By J. Gary Trichter
Did you ever dream about what it would be like to land on an aircraft carrier? Go ahead and close your eyes and visualize that you are in deep concentration not only approaching a very small but growing target that is moving at 30 knots, but also, one that pitches up and down while it rolls left and right. You dream on and you catch the arresting wire and instantly decelerate from 105 mph to 0 mph in two seconds and stop within 400 feet. I had that dream! Did you ever dream about what it would be like to take off from an aircraft carrier? You know, you’re in front of the jet blast barrier that has just been raised, your engines are screaming at full throttle, the seat belts are pulled firm across your waist and over your shoulders, the horizon moves up and down and left and right if it’s daytime and, if at night, there is no horizon, then the brakes are released and the catapult shuttle hurls you and your airplane from 0 mph to 125 mph in less than one and a half seconds from the moving carrier deck into the sky. I had this dream too! Okay, now what would you say if I said to you it does not have to be a dream, because it doesn’t!
“Do I have to join the United States Navy?”, you say. The answer is “no”, although it would be great to do so. “Tell me more!”, you say. Okay, that’s exactly what I’ll do here while at the same time I’ll tell you about my real life “trap” and “cat shot.”
First, a little about me. I love aviation! I have been flying for fun for about ten years now and have approximately 2000 hours. I work mostly to support my airplane addiction. Second, the United States Navy has the greatest group of aviation professionals I have ever met. It also has two of the greatest public relations programs going. One is called the “Tiger Program” where relatives of crewmembers can live aboard ship for a few days while underway. This program allows family members to learn about their relative’s job and ship and to help them support their loved ones and the Navy through a better understanding of ship life. THIS IS A FANTASTIC PROGRAM, BUT NOT THE ONE YOU WANT.
The other program, the one you need to know about, is the “DISTINGUISHED VISTOR PROGRAM.” (DVP) To begin with, don’t be mislead by the word “distinguished” and feel you can stop reading now because you don’t look at yourself as “distinguished.” What the Navy really means in its use of the word is “responsible, caring and interested citizen.” If you fit into this latter definition then you probably qualify for Navy consideration to receive an invitation to be an overnight guest aboard one of its carriers while at sea.
I figure that since the Navy took me notwithstanding my job as a lawyer, then you readers who have honest jobs are likely to be shoe-ins. Here again, I want to stress it’s not who others think you are or whom you know. Rather, the Navy’s DVP mission is to attract people who are interested in their government, that are willing to learn about what it does, and to share that information and experience with their family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Having completed my two-day cruise on the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, I am accepting our Navy’s charge and most happily and energetically share my story with you here.
About eight months prior to my cruise, knowing my aviation fanaticism, a friend of mine suggested I contact the Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) Public Affairs Office (PAO) to learn about the “Civilian Orientation Cruise” (COC) through the Distinguished Visitor Program. I made a telephone call to the PAO and an application was mailed to me that very day (361-961-3666). Upon its receipt, I simply filled out the form, mailed it back, and then I waited.
Seven months later, I received a telephone call from PAO asking if I’d be available for orientation in Norfolk, Virginia in two weeks and for a carrier cruise immediately thereafter. After pinching myself to make sure I was not dreaming I promptly replied “yes.” The PAO advised me that cost of the round trip from my home in Houston to Norfolk and my hotel there were at my expense, but the cost to and from the carrier and the room and board there were on the Navy except for a nominal food expense. Except for the birth of my daughter, Tiffany, a once in a lifetime opportunity like this needed to be accepted and take priority over my other daily activities. The bottom line here is that there was enough time to rearrange everything else in my life and that everyone else in my life would not only understand, but also, jealously wish me well. Accordingly, I did and they did.
Orientation took place at 8:00 p.m. at a hotel lobby on the perimeter of the Norfolk Naval Air Base at Chambers Field. There I met seven other lucky citizens who soon became my friends. Our group was:
- Steve Rubino from Malvern, Pennsylvania. Steve is a former Navy pilot who flew F-9 Cougars in the 1970’s. He now works as a Boeing 747 international driver for Atlas Cargo Airline. Incidentally, he formerly owned Mr. Piper’s original J-7 Cub and donated it to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.
