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DV Embark to the USS John C. Stennis


DV in Navyspeak means "Distinguished Visitor" and frankly, I don't think I'm anyone that needs such a moniker.  However, it's what they call civilians who have the opportunity to visit an aircraft carrier at sea and since, for 24 hours, I was on the USS Stennis, I guess that's me. 

My DV visit came about at the last minute.  There were a number of friends on Twitter talking about an upcoming visit to the Stennis, and I casually mentioned that I'd love to go too.  It's unclear how MCC Stefanie Sealey (Commander, US Pacific Fleet Public Affairs) decided to include me, but I'm pleased she did. 

Our visit to the USS Stennis would be a little over 24 hours, but they packed as much as they could into that time.  We were on the move constantly and saw a glimpse of what a sailors life is like.  When our final email instructions arrived, it started to sink in that we were headed to a warship at sea and a cable arrested "trap" landing is very different than your run of the mill commercial landing. 

After our required safety briefing we donned our 'horse collars' and 'cranials' and headed out to the plane that would take us to the carrier. The Grumman C-2 Greyhound is designated COD for Carrier On-board Delivery and would fly us to the Stennis in about 35 minutes.  The seats are face rearward and there are no windows so it feels a bit confined, that and the fact that you're wearing a life vest, helmet, ear protection and are strapped into the seat with a 5-point harness.  With no windows, there are few cues that you're about to land.  I could feel us descending, and could tell the pilot was lining us up for landing when suddenly, the crew shouted a warning and BAM, we slammed into the deck at over 100 mph.  2 seconds later, we were at a complete stop. I have read that we experience about 3.5 G on landing, but fortunately since you're rearward facing, all the force pushes you into the seat and it's managed easily.

When the rear hatch on the COD opened, it was like a window to another world.  From our seats we could see the flight deck operations with sailors in different colored shirts directing planes and rushing about.  We were quickly ushered out of the plane and into the Island and a small meeting room.  There, we were introduced to our guides for the next 24 hours.

One of our early stops was Flight Deck Control.  Here we saw the 'ouiji board' that the officers use to determine the status of all the planes on the flight deck.  Push pins and colored nuts denote what planes need refuelling or which are ready to launch.

After our talk with Control, we went down to a first aid station where we would don our safety gear.  "Cranial's", "float coats", eye and ear protection and we were ready to head onto the flight line.  From our vantage point we could clearly see how complex flight operations are.  It was amazing to see how the crew worked in unison to launch and recover the aircraft.

After a short breather, headed up to the Bridge to view flight opps and meet Rear Admiral Faller.  It was really interesting to hear his comments on the Navy's role in American policy.  I know this could be interpreted the wrong way as the current sentiment is that we shouldn't be the world's "police officer", but he was clear in his conviction that without a strong Navy it becomes impossible for our country to maintain its security.

He was also quick to point out that their mission goes far beyond national defense.  After many of the worlds recent natural disasters, the American Navy was among the first on the scene, including Haiti, Sumatra, and the recent disaster in Japan.

Our hosts really kept us moving, we would visit the Chapel and Learning Resource Center (the library and Internet "café") before taking a few minutes to check into our state rooms and catch our breath before dinner.

After dinner with Captain Graff, we headed back up to the flight deck to view night flight operations.  Landing an F-18 on the deck of an aircraft carrier is a daunting endeavor.  Landing at night takes this difficulty to another level. There is very little light on the flight deck, the crew moves about with flashlights to see what they're doing. 


From Vulture's Row we would stare out towards the fantail and see some tiny lights in the distance, as the lights drew closer you realized it was an F-18, a few seconds later it was landed and parked.  Amazing.  When we were there, just about every plane managed to land on his first try, but we did see one "bolter" when the plane misses the arresting hook and has to apply full power to go around for another try.

Just as night flight operations were wrapping up, we headed down to meet VFA-192, the Golden Dragons in their ready room.  Here, "Socks" (an F-18 pilot) had a presentation ready followed by some "Q&A".  It was great to visit with these guys, and I had to ask him about all the Top Gun references we had heard all day long.  (his reply is in my full video)

At this point it was already about 10 o'clock and there were still three more stops to make!  The Arresting Cable Engine room, Air Ops, and the Combat Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC).

At about 11:30 the took us back to our rooms for a little sleep.  Fortunately, all flight ops had finished because our quarters were directly below the flight deck.  You cannot imagine how loud it is whenever a plane landed!

In the morning we had a tour of some of the support systems aboard the ship.  We visited the ship's Bakery, Infirmary, Foc'asle, Weapons, and the Hanger Bay.

Before we knew it, we were back in the COD for our flight back to Hickam AFB.  This meant a catapult launch to get the plane up to speed.  Because of the rearward facing seats, we were thrown into the belts.  As with the landing, there was little warning of the impending chaos.  Just the sound of the engines throttling to full power followed by a loud crack and in 2 seconds and 3Gs later, it's all over.  We're safely airborne at 150 mph.  

In the end, I think we all emerged with a renewed appreciation for what our service men and women do to keep our country safe.  It was an impressive display of teamwork and dedication.



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