By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jonathan Pankau
NORFOLK – USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) pulled into Norfolk Nov 9 after completing their third Independent Steaming Exercise (ISE).
Flexing Ford’s flight deck muscles was the main focus for this ISE and the crew was put through their paces. Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Jorge Ramirez, Ford’s flight deck leading chief petty officer, said one of the main concerns was the new flight deck an bringing together sailors from different backgrounds to work as one.
“It’s not your classic Nimitz-class set up, so a lot of these days underway that we’ve been flying, we’ve been coming up with different ways as to how we’re going to conduct business here,” said Ramirez. “After a couple of days, it seemed like we’d been working together for months for months and that’s just credit to the crew we had onboard.”
Restrictions were placed on fixed wing aircraft operations due to the ship’s design and uncertified equipment. Ford adapted and overcame, launching 259 fixed wing aircraft and 44 helicopters and pumping more than 145,257 gallons of JP-5 aircraft fuel during 204 refueling operations.
“The team on deck performed flawlessly, even with those restrictions,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jamie Roman, Ford’s flight deck handling officer. “It’s the fist time that we saw that many flights ops and to have that many operations going on with the restriction, the team performed impeccably. And that’s what teams do: we overcome challenges and obstacles, so I’m really proud of that.”
The action was not just on the light deck, however. Ford’s Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC) assisted routine takeoffs taxiing and landing of aircraft and also helps guide aircraft landings during bad weather conditions, low visibility, or night operations. The Air Traffic Controlmen brought CATCC to life, using advanced radar technology to safely guide aircraft landing on deck.
“We update the weather, bearing and distance to friendly land,” said Air Traffic Controlman 2nd Class Jade Davis. “If we are flying, we are updating if the planes are up, trapped, bolter (fail to catch an arresting wire) and put them in order of whe they are going to land.”
Roman said Ford has improved leaps and bounds, from planning everything out no computer simulations to executing on the deck.
“From the lowest ranking to the highest ranking Sailor, we were committed to excellence, and that was the only way we were going to do it,” said Roman. “I’ve always said the flight deck is the greatest team sport in history because it takes and entire (aircraft carrier) to come together. And they did.”
The strike groups assisting Ford during ISE3 were integral to the success of the underway. The strike groups were: the “Dragon Whales” of Helicopter Squadron Combat (HSC) 28; the “Swordsmen” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 32; the “Sidewinders” of VFA-86; the “Jolly Rogers” of VFA-103; the “Gunslingers” of VFA-105; the “Pukin’ Dogs” of VFA-143.