NORFOLK, Va. - An aircraft carrier is sort of like a small city cruising the ocean. It has thousands of people on board, living together for months at a time.
Officials with the Navy recently invited 10 News to land on a ship, and spend 24 hours on board learning to live like a sailor.
Once we landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln – going from over 100 miles an hour to a dead stop in less than 2 seconds… it takes a moment to comprehend that you are on an aircraft carrier.
Not only are we aboard one of the most feared weapons in the history of the world, but we are part of a floating city moving as fast as many of the ski boats at the local lake. No wonder other nations wince when a carrier, with its up to 70 striker aircraft, shows up in their waters.
“It brings great capability. We’re able to project forces overseas without worrying about landing in foreign ports. So it definitely gives the country and the policymakers the ability to help get our point across if we need to,” said Capt. Putnam Brown the ship’s commanding officer.
In order to make it all work, there are about 3,000 people living and working on the ship. When the vessel is fully deployed, it can be twice that number. Even with the lower figure, sailors are everywhere.
They need to be fed. They need to work out. They fight fires, patch pipes and of course, they help guide the ship.
“The sailors love it. The sailors love being sailors. They love getting out here and they're really getting to the top of their game,” Brown said.
The "loving it" part may be surprising, when you see where the sailors live for months at a time.
Chief Operations Officer Derek Fix, a VMI grad, showed us the living quarters.
“You've got your space here in the coffin rack and then you got a locker here,” said Fix, pointing to a bed or “rack” that truly is no larger than a coffin. “So there's not a whole lot of space available. Typically that's why you have your sea bag and that's generally what you're supposed to bring,” he said. A sea bag is a large duffel issued to sailors when they enlist. It holds their uniforms, boots, socks and not much else.
The ship also has a store and post office. On Sundays, the kitchen staff prepares a brunch that is not to be missed. In the officers' mess there are even carving stations, with ham and roast beef.
Every morning, the sailors clean. They polish the brass, scrub the floors, and fight a never-ending battle with dust.
On the flight, deck you are reminded what a carrier is all about. Launching and recovering jets, helos, and a variety of other planes that help take the fight to the enemy.
Mostly it’s the FA-18 Hornets and newer, super hornets based at Naval Air Station Oceana when they are not deployed to the ship.
“We are a fighter and attack platform that is capable of delivering ordinance both air-to-air and air-to-surface,” said Lt. Mark Garcia, a weapons system officer.
As intimidating as the jets are to the enemy, any pilot will tell you that landing one on a carrier is no picnic.
“The aircraft carrier itself, it's moving itself so you're landing on a moving target, basically,” Garcia said. “Out of everything I've done in the Navy, flying the Super Hornet, the most scared I've ever been is landing on the aircraft carrier at night.”
During the 10 News visit, the weather was terrible. Sheets of rain pounded down the deck. Yet crewmen, color coded by job, looking like Skittles scattered in the rain, seemed not to notice.
Each had his or her job to do, a specific task related to the safe launch and recovery of the aircraft. We watched as the jets rolled out from the side of the ship, slowly lowering their wings which had been folded up to save space. The crew edged them into place so they could be attached to a catapult, which helps launch the planes on the ship’s abbreviated runway by adding even more speed than the engines could provide.
There are a dozen or so people involved in the launch of the jet. But in a sense, we were reminded that on an aircraft carrier, it really takes thousands.
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