- Pastor Aaron Glaeske, a non-pilot from Madison, Tennessee.
- Sharon Lawin, Commissioner for the California Parole Board from LaVerne, California. Sharon, also a non-pilot, does own half of a Cessna 172 with her husband who is a pilot and teaches at Embry Riddle.
- Robert Kirsch, a realtor and a non-pilot from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Robert’ father-in-law formerly served on carriers.
- Curtis “Mac” Casey from Hollywood, Florida. Mac is also a non-pilot who works in civil law enforcement.
- Tim Bruner, a non-pilot too, is from Searcy, Arkansas and is the Vice-President of Harding University. Tim’s father served on the USS Yorktown II in W.W.II.
- Michael Petty, a fellow Texan from Grand Prairie and retired police officer who is now a security consultant. Mike got our groups informal “atta boy award” for putting in the most effort to make the trip. He won the award because as he was flying his Piper Arrow from Dallas he observed an unsafe gear light and wisely made a precautionary landing in Tennessee to have it checked out. Unable to get it repaired in time, he then drove nine hours to make our departure.
The Tuesday evening orientation and briefing was short and sweet. In thirty minutes, Ensign Vanderberg informed us we would depart the next day at 9:00 a.m. on a C-2 Grumman Greyhound for a two hour flight to the Navy’s newest Nimitz-Class super carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). He provided both oral and written information about both the C-2 and the Truman. You can look up the Truman on the internet at CVN75 and the C-2 at Navy.mil . Incidentally, the Navy refers to almost everything by an acronym so get used to it. The Navy refers to the C-2 as the COD, which means “carrier on board delivery.” Having not been in the service myself, I describe the COD as a daily pony express type service that takes mail, parts and people on and off the carrier.
The next morning the Navy had a van and Chief Sesit pick us all up at 8:00 a.m. at our hotel. The drive to the base air terminal took us by the docks where destroyers, freighters, and helicopter carriers were impressively moored. The Norfolk Naval facility, which is the Truman’s homeport, is the largest Navy base in the world and it is packed with interesting buildings, ships, aircraft and people. Once at the air terminal, Chief Sesit, who is a journalist with the PAO, gave us our second of many, many briefings. The Navy is excellent about giving out useful information and the Chief and his contingency did an outstanding job.
At this second briefing, we were required to fill out short medical histories. After being told that life on a carrier can be dangerous, we were also asked to complete a form for notification of our next of kin in the event of a medical emergency or accident. The form also gave consent to provide medical treatment if the need arose. The Chief concluded his briefing telling us the Truman was now involved in carrier qualifications (CQ’s) and training carrier qualifications (TCQ’s).
Our next briefing was about the “float coat”, which is the Navy’s version of a life jacket. Petty Officer David Wells explained how, in the unfortunate event of a water ditching, what we were to do. Being an attorney, a water ditching didn’t concern me much because I knew, as a professional courtesy, I could depend on sharks to help us out. Nevertheless, I listened as we were told how to automatically and manually inflate the float coat, to inflate it only after leaving the plane, and how to use the strobe lights, whistle, and the die markers therein.
COD pilot Lt. Steve Sladsky briefed us next on the planned flight and on the COD. We learned that the Navy has thirty-eight C-2’s and that our plane and crew were part of the “Rawhides.” The flight was briefed for us to travel approximately two hours at an altitude of 25000 feet to a spot 90 miles off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida where we would “arrive” on the Truman. Knowing about the arresting hook system on carriers and the old adage that “Navy pilots do not land, they arrive,” I understood the young officer’s meaning. Because of this abrupt landing no personal luggage is carried on your person or under your seat. The Lt. also described the intended right break landing (45-60° bank) pattern approach at 1200’ to wheels to the deck where we would come to a stop in less than 400 feet. If IFR and the ceiling is less than 250, Lt. Sladsky said we would head for the shore because 250 feet is the decision height for the carrier’s ILS due to the pitching and rolling of the decks. A low fuel state or “bingo” as it is called would also send us to the shore. Finally, the Lt. concluded by telling us that after landing we were to depart the COD promptly as instructed and not stop to take pictures as doing so could present a danger to us and to Navy personnel. He did promise there would be plenty of time for pictures later and he was right.
