A recent visit to the USS Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered carrier in the U.S. Navy, became an unforgettable experience for Rear Adm. Fred Lewis, USN (Ret.), president of the National Training and Simulation Association, and for Dave Chesebrough, president of the Association for Enterprise Integration.
Lewis, a retired naval aviator who flew the Navy’s F-14 and F-4 aircraft, led a group of visitors who had never experienced life aboard an aircraft carrier.
The adventure: fly out to the carrier, make an arrested landing, spend the night with the crew observing operations, and then fly off the next day with a catapult shot. What started as a theme park like adventure quickly became more of a lesson about the people serving aboard the USS Enterprise. The officers and crew of the USS Enterprise and Carrier Air Wing One exemplify the honor, courage and commitment of all our men and women in the military services.
The USS Enterprise, or Big E as she is affectionately known by those who served on her, is a unique carrier, literally in a class of her own. First deployed in 1961 she has eight reactors making in excess of 280,000 horsepower. Her sailors will tell you that the Big E is the fastest and most agile of the Navy’s carriers. She is nine feet longer, one foot narrower, weighs 7,400 tons less and has two more rudders than a Nimitz class carrier. She is the “Ferrari” of the nuclear carrier fleet.
The flight from Norfolk, Va., aboard a C-2A to the Big E took about an hour. Generally the approach is straight in, as opposed to the race-track pattern of the jets. Passenger seats face backwards on the plane, and with no windows, there are no cues as to the location of the ship. Approaching the carrier the C2-A Greyhound is traveling at 130 mph. It lands on the Big E abruptly and with considerable force.
A kaleidoscope of colored shirts met the group as they exited the C-2A and were greeted by officers and crew. Escorted to the commanding officer’s quarters they were welcomed by Capt. Ron Horton, who had just recently assumed command of the Big E, the executive officer, Capt. O.P. Honors, the air wing commander, Capt. Mark Wralstad, and the public affairs officer, Lt. Cmdr. Dave Nunnally.
The first stop was the Flag Bridge. On level 09 of the ship it was six ladders up and afforded a great view of aircraft launching from the forward catapults. On the port side of the bridge a door exited aft to “vultures row,” a balcony where landings are observed (ear protection strongly advised) and with a great view of the numbers three and four catapults. Next stop was one more level up, the navigation bridge. This is where the commanding officer sits along with the officers and crew who are responsible for steering and navigating the ship.
The next stop was the most exciting of all — the flight deck. Escorted by the ship’s safety officer we were taken out to the area between the forward catapults to observe aircraft launches. The precision and speed by which the catapult officers (yellow jerseys) and crew (green jerseys) coordinated actions and moved planes into position was remarkable. The noise on the flight deck makes hand signals the only effective method of communication. There on the flight deck the safety of everyone depends on concentrating on the job and being alert to what is happening at every moment. Moving aft the group observed landings and was briefed by the landing signal officers.
Back inside the ship they toured primary flight control (Pri-Fly) where the “air boss” controls the takeoffs, landings, aircraft in the air near the ship and the movement of planes on the flight deck. This was a tense and crowded space, with representatives from each squadron there to make calls regarding the state of their aircraft and pilots. On a lower level the flight deck control and launch operations room is where the aircraft handling officer and his crew kept track of the position and status of all the aircraft on the flight deck and in the hangar, calling the tune for the choreography on the flight deck.
“We came into this adventure expecting the thrills of a rollercoaster ride, which we got,” said Lewis. “What we did not expect was to come away with an even more impressive experience with the people we met. They exemplify the men and women who serve in all of our armed forces. Their character is inspiring, and the debt of gratitude this country owes them for their service can never be repaid.”
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