On board the "IKE". A day in the life of Carrier Air Wing Seven
A report by Stuart Freer & Ashley Wallace, all photos by authors
On the 12th July 2012 Touchdown Aviation was given the great privilege to embark on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) in the Mediterranean Sea. The “Ike” Carrier’s Air Wing (CVW-7) is part of Carrier Air Group Eight. Embarked on board of particular interest were VAQ-140 “Patriots” on their last cruise flying the venerable Grumman EA-6B Prowler before transition to the Boeing EA-18G Growler once this nine month cruise comes to an end in the Autumn.
We were asked to meet the public affairs officer for NSA Souda Bay on Crete at the main gate for 9am. Once all the press were assembled we were then taken for a briefing about our COD flight later that morning out to the U.S.S. Eisenhower. First thing you realise on boarding the Grumman C-2 Greyhound is the very crammed surroundings and the seats are situated facing backwards to the cockpit. Once we were all strapped in we took off for our 45 minute flight out to the Eisenhower which was positioned somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
The U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower left Naval Station Norfolk on June 20 2012, beginning a nine month deployment to Europe and the Middle East. The Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group also included the guided-missile destroyers USS Jason Dunham and USS Winston S Churchill. Another such destroyer, the USS Farragut joined the strike group from Naval Station Mayport in Florida along with the USS Hue City a Ticonderoga class cruiser. The Strike Group are supporting maritime security operations in the U.S Navy's 5th and 6th Fleet areas.
U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower nicknamed "Ike" was commissioned in October 1977, the carrier was the second of ten Nimitz classed aircraft carriers to enter service. It was the first ship to be named after the thirty fourth President of the United States. After completing fourteen months of fleet training the carrier made her first deployment in 1978.
The Eisenhower has a crew of over 6000 which includes the Air Wing. Length of the Flight deck is over 1000 ft and a width of 252 ft. The Flight deck has four catapults, enabling the carrier to launch aircraft simultaneously. The 'Ike' has two nuclear reactors which gives her an unlimited range and a top speed of 30 knots.
The Flight Deck Crew
On the flight deck of any aircraft carrier the flight deck crews each wear colour coded jerseys to distinguish their dedicated jobs. Below is a break down of what each colour represents.
YELLOW - Known as the "Shooters", aircraft handling officers, plane directors and catapult and arresting gear officers.
GREEN - Air wing maintenance personnel, catapult and arresting gear crews, Air Wing quality control personnel, ground support equipment and hook runners.
RED - Ordnance, crash/salvage crews and firefighters.
PURPLE - Known as the "Grapes" are aviation fuel handlers.
BROWN - Squadron personnel that prepare the aircraft for flight.
BLUE - Aircraft elevator operators, general aircraft handlers, chocks and chains for securing the aircraft while on deck, tug drivers and messengers.
WHITE - Landing signal officer (LSO), squadron inspectors, liquid oxygen crews, safety observers, medical personnel, quality assurance and air transfer officers.
WHITE / BLACK - Final checkers.
Around 45 minutes before the launch, flight crews conduct a walk around of their aircraft. 30 Minutes before launch aircraft are started and pre-flight checks and inspections are made. Next, 15 minutes before the launch the aircraft are taxied from their parking positions on the flight deck and are spotted onto a catapult by the guys in yellow and green.
Once the aircraft has been spotted onto the catapult the next stage is the catapult hook up. This is done by placing the aircrafts launch bar, which is situated at the front of the aircrafts nose landing gear, into the catapults shuttle - which is attached to the catapult underneath the flight deck.
There is an additional bar called the holdback which is connected to the back of the nose gear to the deck of the carrier. This stops the aircraft from moving forward prior to the catapult firing. The catapult is then put under extreme tension making sure that all the slack has been removed out of the system. The pilot then applies full power and then checks all of his instruments. The pilot then gives a signal to the catapult officer when he is satisfied with his aircraft. Final checkers observe the rear of the aircraft then once satisfied they give the catapult officer a signal - he then makes a final check of the catapult and gives the signal to launch - this is when the CAT operator pushes the button firing the catapult.
After the catapult has fired, the holdback bar breaks free as the catapult shuttle pulls the aircraft rapidly forward towards the bow of the carrier. The rate of speed at which this travels is truly amazing, which we were lucky enough to experience when we had our CAT shot in the C-2. The aircraft accelerates from 0-150 knots in 2 seconds - depending on the temperature and wind on deck.
VAQ-140 "Patriots" Final Cruise
In early spring of 2012, VAQ-140 Patriots deployed the EA-6B Prowler to the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower - also famously known as the IKE - for the final time. The squadron have been doing initail training and work-ups for the 2012 deployment. What makes this cruise different to the crews of VAQ-140 compared with other cruises is that when they return from the deployment in the autumn the Patriots will transition to the EA-18G Growler.
The EA-6B Prowler has been is service just over 40 years when it entered service in 1971. VAQ-140 have been flying the ageing Prowler since 1985 as an Electronic Countermeasures aircraft where the squadron has been based at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington.