Having completed the ground briefings, each of our group was handed a set of foam earplugs and escorted out of the terminal to our waiting chariot COD, a C-2A Greyhound. Made by Grumman Aerospace Corporation at a unit cost of just under $39 million, its two Allison T-56-A-425 turboprop (PT-6) engines each produce 4600 shaft horsepower which provide for a 300 knot cruising speed, a 30,000 foot service ceiling and a range of 1300 miles. This aircraft can deliver a payload of up to 10,000 pounds and easily accommodate up to 26 passengers or a combination of passengers and cargo.
We boarded the C-2 from its large aft cargo ramp and door. Although this door’s powered winch allows straight in rear cargo loading and downloading for a fast turnaround, we loaded our bags in a “fire bucket brigade” fashion at the instruction of 2 of the C-2 crew of 4. We also loaded several sacks of mail. With the right engine running and the cargo and mail secured, we boarded along with other Navy personnel who were returning to ship. The passenger seats in the COD all face the rear and are divided in 2 rows of three seats. It was quite cramped to say the least. Once seated and securely strapped in, one can only see the three high back seats directly in front of you and the others in your row. It is dark inside the COD as there are only 2 small circular windows at the most aft seats. Indeed, after the cargo door was closed I felt more like I was in a submarine than an airplane because you couldn’t see a thing.
Our flight crew began yet another briefing which included float coats, emergency overhead exits, bingo fuel states, seat belts and shoulder straps, cranials (helmets without earphones or microphone), goggles, and our trap (landing) positions, i.e., arms crossed holding on to your shoulder straps with feet flat on the floor and our head down. This briefing started and finished during our taxi period, and interestingly, it was all done by yelling very loud without the aid of earphones or a public address system.
The takeoff roll lasted 20 seconds and I couldn’t help but notice that the COD had a great deal of rudder authority and climb power. I also couldn’t help but notice that all the Navy personnel were soon asleep and all of us civilians were wide awake. Although the flight was clearly a no frills type (no peanuts, no cokes, no water, no pilot announcements, no movie, no window, no headsets) it was a thrilling one for us visitors.
The COD leveled at its cruise altitude and the flight there was smooth. Our cabin pressure was 4000 feet. I was thankful for the foam earplugs which helped lessen the constant drone of the engines. I wanted to talk to the Navy personnel next to me about life on a carrier, but the loud engine noise and earplugs made it impossible to do absent yelling. Accordingly, I came to understand why the regulars slept.
With 45 minutes to go to arrival time, the crew passed out the cranials and goggles and then began our 5th briefing. We were loudly informed that about 25 miles out from the Truman that we were to dawn the cranial, goggles and tighten our seat belts and shoulder harnesses. The trap briefing concluded that a crewman would wave his arm 3 to 5 seconds before the trap and it was then that we were to assume the trap position.
During our decent, about 5 minutes to trap time, the crew signaled us to put on our cranials and goggles. It was noticeably more quiet with the cranial on. Moreover, no one was asleep anymore and all were active in their seats. One could sense a high level of energy from all those on board and it was clear that there was no fear, but rather, a feeling of exhilaration that permeated the COD. Being blind in our nearly darkened passenger compartment, I could only imagine the two pilots’ adrenaline levels going up as they approached our deck landing. I pictured their view of our final approach to the waiting arresting wires while at all times considering the wind, the pitching and rolling deck, the ship’s forward speed, and the “bolt” (go around) if necessary.
My day dreaming of the approach was then interrupted by the real thing when the COD made a hard bank and was followed by another hard bank to wings level. The next instant the 3 to 5 second trap warning wave was given and “bam”, we were trapped. The jolt was indeed exciting. It was only after being yanked to a stop that the engines were idled.
