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Flight Operations on an Aircraft Carrier

Posted March 03, 2013 12:01 AM by joeymac

When on deployment on an aircraft carrier, you are flying missions almost every day when at sea. Depending on the requirements, missions are usually flown during the day. First thing that happens is the flight officer will tell the squadrons how many missions will be flown on that day. The reason for the mission, what type of mission and how many missions to be flown is determined by the higher-ranking officers, which is normally classified so us lower ranking guys were usually kept in the dark on those kind of things.

After the flight schedule is handed out to the squadrons, the squadrons determine how many aircraft are going to be needed and ready to fulfill the missions. Before the first mission commences, the squadrons have all the aircraft needed for at least the first 3 missions, if not more, up on the flight deck and not in the hangar bay.

When it's time to start flying missions, first one or two of the H-60 helicopters take off. This is to have rescue divers in the air to rescue the pilots just in case an aircraft crashes while in the air or after takeoff from the carrier. Then once the helicopter is in the air, the E-2 Hawkeye is launched. This is a radar plane that keeps a radar umbrella over an area to see where possible enemy aircraft or missiles might be at any given time. This aircraft is used as an early warning radar system to the ship and to the other aircraft in the air. The S-3 Vikings were then launched. These aircraft were used as an anti-submarine and aerial refueling aircraft. The fighter and attack jets were the next ones to get launched. These included the F-18 Hornet and the F-14 Tomcats. On a side note the F-14 Tomcats have now been replaced by the F-18 Super Hornets. Finally, the EA-6B Prowlers were launched. These jets hold large amounts of bombs and armaments. These jets can drop multiple 500 pound bombs on targets.

When all the jets from the first wave are launched, there is a 15 to 20 minute wait before the next wave of aircraft are launched. During the lull fueling operations are usually going on to make sure all the jets are topped off, or if any problems arise with the jets they are being trouble-shot to make sure they can fly the mission. After the third wave is launched the first wave of aircraft are coming back. Usually the fighters are the first ones to land because they use up their fuel the fastest, the Prowlers are next, and then the Vikings. The Hawkeyes were the last planes to land because their constant radar was always needed. The helicopters were the last land. After the aircraft landed, they either were re-fueled to take off again or were replaced with another aircraft in the launch cycle. This was how flight operations lasted all day, anywhere from 8 to 12 hours.

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Guru
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#1

Re: Flight Operations on an Aircraft Carrier

03/03/2013 9:26 AM

I'm curious what your job was during all this activity.

I recently read 'Intrepid Aviators' that chronicles the operations of the carrier Intrepid during the last year of WWII in the Pacific. Fascinating story, and one I'd highly recommend.

Here's a link to it at Amazon: Intrepid-Aviators

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#5
In reply to #1

Re: Flight Operations on an Aircraft Carrier

03/04/2013 7:26 AM

I worked in flight deck control. I worked on the radio for the air wing and was the contact man relaying messages from the squadrons to the handling officer (the officer that controls the flight deck) and I worked the boards indicating where all the aircraft on the carrier were.

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#2

Re: Flight Operations on an Aircraft Carrier

03/03/2013 3:46 PM

I thought the EA-6B Prowlers are electronics counter-measure planes, hence the prefix of E. These planes are variants of the now retired A-6 Intruder, a medium attack aircraft. I am certain that weapons could still be applied to a Prowler, the counter-measure role is such a vital support role that with the exception of Shrike and HARM anti-radar weapons I'm surprised they would carry any ordinance. The A-6 Intruder in contrast certainly packed a punch.

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#3

Re: Flight Operations on an Aircraft Carrier

03/03/2013 10:44 PM

You left out the important step of checking with the accountants (to see if there was any money left to pay for all this flying about).

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#4

Re: Flight Operations on an Aircraft Carrier

03/03/2013 11:19 PM

My first cruise was of course doing avionic maintenance and release checks at night. Second cruise, 8 months, was work center supervisor of the AQ shop. Hands on, helping AO's load bombs, blown across the deck by turning aircraft and huffers. Stepped on an elevator and with no stantchons (sp). Dropped 4 feet and quick ride to the hanger deck. Loved cross decking during flight ops. While working on the radar of an A7 at foc'sl, we went to emergency flight ops and turned into the wind. Fun. So many stories! If I'm off topic, then what really is a typical day on an aircraft carrier?

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#6

Re: Flight Operations on an Aircraft Carrier

03/04/2013 9:42 AM

Joey -

Can you please explain when reported on any news station, ... what a "sortee" is? I often hear the news report, ... "There were over 1000 sortees flown, yada-yada...or something similar. What does that mean?

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#7
In reply to #6

Re: Flight Operations on an Aircraft Carrier

03/04/2013 9:52 AM

CMTec,

A "sortee" is a flight mission. When they say "there were over a 1000 sortees flown" means there have been a 1000 mission flowns. Hope that helps.

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: Flight Operations on an Aircraft Carrier

03/04/2013 11:26 AM

To further nail it down, a sortie is defined as "one aircraft flying one mission", so you might launch 40 aircraft in wave one, and that would be 40 sorties. Just figure if it launched, it counts as a sortie. Whether it got back down safely or not, it was still a sortie.

Of course, the ideal day was when sorties launched equaled aircraft returned, (or at least on the ground and safe SOMEWHERE, anyway) but that didn't always happen. Hence the SH-60's going out to stooge around and pull flyers out of the drink. Or fly a rescue mission on a flyer from their own, or another, ship, even at the max range the chopper could reach. But in the air when the incident happened gets you on site a lot quicker than "launch on demand".

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#10
In reply to #7

Re: Flight Operations on an Aircraft Carrier

03/04/2013 9:32 PM

Have to wonder why they don't just call 'em missions then. Well if a sortee is a mission, ...no telling how many jets/planes are involved in any one mission?

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#11
In reply to #10

Re: Flight Operations on an Aircraft Carrier

03/05/2013 7:17 AM

True. No count of planes DEFINES a mission, though the needs of the mission, once the targets are identified, will define the number and mix of planes required.

For the record, off Viet Nam, during THAT unfortunate conflagration, an Alpha Strike was defined as a mission that took ALL the planes off the deck in one mission package.

That didn't, though, mean that all planes went "feet dry", that is, over the beach. Some were kept back as "BARCAP", or protection for the carrier. Nothing like sending out a gaggle of birds, only to have them find, on their return, hungry, thirsty, and in need of a place to roost, that someone blew the bird farm out from under them. So some planes, even on an Alpha Strike, had to stay back to protect home from the bad guys.

Just like living in the big ugly city now, huh?

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#9

Re: Flight Operations on an Aircraft Carrier

03/04/2013 11:39 AM

There is no mystery about who decides flight schedules. The Air Boss decides, he writes up the flight plan according to operations tasks and training for the day and submits it to the Battle Group Commander for approval. The Battle Group Commander will make changes to it as he sees fit and a message is promulgated through out the battle group. Along with that are such things as life guard station, because along with the helos up in the air to provide down pilot rescue, one of the escort ships is assigned life guard duty to follow in the wake of the air craft carrier in the event of a man overboard, because the carrier is not going to maneuver to recover a man overboard.

I was an operations specialist in the navy. I was on the USS Long Beach (CGN-9) we alway had the AAWC (Anti Air Warfare Commander) AW. We controlled the combat aircraft after the planes took to the air. The E-2's extended our NTDS range.

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CMTec (2); ffej (1); Janissaries (1); joeymac (2); micahd02 (2); Navalretgy (1); redfred (1); Usbport (1)

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