woman from Minnesota said that is was like a roller coaster and wanted to do it again! So I decided to keep my collapsed lung story all to myself. Ahem…
We left the plane and walked onto the deck of the USS Truman. We were in the Atlantic Ocean over 100 miles off the east coast of the US. All we could see were jets, water – and no railings… One of the airmen related a story of a worker being blown overboard when a jet revved its engines not knowing the man was behind it. I was feeling better already. What collapsed lung? Now I was now certain I was going to drown and be eaten by a shark or whale… Don’t worry, they fished the guy out and he was as good as new. Probably also from Minnesota.
I began to look around. What an incredible site. Dozens of US Navy jets waiting to launch. The Ocean is so blue that far out (I have clearly never been on a cruise liner).
We were whisked inside for our first meeting with the Admiral and the ship’s captain. I was not sure of all the titles below Admiral, so it took me a while to figure out who reported to whom. Everyone was cordial and professional and our tour guide, Dave, was a rock-star (actually he was a “Shooter” as you can see by his shirt).
All kidding aside, landing on an aircraft carrier is an incredible engineering accomplishment. I am in awe of how these consummate professionals and masters of their craft made such an intricate and critical operation look totally routine. Safety is the single most important thing on everyone’s mind: for the crew, the pilots, and everyone on the carrier. I am sure they were just teasing me about the guy being blown overboard and later fished out.
I was ready for lunch – but we had dozens of ladders to climb up and down before I was allowed to feed the beast. One thing to know about a carrier – they are full of ladders – not stairs. These sailors are in great shape!
More to come on the ship tours in the next segment and the catapult in the final installment.
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