Within seconds the rear cargo door was lowered and helmeted deck hands wearing float coats entered the COD and assisted us out and across the deck to the Island which is the structure that towers above the flight deck. We did not take our bags because we were told that they would be delivered to us later. Walking across the deck and looking back at our COD, I was surprised to see that its wings were already folded back to make space on the landing deck.
Our deck handler guides chaperoned us into a medical emergency room (Aux. BDS) at the base of the Island where we were greeted by no less than the ship’s Executive Officer (XO), Commander J.R. Haley. The XO briefed us on the location and use of the E.E.B.D. (emergency escape breathing device) in case we experienced a fire or smoke while on board. We also learned that this flight deck emergency room was used any time a deck injury occurred because it was sometimes medically more expedient to bring a doctor to the patient than bring the patient to the doctor.
With more than 3400 flight hours, more than 1000 arrested landings, and having served on the carriers USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), USS Ranger (CV 61)(including combat in Operation Desert Storm), and the USS Independence (CV 62), the XO was a naval aviator’s aviator who spoke with a great deal of professionalism, knowledge, confidence and good manners. His remark to us that everyday carrier life was both interesting and dangerous, was one we all committed to memory and were soon to learn for ourselves.
Although the XO’s briefing was short, it none the less was comprehensive. We learned that construction started on the Truman in April of 1989, it was not launched until September 1996, and was not commissioned until July of 1998. The size of the Truman is staggering. It is 1,096 feet long, which is almost as long as the Empire State Building is high. The height from the waterline to the mast is 20 stories and the width is 251 feet at its widest point – the flight deck area is 4.5 acres. She displaces 97,000 tons of water and can exceed 30 knots. Each of Truman’s anchors weigh 30 tons.
Of particular interest is the fact that the average age of the Truman’s 3000 person (6000 with embarked air wing) crew is 19. This carrier is truly a self-contained floating airport. Truman carries 7 types of aircraft: F-14 Tomcats, F/A-18 Hornets, EA-6B Prowlers, S-3B Vikings, E-2C Hawkeyes, SH-60 Sea Hawks and C-2 Greyhounds. These tactical aircraft number more than 80 and comprise from 9 to 10 squadrons.
Truman is more than just a highly mobile and flexible tool of diplomacy and a floating airport. The carrier is also a fully functional and self-contained city. It has a t.v. and radio station, a daily newspaper, fire department, general store, library, hospital, a college learning and computer center, a dental clinic, chapel, barbershops, jail (brig), post office with its own zip code, 2000 phones, ATMs and e-mail facilities, restaurants that serve 18,000 plus meals a day, a distillation plant processing 400,000 gallons of water a day, and all types of specialized shops from electronic to metal to a jet engine test facility.
Our briefing ended with our DVP group being assigned two escort officers, Master Chief Scott Star and Lt. Chuck Jones. We were also given the following tentative schedule:
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
22-23 March 2000
22 MAR 00
1215 S-5 baggage working party muster with ATO
1230 Official party arrives via C-2, greeted by XO and escort officers. Proceed to Flight Deck Aux BDS to receive EEBD training then proceed to Flag Bridge for XO’s greeting. After XO’s greeting, proceed to lunch.
