Friends and Family of America's Favorite Carrier,
We had another successful replenishment at sea yesterday--the team is getting very proficient and we quickly took on fuel and stores before the fly day. I intended seeking out an obscure aspect of our mission to share a department I hadn't spotlighted to date, but we ended up having some unscheduled maintenance on one of our arresting gear engines, which was too impressive to pass up. There are many large components on this ship--our two rudders are nearly 31 ft tall; our four massive propellers are 22 feet in diameter; and our catapults can accelerate a 66,000 pound 5-wet F/A-18 Rhino tanker (five fuel tanks on the wings and centerline) to 160 knots in three seconds. When our aircraft return to the ship, a tailhook that is five inches wide snags one of four arresting gear wires that pay out in a controlled manner to bring the heavy aircraft (minus fuel and often bombs that have been dropped to eliminate ISIS) to an arrested stop.
Our four arresting gear engines are some of the largest components on the ship. They are a complex combination of rams, hydraulics, electronics, wires and sheaves (pulleys) that work in concert to slow fast moving, relatively light F/A-18 hornets to a stop from 150 knots as well as much slower, heavy laden Carrier Onboard Delivery (C-2) aircraft that approaches the ship at a relatively slow 120 knots. They all stop in the same distance and the arresting gear is set for each landing so it pays out at a metered rate to reduce the stress on the airframes. The arresting gear is one of our most critical pieces of equipment and it works all the time, despite undergoing a tremendous amount of stress. We perform preventative maintenance on a daily basis. Occasionally the equipment develops a leak and the Aviation Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE) team springs into action to make corrective maintenance repairs.
Yesterday, our ALRE team led by my ALRE Bos'n, Chief Warrant Officer Fair, underwent the large task of repacking the main engine cylinder for one of our arresting gear engines that developed a packing leak. The arresting gear engine, located just under the flight deck on the back portion of the ship is as wide as our larger berthing compartments and squadron ready rooms--spanning the distance between the two O-3 level passageways on either side of the ship. The arresting gear cables loop back and forth in the engine, and when an aircraft catches the wire hydraulic rams 20 inches in diameter with more than 350 gallons of hydraulic fluid compress an air flask to bring the aircraft to a controlled stop. In order to get to the hydraulic cylinder and replace the packing material, the arresting gear cable has to be cut and chain falls and hoists are needed to pull the engine apart to access the cylinder that is in the middle of the engine. I had a chance to visit the ALRE crowd before the job began and I intended on returning when the engine was pulled apart to learn about the inner workings of the rams and cylinders. When I returned only a few hours later, the ALRE team had already pulled the engine apart, replaced the packing material and "slippers" designed to prevent metal on metal wear, and they were putting the engine back together--opportunity missed! I chatted quickly with ABE3 Rodrick Pettis who has been onboard nearly three years and hails originally from Plant City, Florida (his hands were covered in hydraulic fluid) and I asked him what he enjoys most about being an ABE, Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Launching and Recovery Equipment). He stated quite simply that he likes fixing things, especially equipment which allows our aircraft to land and recover. He also mentioned he liked the teamwork--he was surrounded by 15 other hard working Sailors who were all clambering over the equipment to get it back in action. One of the other leads on the project was ABE2 Michael McVeigh--he was so focused and busy I didn't feel I could even interrupt this hard working young man to ask him questions--instead I just stood back and enjoyed the moment, experiencing the skill of these young Sailors and watching the tenacity from the Bos'n to the Chiefs who were in the space. The entire team was in its element working together to prepare their arresting gear so our Air Wing could accomplish the mission.
This morning, the Air Boss took me by the "socket pouring room" where Sailors were preparing to pour a socket onto the end of the previously cut arresting cable. The socket allows us to thread on and attach the cross deck pendant (the portion of the arresting wire strung across the landing area that takes the full brunt of the tailhook). We preemptively replace these cross deck pendants every 125 landings so that the wires don't fail and so the bulk of the cable does not need to be replaced frequently (we do "re-reeve" the entire cable periodically). The socket facilitates a quick change of the pendant. Pouring the socket such that it passes the 120,000 pound pull test before we string it up on the flight deck takes skill and is an involved process. The Sailors were cleaning the bitter end of the wire where the socket fitting would be placed; it is important that there are no impurities on the wire or on the socket so when the molten zinc is poured to fuse the two it adheres properly. The zinc is melted at 1000 degrees using acetylene and poured with a cup on the end of a metal rod into the mold. There is a grit blast machine in the room to prep the material--it is quite a process to watch--a time tested process that has an incredible amount of quality assurance so each and every time our aircraft catch the wire, they catch it safely, reliably, and can turn around to do it all again.
We have enjoyed an incredibly high availability rate on both our catapults and our arresting gear this deployment. This gear is our bread and butter and we have the finest crew on the waterfront working in V-2 division to ensure the safe launch and recovery of our aircraft and aircrew. They take great pride in keeping the equipment in full operation and I take great pride being given the opportunity to lead this fantastic crew!
All the best!