EVERY TIME A NAVY JET CATAPULTS from the astonishingly abbreviated runway of an aircraft carrier — or snags an arresting wire at full throttle to land on a pitching deck in rough seas — it’s a soaring testament to the power of collaboration.
Even among elite pilots, the act of launching and landing a plane on a ship in the middle of the ocean is a daunting challenge. The safety and success of every mission depends on the expertise and bravery not only of the pilots, but also of legions of supporting personnel. Divided into the “air wing” and the “ship’s company,” the crew of an aircraft carrier routinely performs feats of skill, ingenuity, courage and collaboration under exceptionally dangerous and challenging conditions.
The Air Wing
The air wing operates in a world where the potential for catastrophe is sky-high. Working in some of the most hazardous jobs in the world, these highly trained men and women are well-versed in the consequences of failure. A moment’s inattention on the flight deck can mean being blown overboard by a jet blast or sucked into the spinning blades of the jet intake. Human error, equipment malfunction, severe weather and battle damage have resulted in countless planes crashing into the ocean or exploding on deck – and many thousands of lives lost over the course of carrier history.
Mitigating the risks in such an inherently dangerous endeavor requires unrivaled levels of precision, skill and communication. Many of the safety measures onboard — enforced meticulously and relentlessly — are the direct result of hard-earned experience. In an environment where even the slightest mistake can be fatal, strict adherence to protocol and procedure is mission critical. From the sailors assigned to FOD (foreign object and debris) duty on deck, to the catapult crew toiling in 110-degree heat in the launch-valve room, to the experienced pilots cleared to fly under these notoriously perilous conditions, every member of the air wing shoulders grave responsibility for the safety of every flight that takes place on their watch.
The Ship’s Company
The sheer scale and complexity of the U.S. Navy’s “super aircraft carriers” is mind-boggling. At 1,092 feet long and 20 stories high, with 4.5 acres of deck space (about four football fields), a Nimitz class carrier can hold 80–100 aircraft, 5,000–6,000 people and 3.3 million gallons of fuel. Two heavily armored nuclear reactors generate the ship’s power. An onboard desalination plant processes up to 400,000 gallons of saltwater per day, and as many as 18,000 meals are prepared and served daily in multiple galleys and mess halls.
Designed to be self-sufficient for many weeks at a time, a carrier is a traveling air base capable of deployment at a moment’s notice to virtually any corner of the globe. Keeping every cog and corner of this enormous enterprise in “ship shape” requires thousands of hands. Navigators. Nuclear technicians. Dishwashers. Weapons specialists. Laundry staff. Radar technicians. Dentists. Bakers. Firefighters. Mechanics. Electricians. Working in cramped quarters deep in the interior maze of the ship, often without a glimpse of the sky for weeks on end, the ship’s company plays an integral role in ensuring that the entire ship — and everyone on it — remains fit for duty.
Collaboration of the highest order
The air wing and the ship’s company on an aircraft carrier have separate hierarchies of leadership and allocation of duties. The air wing commander is responsible for all duties and personnel related to the planes on board; the ship’s commanding officer (the captain) is responsible for the ship and the sailors. In addition, an admiral on board is in charge of the carrier battle group, comprised of the aircraft carrier and six to eight accompanying warships. With such a complex organizational structure and such extraordinarily high stakes, communication and collaboration on an aircraft carrier are critically important.
Protocols are in place at every level to facilitate seamless coordination and decision-making. Building on the experience of previous generations of sailors and aviators, modern crews perform exhaustive drills and practice runs for both routine and emergency situations. No detail is considered too insignificant for review and improvement, and technologies are constantly being tested and updated. In an environment where the difference between safety and disaster is a split second, a slight error or a shift in the wind, flawless teamwork and absolute dedication to a shared goal are the hallmarks of service aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
At Legistics, collaboration, coordination and communication are at the core of what we do. To find out more about how our experienced and professional support teams can help you achieve soaring levels of success, visit our home page.