1245 Chief’s Mess Lunch
1345 Freshen up in staterooms
1400 TV Studio to change into Flight Deck Safety Gear
1415 Flight Deck Control Receive Flight Deck Safety Brief
1445 Pri-Fly Brief/Tour
1515 TV Studio to debrief tour. Fill out Paperwork
1530 Truman Room Brief/Picture
1545 Escort DV’s to Wardroom III for light snacks and refreshments
1600 Distance Learning Center Tour/Brief
1630 Forecastle for First Lieutenant Brief
1700 Staterooms to freshen up
1730 HOD’s Dinner in Wardroom III
1830 Metal Shop Tour/Brief
1900 Hangar Bay walk through. Brief Hangar breakdown/stations
1915 Jet Engine Test Shop Tour/Brief
1945 Medical Tour/Brief
2015 Dental Tour/Brief
2045 HST Store to purchase memorabilia
2115 Staterooms to drop off memorabilia
2130 Bridge Tour/Brief
***Break into groups of 4. Stage out of Flag Bridge.***
2200 Staterooms Secure
23 MAR 00
0615 Escorts wake up guests
0700 Aft Mess Decks/Gallery Tour/Brief
0730 Aft Mess Decks for breakfast w/the crew. Meet with CMC (Escorts ensure DVs sit mixed with the crew)
0815 CATCC/CDC Tour/Brief
0900 Flag Bridge for presentation and farewell by XO
0915 ATO to prepare to transfer
We were told the schedule was tentative because we could go and see whatever interested us so long as we did not interfere with normal ship operations or safety. Having our new tentative schedule in hand, Master Chief Scott and Lt. Jones guided us to our rooms where we found our bags already waiting for us. Our accommodations were in the “VIP” rooms, however, “VIP” here did mean “very important person.” Indeed, these were rooms that a senator, congressman or presidential cabinet member would be assigned. Almost all the crew sleeps in dormitory type rooms. The higher your rank the fewer people there are in your dorm and the more furniture you receive. Only the Captain and XO have single rooms.
Each room was equipped with metal furniture, i.e., bunk beds, a desk and chair, built in drawers, and a mirror and sink. The room also had a t.v. which included a channel to view live deck action. A small community bathroom with heads and showers was 50’ down the hall. Access to our room and bathroom was by an electronic card key lock. Interestedly, even though we were several decks down, we did not need to watch the t.v. to know that a plane had taken off or landed as we could hear it.
If any seven things stand out in my memory of this adventure, they are the hundreds and hundreds of stairs, the thousands of feet of hallways, the constant restaurant activity and delectable meals, the flight deck activity, the constant noise, a lack of privacy, and the good manners and professionalism of the crew.
Generally speaking, going anywhere on a carrier will require the changing of decks and this is accomplished by what appears to be an infinite supply of stairs. On Truman, a stair is to the ship as a grain of sand is to a beach. Although the Truman has elevators, they are used to move munitions, patients, aircraft and other heavy items. Indeed, on our way to our first meal in the Chief’s Mess, we ascended to the Admiral’s Bridge and then descended decks and transversed ½ the ship’s length. The hallways on the ship require one to constantly watch both your feet and head as you pass the bulkheads that divide the 190 modules that make up the ship. These hallways are so long that they create the optical illusion that you are looking into a mirror that is reflecting a mirror behind you that is reflecting the mirror in front, i.e., the view appears smaller and smaller to infinity.
The food on the Truman was incredibly good. Meals are computed and plainly marked on the basis of calories and fat grams. Interestingly, going through cafeteria type lines, a sailor can compute his calorie and fat intake by limiting the amount of food consumed. The mess chiefs and their staff work constantly at providing a wide variety of nutritious and healthy food. Indeed, they were successful in winning an award for having the best food in the fleet that year. No liquor or beer is served on the ship.
We ate in a variety of messes during our two days on board the ship, however, dinner on day 1 was the most memorable one as we ate with the officers in Wardroom III and had dinner served to us. The Captain did not join us as it was his custom to eat on the Captain’s Bridge.
I had the good luck to sit across from the XO and between the ship’s legal officer and head chaplain. Our meal began with a customary blessing for the food, crew and ship.
Hearing these officers speak, I learned firsthand that there is a unique camaraderie amongst Navy personnel. It is based on tradition, custom and pride in themselves, each other, and their ship. If any one thing became clear listening to the officers, it was that the officers and sailors had both a mutual respect for one another and an understanding that each person’s success was dependent upon the actions of another.
Clearly, the flight deck is the heart and soul of the Truman. During flight operations, it is a hot bed of activity and a rainbow of crew colored shirts. The seamen and equipment work together as would a well choreographed musical. Colored shirts designate and make easily recognizable the functions of crew members. White shirters are quality assurance and safety personnel, red shirters for crash, salvage and ordinance personnel, blue shirters for chain and cock runners, green shirters for arresting hook and catapult crews, purple shirters for fuel handing, and yellow shirters for deck officers, catapult officers and aircraft directors.
