ABOARD USS JOHN C. STENNIS (NNS) -- With the recovery of an SH-60 helicopter from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 8, USS John C. Stennis' (CVN 74) flight deck was certified capable of conducting regular flight operations Feb. 8, transforming the ship from a carrier in maintenance back to an operational carrier.
The certification process lasted three days and included closely monitored and controlled events concerning all aspects of Stennis' flight deck, such as fueling, arresting and launching, handling and flight operations. Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 embarked Stennis for the first time since 2002, and facilitated personnel and aircraft for the testing phase.
"We've been preparing for this qualification phase since going into dry dock," said Lt. Cmdr. Byron Wrice, Stennis' flight deck handler. "The crew did a great job at obtaining this certification."
Since Stennis typically cycles its crew every three years, about one-third of air department has never been aboard during flight operations. Wrice said Sailors were kept up-to-date on training and qualifications by going on TAD (temporary additional duty) assignments to deployed carriers during the ship's docking-planned incremental availability (DPIA) during 2005.
Stennis last conducted flight operations in October 2004 during a five-month deployment in the Western Pacific with CVW-14.
"The mindset is much different between working on a carrier under maintenance and working on an operational carrier," said Wrice. "Our crew did a great job of making that transition."
"Between getting ourselves reacquainted with flight operations and getting the newer Sailors trained, we kept very busy," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Amberley Wallace, handler in Stennis' air department. "Despite the grueling pace, this was really good for air department; it gave a lot of the new airmen a chance to see what they'll really be doing, and most of them seem to like what they joined the Navy to do. The best part was their reaction to being on the flight deck during operations."
"It was sort of a sink-or-swim period for all of us," added Wallace, who hasn't handled aircraft on a carrier since 2002, when she was aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). "We had some rough times but came out on top. We kept excellent communication and there was some of the best teamwork I've ever seen out there."
The certification included a number of drills, such as crash and salvage; testing the aircraft barrier and setup speed, used when an aircraft needs to be caught in a net due to damage; taxiing; and flight operations. Each drill was graded by the facilitators and had to receive a passing score before the next drill began.
"There were a few times we had a downed catapult or had an arresting cable taken down, so we had to adjust very quickly," Wallace commented. "Everyone did exceptionally well despite the skeleton crew we were working on."
Stennis' Commanding Officer, Capt. David Buss said, "I received feedback from the Air Pac team, and they told me that in many ways, we were the best carrier they've seen, particularly this early in the workup phase. This accomplishment really shows we're set up for success."
Stennis will continue obtaining various qualifications this year in order to become a fully operational carrier in accordance with the Navy's Fleet Response Program (FRP), a program developed to keep the Navy ready to surge and to vary the lengths of deployments. The goal behind FRP is to keep the Navy more flexible and ready to deploy as needed.
For related news, visit the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn74/.