USS ENTERPRISE, At Sea (NNS) -- As pilots assigned to the squadrons of Carrier Air Wing 1 continue to earn flight hours aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) during the ship's composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) Jan. 26, a group of Sailors is tracking their every movement from their "perch" above the ship.
The 'perch' is known as Primary Flight Control (Pri-Fly) - a small room towering seven stories above Enterprise's flight deck that provides its occupants a panoramic view of deck operations below. Located on the 0-11 level, Pri-Fly is the watch station for a crew of around 10 Sailors, all with a primary mission of ensuring Enterprise aircraft are safely launched and recovered.
Monitoring an average of 90 aircraft take-offs and arrested landings on a daily basis, often with less than a minute (sometimes seconds) between launch and recovery operations, the Pri-Fly crew must constantly survey all flight and deck operations to help keep pilots and flight deck personnel out of harm's way in one of the world's most dangerous working environments.
Pri-Fly is manned by Air department's V-0 and V-2 division personnel, and is supplemented during case I and case II operations by squadron aircrew in order to provide additional advice or support. The Air Boss, Cmdr. Wesley Bannister, and Mini Boss, Cmdr. Todd Bieber, are in charge of all Pri-Fly operations, which cover all aircraft activity within a five mile radius of the ship.
"Not too many people get to stand watch with their department head, which is one thing that makes this job unique," said Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Mark Martin, an Improved Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System (IFLOLS) operator.
Martin's watch is one of several crucial Pri-Fly watches stood during flight operations, as the IFLOLS can calculate the approach path of an aircraft and help adjust its descending guide slope to ensure a safe landing.
Since every type of aircraft behaves differently when it lands, it is essential that aircraft are properly identified prior to making a successful recovery. This is the job of the aft spotter. Spotters are required to memorize unique aircraft lighting configurations to identify aircraft at night or in low visibility. Once an aircraft has been identified, a landing gear watch relays the type of aircraft to the arresting gear engine rooms below deck to ensure the arresting gear engines below the flight deck are prepared.
Forward spotters are responsible for observing aircraft launches and tracking whether their landing attempts were successful, touch-and-go, or waved-off. They track and update this information on one of the Pri-Fly windows for easy viewing by anyone in the tower. Once an aircraft is airborne, a status board operator displays every aircraft in the air and updates information including remaining fuel, and the direction and distance to alternate landing sites.
The coordination of information between all Pri-Fly watch stations is the responsibility of the tower supervisor. It is their job to pass along data and provide heightened situational awareness to the entire Pri-Fly team.
"We're like a small collection of human radars in here," said Airman Dennis Baez, the tower supervisor for Pri-Fly's day shift. "I feel very fortunate to be working in the tower. The knowledge we develop here is priceless, and it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always appreciate."
Thanks to the surveillance and team effort put forth by Pri-Fly watch standers, Enterprise remains one of the safest airports at sea.
"I enjoy the job I have here, and it's the great performance by our Sailors like those in the tower that make it so enjoyable," said Bannister. "We play an integral role in exercises like COMPTUEX and work hard to make sure we execute that role to perfection each day."
Enterprise is currently underway conducting training exercises and evolutions as part of a composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) in preparation for the ship's 22nd and final deployment following 50 years of naval service.
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