Our DVP group was fortunate enough to be abroad during day and night CQs. We were also fortunate to not only observe numerous traps and cat shots, but also, to observe them from the flight deck itself, the Captain’s and Admiral’s Bridges and from a choice outside viewing platform to the rear of the Captain’s Bridge named “Vultures’ Row.” It is this latter location that off duty crew congregate to watch deck action.
Viewing the action from the flight deck can only be described as spectacular. All of your senses come alive heightened by a surge of adrenaline. Nature’s wind and wind from the ship’s 30k forward movement is observed on flags, clothing, and catapult steam. Rolling and pitching are immediately noted by watching the ascending and descending deck move along the horizon. Noise from the crew, catapults, trap wires, helicopters and planes are easily heard through foam earplugs and cranial ear protection.
In preparation for our deck tour, we were issued and required to wear float coats, goggles and cranials, as was everyone else on deck. In addition, we were required to remove anything like jewelry, pens, coins, lighters, keys, etc., from our persons because, if lost on deck, they could be ingested by a jet engine as fod and ruin our day. Our chaperon guides positioned us so we would be right on the edge of the action. We were on deck to watch the 2 standby rescue helicopters launch in preparation for F-18 Hornet and C-2 Greyhound takeoffs and landings. Watching the choppers take off and hover above the deck was a beautiful thing to see because they had to be moving forward to maintain a stationary position above the moving ship.
For the aircraft cat shots we were immediately next to green shirters inputting weight adjustments. The power of each catapult is determined and set by the weight of the aircraft it will launch. From our vantage point we could see a pilot’s eye color as he saluted the cat launch seaman indicating he was ready to go. It is one thing to see a film of an F-18’s after burners kicking in, but it is quite another thing to personally experience the orange flame glow and grow longer, the engine noise increase in intensity and to feel the heat and wind of the jet blast as it deflects from the raised blast wall. Incredibly, there is more that follows; the launch seaman salutes back to the pilot, he drops to his left knee with the right leg extended forward as he motions and points to the Truman’s bow as a signal to his cat crew to fire the catapult. Then, in less than a blink of an eye, the F-18 is being hurled off the deck only to be followed by rising steam from the catapult track. A momentary calm then returns to the deck as the F-18 flies further from the ship and the deck crew prepares for another shot. Unbelievable as it might seem, this all happens at the same time another F-18 is landing at Truman’s aft..
Viewing the landing or recovery of a F-18 is just as exciting as a launch of one. The fighter is observed in a tight left down wind, then a sharp left breaking base turn is made which is followed by the turn to final. The approach speed is high as is the aircraft’s nose. The pilot pays constant attention to the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) and the ball (a carrier electronic vasi light system). Noise increases as the Hornet nears the ship’s aft and then “bam” and “whack” are heard as the sounds of the wheels hitting the deck and the trap wire being yanked out to a stop. The noise then subsides as the jet’s engines are idled. Amazingly, all this arresting action happens within 400 feet and in less than 1 ½ seconds. Moreover, this all happens under the watchful eyes of the red shirters, some of which are standing by in their silver fire resistant clothing just in case they are needed.
Green shirters then secure the plane and immediately direct it to another deck location where it is met by blue and purple shirters for chalking and refueling. They also cause the wire to be retracted for the next landing. We were fortunate enough to watch both Marine and Navy pilots show they had the right stuff over and over again. Seeing the trap process really does give meaning to the saying “Navy pilots don’t land, they arrive!” Truman can launch a plane every 20 seconds and can recover one every 45 seconds.
After CQs were completed and the rescue helicopters were recovered, we were escorted to our quarters for a short rest. Lt. Jones and Master Chief Star soon gathered us together to tour the entire ship. Again, we were allowed to go anywhere so long as we did not interfere with safety or ship operations. Although it was all interesting and entertaining, the standouts were the “Truman Room”, the hangars, dental and medical facilities, pilot briefing room, Electronic Weapons Center, flight operation and the Captain’s Bridge.