In spring 2011 the Patriots were deployed to Italy on a three month detachment at Aviano AFB where they flew combat missions in support of Operation 'Unified Protector' over Libya - each mission which was flown lasted up to seven or eight hours depending on the type of mission it was.
When the Patriots return in the Autumn XO Martinez is scheduled to take over command when they transition to the Growler, although the squadron is already in transition now. VAQ-140 are one of the last squadrons to transition to the EA-18G Growler and it will take around nine months as the pilots and aircrews have to complete their training.
The Prowler has become a particularly difficult aircraft to maintain with the average maintenance man-hours per flight-hour for the Prowler being 70 hours. The transition to the EA-18G Growler will dramitically improve this to an average of 12 maintenance hours per flight-hour. Another thing which will improve dramitically is that spare parts for the Growler will become much easier to source compared to the EA-6B - as the Growler will have four sister squadrons each flying a variant of the F/A-18 family on board the carrier. Another advantage is the EA-6B has no self-defense weapons but the EA-18G Growler does. The Growler has eleven weapon stations in total and can carry an array of electronic warfare pods and defense weapons while still carrying out the same electronic countermeasures mission which the Prowler did.
Despite the improvements the EA-18G Growler will bring to the squadron, the crew and maintainers of the Prowler are really going to miss the old workhorse of the fleet and will be sad to see it go.
The "Ouija Board"
The "Ouija Board" is the oldest and simplest of systems on board the aircraft carrier. It is a tabletop model of the aircraft carrier to scale which has plane shaped cutouts signifying the carrier air wing on the main flight deck. The officer's assorted crews move the toy jets, helicopters and other assets around the model deck to match the movements of the real-life movements on the main deck of the aircraft carrier - in this case CVN-69.
It is situated in a room next to the flight deck with a window over looking the main flight deck. Each plane shaped cutout is colour coded to represent the squadron the jet is assigned to and also a code which matches the real jet on the main flight deck. Crews are then able to load the cutouts with pins, washers and nuts which represent if the aircraft have been fuelled and what payloads each aircraft are carrying.
The Ouija board system has been in use on board aircraft carriers since World War II, but will soon be a thing of the past as the 'old school' method is slowly being replaced by a more advanced digital system called the Aviation Data Management and Control System. ADMACS as its also known is a tactical, real-time data management system, which gathers and shares information between deck crews managing the aircrafts movements on deck.
The computerised replacement of the Ouija board, ADMACS, is currently onboard the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) along with the traditional "Ouija Board", and the system is planned to be installed on all carriers by 2015, excluding U.S.S. Enterprise (CVN-65) as Navy regulations forbid the installation of such complex new systems on ships within five years of scheduled decommissioning - Enterprise likes to keep it 'old school'.
Each ADMACS upgrade will cost in excess of $3.2 million per aircraft carrier and is hoped to cut down on paperwork and manpower. With the new setup the ship's handler will sit a computer and move aircraft around instead of leaning over the "Ouija Board" and moving the toys manually. The change will free up a lot of the handler's space within the carrier's island, as the room can get very cramped with crews crowded around the tabletop board.
Also a tradition with crews aboard the ship is that if anyone knocks a jet out of place or off the board completely they have to place some sort of payment underneath the board as a punishment. In the pictures below you will see this.
Carrier Air Wing Seven
A Carrier Air Wing (abbreviated CVW) is made up of several aircraft squadrons of various types of fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft, while embarked aboard aircraft carriers. Carrier air wings integrate closely with their assigned aircraft carriers, forming a "carrier/air wing team" that trains and deploys together. There are currently ten U.S. Navy air wings, five based at NAS Oceana, Virginia, four based at NAS Lemoore, California, and one forward deployed to NAF Atsugi, Japan. An air wing consists of roughly 2,500 personnel and 60–65 aircraft.
Atlantic Fleet air wings have an "A" as the first letter of their tailcode identification, while those of the Pacific Fleet have an "N". The "A" or "N" is followed by a letter that uniquely identifies the air wing (e.g., CVW-7, aircraft, part of the Atlantic Fleet, have a tail code of "AG")
U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Carrier’s Air Wing (CVW-7) is part of Carrier Air Group Eight and is compiled of eight squadrons.
After performing a complex training cycle in the Mediterranean, the IKE Carrier Strike Group arrived in the 5th Fleet of operations, the Middle East on July 17. The Eisenhower CSG joins the Enterprise CSG in support of the Combatant Commander's operational requirements, while ensuring security and stability in the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of operations. A second aircraft carrier strike group in the theatre ensures the U.S. military has the naval and air capabilities to support operational requirements while adequately meeting other security commitments in the region.
The Eisenhower Strike Group takes the place of the Abraham Lincoln Strike Group which transited through the Suez Canal on July 16, departing back to the United States after completing an eight-month deployment.
The authors would like to thank the Public Affairs Officer U.S. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay & Public Affairs Officer US Navy NAVEUR-NAVAF, for there kind assistance in making this article possible.