USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, At Sea (NNS) -- The flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) got a lot noisier July 12-15, as the ship conducted Flight Deck Carrier (FDC) Qualifications off the coast of Southern California.
It was the first time the ship launched and recovered aircraft since completing a nine-month Dry-dock Planned Incremental Availability at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash.
Flight operations began with the arrival of SH-60B Seahawk helicopters from Helicopter Squadron (HS) 2 to provide search and rescue capability in support of fixed-wing launch and recovery cycles. F/A-18C Hornets and F/A-18E Super Hornets from Strike Fighter Squadrons (VFA) 151 and 137 followed soon after and for the first time since the ship’s 2006 Western Pacific deployment the fumes of burning JP-5 jet fuel permeated the flight deck.
“We’re all really excited to see all the work we’ve done over the past year paying off,” said Lincoln’s Air Mini-boss, Cmdr. Keith Mims, during the certification. “It’s been almost a full year since we’ve had aircraft on board and so far it’s been as good as it gets; we’ve had great weather, great seas, and we haven’t had any emergencies or major problems.”
Mims said one major focus of the FDC process was certifying Lincoln’s Precision Approach Landing System (PALS). PALS tracks approaching aircraft and relays information to aircraft on board instrumentation, guiding pilots onto the flight deck and even landing the aircraft remotely if necessary.
“(Air Test and Evaluation Squadron) VX-23 test pilots are performing precision approach drills to make sure the ship’s equipment is within very close tolerances,” Mims said. “They have special instrumentation aboard their aircraft that allows them to plot their landings and lets them know how much diversion they’re getting; almost like a shotgun grouping.”
The other side to FDC Qualifications was the human element of qualifying and re-qualifying the air crews of Carrier Air Wing 2 for carrier landings, and getting Lincoln’s flight deck personnel back into the swing of things. A team from Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, critiqued every aspect of air operations before certifying Lincoln for full flight operations.
“This is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Before they’ll give us 60-plus planes, we have to re-certify the pilots and ourselves to make sure that we’re capable of doing this in a safe and timely manner,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Brian Turner, a member of Air Department’s crash and salvage team. “It’s baby steps; we did a few cycles in the day time and a few at night, building up to where we needed to be.”
Besides launching and recovering aircraft, Turner said the Air Department performed taxi drills both at night and during the day, shuffling aircraft around the flight deck and hangar bays, and perfecting the complex choreography needed to operate aircraft from a carrier at sea.
“For a lot of our senior people, it’s a matter of shaking the dust off and getting back into it after a year of not flying,” Turner said. “But we also have a lot of new guys who up until now have been reading manuals and doing drills without aircraft. For them there was a lot to learn.”
Mims said that FDC Qualifications are generally completed in three to four days, after which, the ship begins the process of qualifying new pilots on their first carrier landings.
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