The “Truman Room” is a namesake of the ship. This is a round room with mural walls which replicate President Harry S. Truman’s White House Oval Office. This room is complete with the oval office furniture and personal photographs and belongings right down to the desk plaque “The Buck Stops Here”. Former President Truman’s writings also added to the ship’s spirit. In particular, his quote “It is better to go down fighting for what is right then to compromise your principles” was one taken to heart by all the crew in their daily activities.
The hanger deck runs almost the entire width and length of the ship. It acts as a social meeting place for crew, a gym, a walking and running track, and plane and boat storage and repair facility. At the bow of the Truman is its anchor room which uses two recycled anchor chains, one from the USS Saratoga and the other from the USS Forestall. Incidentally, the chains are repainted after each use. Each chain is more than 1000 feet long and is made up of 684 links each weighing 365 pounds.
The ship’s dental and medical facilities are on par with any civilian dental/orthodontist office and hospital. Indeed, the latter has operating rooms and intensive care quarters. The pilot briefing room is reminiscent of that seen in W.W. II carrier movies like Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo complete with the folding desk tops.
Unquestionably, the Combat Direction Center and Flight Operations are the brain centers of Truman. Both are located in the center of the ship and are kept darkened and cool. Electronic screens and status boards are backlighted for easy viewing under the room’s low red lights. Being in these rooms for twenty minutes was like being in a Star Wars episode, it was science fiction come true. These rooms were alive with headsetted crew members speaking into microphones, working on computers interacting with one another, other computers and aircraft in flight.
The Captain’s Bridge, the main location where the ship is steered from, has electronics akin to the Combat Direction Center and Flight Operations – especially at night. It is here that Captain David Logsdon spends the major part of all his days and nights. In fact, this is where the captain sleeps and takes most of his meals. He only leaves this area when relieved by one of his senior officers. This bridge is no less impressive than that of the “Enterprise” on Star Trek. Although the Truman’s bridge windows are not t.v. screens,, they show just as much action. The view here is the best on the ship.
We were fortunate enough to be on the Captain’s Bridge during both day and night hours. To be sure, nighttime on the bridge was incredible for several reasons. First, the bridge was blacked out except for red light night lighting and the lighting from electronic data and radar screens. Second, the bridge was quiet except for necessary orders and confirmation of those orders. In this regard, our night visit to the Captain’s Bridge was during C.Q.’s where there was a great deal of flight activity. Accordingly, the fact that the horizon was non-existent and that planes were being launched into complete darkness and recovered off a pitching and rolling deck made the atmosphere both tense and exciting.
Nighttime carrier launches and recoveries, although mechanically the same as daytime ones, are very different. First of all, the sounds are very different as at night it appears that everything is louder. Maybe this is so because one’s vision in the darkness is not as sharp so the ears compensate by more acute hearing.
Second, at night, at least on the deck, everything on the deck is done so as to enhance the pilot’s night vision. To accomplish this purpose all non-essential lights are turned off and all essential lights are dimmed. Therefore, flash photos were strictly prohibited for both the safety of the pilots and deck handlers.
Interestingly, in all that darkness on the deck, watching the exhaust flame from the F-18’s jet’s engines, especially when the after burners kicks in, can only be described as exhilarating. Indeed, the flame continues to brighten the entire deck area around it as it stretches back not only to the blast barrier, but also, extending some 20’ left and right as it is reflected off of the barrier.
We were lucky enough to watch approximately ten night cat shots and traps from the Captain’s Bridge. Each shot and trap were different in some way and each was incredibly exciting. This was especially true when the landing signal officer (LSO) waived off two planes on final for safety reasons. These bolters simply came around again and were recovered. From my conversations with Navy pilots and from my own experiences being on the Truman, I can think of no greater challenge for any pilot then to make a carrier deck landing on a dark at night.
Following the completion of the night CQ’s, we retired to our quarters to reflect upon our adventure and for some rest. At 10:00 p.m. taps was played and one of the ship’s chaplain’s gave the evening blessing. I especially appreciated the blessing for it made me better appreciate and understand that the ship and her crew were like a big family and that each depended upon the other to perform their respective missions. Having God’s blessing, we guests felt like we belonged to the ship and crew, albeit only for a short time.
