ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- With a next generation aircraft, the F-35C, going through its developmental test phase, Nimitz-class aircraft carriers are making modifications to keep up with the latest technology.
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike), who is currently hosting the Navy's newest warplane, began these upgrades months ago while still in the shipyard.
In order to optimize carrier operations, Ike modified its jet blast deflectors (JBD) and catapults to better support the F-35C.
A jet blast deflector does just what its name suggests. It is a safety device that redirects the high energy exhaust from a jet engine away from equipment and people on the flight deck to prevent damage and injury.
"We completely rebuilt catapult one's JBD on the ship," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) 1st Class Shamon Smith, Air Department's V-2 division maintenance leading petty officer aboard Ike. "We replaced some of the salt-water piping which allows for a rapid flow of pressure throughout the JBDs so it can cool down a lot faster under strenuous conditions which make them perfect for the F-35C."
Catapult two also received a complete overhaul, but it was built off-ship by the Carrier and Field Service Unit (CAFSU) and the Voyage Repair Team (VRT). The CAFSU and VRT engineers ensure carriers are operating under the latest instructions in order to maintain and update equipment for catapult flight operations.
"The CAFSU and VRT guys were a huge help," Smith said. "They came in and did the modifications that we received from AIRLANT and they added those specifications into our JBDs so we were ready for the F-35C's to land aboard Ike."
Changes were also made to the arresting system that is responsible for "trapping," or stopping, an aircraft during an arrested landing. The Advance Recovery Control (ARC), also installed while in the shipyard, aides in ensuring a safe recovery with every trap.
"The magic number is 183," Smith said. "When an aircraft lands, no matter what cable it catches, the ARC system will only allow that aircraft to travel a total of 183 feet down the landing area. It's an excellent safety precaution that they have for the F-35C, and safety is paramount to every recovery aboard Ike."
Besides making physical modifications to Ike, select Sailors were given the chance to visit the test site in Maryland so they could get a jump start on learning what it takes to launch and recover an F-35C.
"We brought a team from the Eisenhower to Patuxent River about two months ago," said Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 Navy test pilot Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Kitts. "At Pax River, we have a steam catapult built into our runway. We took some steps with the crew here to bring them up to speed by training them on the F-35 to get them a little bit more familiar with our aircraft."
Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) Jose Correa attended the training and says the information they received helped prepare them for this testing phase.
"The purpose of the trip was to receive information on launch and recovery and how we can accommodate the F-35C," he said. "We learned the taxiing, and chock and chain processes, the Crash and Salvage team was able to access rescue procedures, and V-4 Sailors learned the fueling process."
The last new aircraft released to the fleet was the F/A-18 Super Hornet more than a decade ago. Smith said that Ike Sailors are thrilled to be part of this aviation milestone.
"My guys are totally excited. They've spent hours downstairs in the hangar bay looking at the aircraft and the engine," Smith said. "We've been waiting for it to arrive and now it's finally here and we get the opportunity to see it in person. It's an awesome experience."
Ike Sailors won't just be observing the F-35C, they'll have a chance to get hands-on experience and share their thoughts with the F-35 Pax River Integrated Test Force.
"We are going to see exactly what it does to the new water-brake system that we put in and how our JBDs are going to stand up," Smith said. "The F-35 guys out here listen to what we think, because we are the operators in the fleet. It's great being able to have some kind of input on tomorrow's Navy."
The F-35C is currently in its second developmental test phase (DT-II). During DT-II, the test aircraft will perform a variety of operational maneuvers while simulating maintenance operations and conducting general maintenance and fit tests for the aircraft and support equipment. Following the analysis of DT-II flight test data, the ITF test team will conduct a thorough assessment of the F-35C's performance in the shipboard environment before advising the Navy on any adjustments necessary to ensure that the next generation fighter is ready to meet its scheduled initial operating capability in 2018.
For more news from USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn69/.