Navy aviators, crew display flight ops aboard USS Harry Truman

Sailors demonstrate precision, expertise

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During this Week of Valor leading up to Veterans Day, News4Jax is examining one of the signature pieces of the United States Navy: a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. 

News4Jax videographer Jud Hulon and I spent time aboard the USS Harry S. Truman as it conducted training off the coast of Florida, several miles east of Jacksonville.

News4Jax had the only local journalists on board and we experienced something only a fraction of the 1.2 million active personnel and 800,000 reserves get to experience: landing on and launching from the centerpiece of a carrier strike group.

The image of jets, such as the F/A-18 Super Hornet, racing off the flight deck and roaring into the air, over the ocean waters, is the signature image from an American aircraft carrier. Catapults take those planes from zero to 165 mph in two seconds.

Almost as impressive was watching aircraft descend from above and execute a tailhook landing, catching one of the four steel cables stretched across the aft part of the flight deck.

When you experience it as we did, it's impressive and mind-blowing. 

On a flight from Norfolk, Virginia, inside a C-2A Greyhound, we circled the ship and then braced for a thrilling impact, which some pilots and passengers experience on a much more regular basis. 

Very soon after we landed, Navy escorts took us from the island, or superstructure, back out onto the flight deck, seemingly into the middle of a mechanical sort of dance recital.

PHOTOS: News4Jax on board USS Harry S. Truman

It is amazing to see what the Navy does in regard to landing and taking off from a craft, such as the Truman. 

"Landing on board carrier is never routine. It is a difficult thing and there is a lot of training that goes, that takes place," said Brian Ferdon Jr., a Jacksonville University graduate and the air control officer on a surveillance plane called the E2D Hawkeye.

Ferdon's job doesn't include piloting the plane, but he has an appreciation for his shipmates who do.

”It's a long, long training process to get to where they are. They are some of the best in the world at what they do," Ferdon said. "It never becomes routine because it is a challenge.”

Cmdr. Jeffrey Ketcham moved up the ranks as a pilot. Now, as navigator for the Truman, he coordinates the precision moves of the ship, which are connected to the tasks taking place on the flight deck.

“So, it’s all about having wind off the bow to launch the aircraft,” Ketcham said. “So, not only do we do fixed wing ops, we do helicopter ops. For the fixed wings ops, the wind over the deck is probably the biggest thing for us.”

It takes precision and experience, and it’s all on display -- even at night.

Aircraft moves into position quickly. Every 40 seconds during daylight, or every 60 seconds at night, the flight deck crew can launch two aircraft or recover one.

Minute by minute, the Navy uses the 4.5-acre flight deck to project power and protect American interests.

Carrier Air Wing One supplies the aircraft to the Truman. There are about 70 combat and support aircraft, including Super Hornets, Sea Hawks, Greyhounds, Hawkeyes and Growlers.

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