As I relaxed in my lower bunk and closed my eyes, I could still hear sporadic recoveries and cat shots being made. Moreover, I was finally able to take inventory of the day’s events and of my senses. As I feel asleep, I came to realize that even then, it was common to not only hear the ship’s engines, but also, to feel their vibration and the Truman’s movement.
At 0615 hours I instantly opened my eyes with a wake up knock at my door by Master Chief Starr and Lt. Jones. My adrenaline rush had never subsided so I was ready to go within minutes. Later I found that this was also true with the rest of the DV’s as we were all dressed, packed, and accounted for in our meeting area well before schedule.
We again journeyed through the Truman’s halls, decks and stairs to the aft mess deck to eat breakfast with the crew. Absent a map or a guide it would be very easy to get lost on the Truman for a long time. Worthy of mention I must commend the crew for their good manners. Any time when we were walking the hallways the entire crew made it a practice to step aside and let us pass and always with a “good morning, afternoon or evening” greeting.
At breakfast we were informed that our departure would be delayed as our COD had been delayed to wait on necessary supplies. To the person, no one was disappointed with the delay because it gave us additional time to further tour the Truman.
Breakfast with the crew confirmed that these young men and women were indeed very mannerly. They were proud of their ship and excited about being in the Navy. Incidentally, our conversations with the crew were unmonitored by our escorts so what we got were their real thoughts.
Some looked at the Navy as a means to an education or a job in the private sector. Others were there to see the world and that is exactly what they had done and would do. Surprisingly, most expressed the notion that the Navy was their family now and it was up to them to take care of it and it would take care of them. Further, all displayed a team spirit and voiced they were each an intricate part of Truman’s mission, i.e., to get the aircraft where they needed to be for the purpose of serving and protecting the United States and its interests. To these sailors, the planes and pilots were theirs to protect and take care of. Real patriotism was abundant on the Truman. It was becoming clear that these fine, young sailors were growing in maturity to meet the daily dangerous challenges and demands the Navy and democracy had to offer.
Later, after leaving the mess to tour the galley, we DV’s all expressed to each other our pride and appreciation for these fine young Americans. Indeed, I felt regret that I had not joined the Navy before attending college. In retrospect, I think the Navy family and opportunities would have been good for me and me good for the Navy.
The final part of our stay included tours of the brig, the chapel and the ship’s store. The brig was empty and was one of the few places where there was privacy. The chaplains and chapel were a big part of Navy life because it is a place sailors can come for spiritual, social and psychological comfort and guidance. The Truman has three chaplains who often double as counselors, financial advisers, and friends to both the officers and crew.
The ship’s store was the last stop on our tour. It was there that the crew can purchase snacks and ship memorabilia. My Truman souvenirs were a belt buckle and bathrobe that both of carry the ship’s name.
Regrettably, like all good things, there must come an end. Our final briefing occurred on the Flag Bridge where we said our farewells to our hosts and they said theirs to us. It was there that we received three gifts, a Truman ball cap, a photo album of our tour and a certificate proclaiming each of us an “Honorary Naval Aviator”. All of us DV’s regretted we were leaving but we were not saddened that in doing so we would experience a CAT shot. Suffice to say it was similar to an old candy commercial for a Peter Paul Almond Joy bar, i.e., it was an indescribable blast – our COD was up and flying in 1 ½ seconds.
The flight back to Norfolk was great and the weather was CAVU (clear above and visibility unrestricted). I had the good fortune of being able to visit the cockpit during the flight and speak to the Rawhide pilots. They, like the rest of the Truman’s crew, were professional and patriotic and they made me feel proud to be an American. In closing, I hope this short story leaves you feeling the same way. By the way, my “Honorary Naval Aviator” certificates, evidencing my “cat and trap”, is proudly displayed on my office wall. I support our Navy and I encourage you to do so too!
J. Gary Trichter is a lawyer who lives in Houston. He is a 2000-hour pilot who holds an airplane CFI, CFII, MEI, LOA’s for T-28’s and HA200 as well as a helicopter private pilot rating.