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Enterprise Conducts FRS Carrier Qualifications

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As the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) conducts Fleet Replacement Squadron carrier qualifications in the Atlantic Ocean Dec. 10, there isn't a place on the ship where loud thundering noise isn't heard.

The bulkheads shake and the decks rumble in every space. These conditions, caused by flight operations, are a way of life at sea, sometimes 24 hours a day.

During flight operations, there is one space on the ship as busy, if not busier, than any other; Flight Deck Control.

"This (flight deck control) is the main communication point for everything that goes on out on the flight deck," said Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Ardinger, the aircraft handling officer, or "handler," aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise.

Outside the windows of flight deck control, things move at a seemingly frantic pace. F/A-18E Super Hornets, among other aircraft, takeoff, approach, land and park on the flight deck. Propellers turn. Catapults launch. People yell over the sounds of jet engines and controlled chaos. They are equipped with headsets and radios, as well as different colored shirts and helmets, representing their jobs.

For example, the "yellow shirts" on the flight deck have a specific role to play during flight operations.

"We direct airplanes. We direct people. We direct all traffic on the flight deck," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate Handling 3rd Class Mary E. Nelson, a "director," or "yellow shirt," for the Air department. "We communicate with the air boss and the handler. They tell us what the bird needs, and we put it where it's supposed to go."

At any given time, there is something happening in virtually every section of the flight deck. Every Sailor needs to know what is going on around them at all times.

"Everything is dangerous out there," said Ardinger. "There are just so many things. It's never ending. You need to keep your head on a swivel from the time you step on the flight deck until the time you come back inside."

Ardinger warns that if people need to do anything on the flight deck, and they don't know what is going on up there, they need to go to flight deck control, ask questions, and get an escort.

On the island, high above the flight deck is the Plane Landing and Takeoff camera or "PLAT". Through the eyes of the PLAT, one can see the entire 4.5 acres of nonskid that make up the flight deck.

"Up here they record everything that happens," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Benjamin Long, an Enterprise Sailor in the Air department.

Long said if anything moves or "breaks spot," the Sailor manning the PLAT has to call the movement in to flight deck control. Flight deck control then plots all movement on the "Ouija board." The Ouija board is a 1/16-scale diagram of the flight deck with proportionate models of aircraft.

"We can keep track of every maintenance requirement. If they're up, if they're down, if they're ready to shoot, if they need fuel, everything they need we can tell by looking at the template on the Ouija board," said Ardinger.

"The aviation crewmembers on the flight deck are an absolutely essential part of the team," said Lt. Griffin Hetrick, a pilot and officer in the avionics and armament division of the Red Rippers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 11.

"We can't do our jobs without them. We have to have trust in everybody that is handling the aircraft, giving us taxi directions, as well as our own maintainers up on the flight deck giving us safety checks and making sure the aircraft is good to go," said Hetrick. "We also rely on the landing signal officers to help guide us during the landing procedures. It is absolutely an "all hands" effort by everybody on the flight deck."

Two primary goals for the flight deck qualification operations during this underway period are for the Air Department of Enterprise to obtain flight deck certification and for pilots to meet their carrier qualifications.

"It's the first step of the at sea period for us, as the airwing," said Hetrick.

Ardinger said the Big E just received her flight deck certification this week.

"We had to get our check in the box so that we can go on launching and recovering aircraft," said Ardinger.

From fueling to flying, flight operations are a key component of the Enterprise's sea power projection.

"Being on the flight deck is very hard," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuels) Airman Michael A. Chapman an Enterprise Sailor in the Air department. "It's down to a science, because it can be very dangerous, but it's a fun job. I'd recommend it to anybody. It's a great experience."

"It's like ballet," said Nelson. "There is so much going on, but it all comes together."

Article by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Greogry White, USS Enterprise (CVN 65) Public Affairs