USS CARL VINSON, At Sea (NNS) -- Sailors assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and 449 Sailors assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17 left Naval Air Station North Island Feb. 11 to begin carrier qualifications after a seven-month planned incremental availability (PIA).
The Gold Eagle/Quicksand team are conducting a precision approach and landing system (PALS) certification and a flight deck certification during the nine-day underway period to qualify for future flight operations.
The PALS certification is significant to the aircraft and pilot, as well as the ship because it provides guidance and allows an aircraft the option of automatic approaches to the ship, explained Jake Kiehlmeier, a flight-test engineer attached to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23.
"PALS is most useful when a pilot is unable to see due to inclement weather or when an aircraft suffers a malfunction that could prevent a routine landing. It allows us to recover aircraft safely in any situation not considered normal."
However, it is a complicated process to "groom the landing system" and involves multiple, varied passes by aircraft, Kiehlmeier added.
There are three phases the ship must complete in order to achieve the PALS certification. The first phase is known as the fly level legs. This phase ensures the shipboard radar is accurately seeing the aircraft at the correct altitude for a safe landing.
Phase two involves low approaches over the ship to align the automatic carrier landing system (ACLS) and instrument carrier landing system (ICLS), Kiehlmeier explained. ACLS allows the aircraft to automatically land itself if anything were to happen that would hinder the pilot from landing the aircraft manually. ICLS provides guidance to the pilot during manual flight. Both systems make up the vital PALS.
During phase three, pilots fly mode one approaches, using ACLS to automatically approach the carrier and then the system will land the aircraft.
"We're talking with the pilots and making sure the system is controlling the aircraft correctly," Kiehlmeier said. "And we're also making sure the system is landing them in the right spot on the flight deck."
Along with earning the PALS certification, Carl Vinson and CVW-17 Sailors are earning personal qualifications on the flight deck to ultimately support normal, yet integral day-to-day flight deck operations.
"It's important that we're getting the deck crew, the pilots and the maintainers in the squadrons the training to work on the flight deck safely," said CVW-17 Command Master Chief (AW/SW) Matt Laing.
CVW-17 personnel have 21 aircraft, including three variations of the F/A-18 fighter jets, E-2C Hawkeyes, and EA-6B Prowlers on Carl Vinson as we conduct PALS and flight deck qualifications, said CVW-17's Public Affairs Officer Lt. Mike Frisby. "Thirty-two pilots are also getting qualified or requalified in day and night flight operations."
Over three days, Carl Vinson and CVW-17 will follow a detailed schedule to ensure the necessary qualifications are met for both crew on the flight deck and the pilots in the air.
The first day of flight deck qualifications, 50 arresting-gear traps were required by the crew and pilots, Laing said. As the crew progressed to day two, they accomplished 70 day traps and 40 night traps.
Day three consists of cyclic operations: aircraft will trap on the flight deck, taxi to the catapults and launch off the ship again, Laing added.
"It ensures Carl Vinson conducts flight operations safely. You need to learn how to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run, because we haven't done flight operations in so long," Laing said. "This is a way for Sailors and pilots to re-familiarize the principles of what it takes to conduct safe flight operations."
While Carl Vinson and CVW-17 have completed two Western Pacific deployments together in the last two years and have demonstrated proficiency in flight deck operations, carrier qualifications are necessary to ensure safety on the flight deck.
"We look forward to working with the air wing and the ship as a team. The success that Carl Vinson and CVW-17 has had over two deployments is a testament to the professionalism and teamwork the ship and the air wing have when they integrate together," said Laing. "And we're looking forward to continuing that level of success out here during carrier qualifications and in the future."
For more news from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn70/.