Friday, June 20, 2008

The Flight Deck ballet....

In my humble estimation, each branch of the military: Land, Sea and Air, regardless of the country represented, are manned by people of skill, grit and dedication. Yet amongst these dedicated professionals, there are those who stand out from their fellow brothers/sisters-in-arms, simply by the nature of their trade and by what they are called upon to do.

I hold a special respect for those who choose to serve in the special units of their countries military. Our own JTF2 and paratroop battalions (which have garnered well-deserved acclaim and admiration from our allies), those who serve with the British SAS/SBS, the Royal Marines, the Parachute Regiment, the US Navy Seals, US Army Rangers, SSF, USMC... The German GSG-9... and the list goes on.

Yet there is a group of individuals who have my most profound respect, my unwavering admiration, simply because of what they do, where they do it and how well they carry it off. I am speaking of the men and women across the globe, who serve onboard the carriers. Those who perform on a daily basis, with outstanding skill this flirtatious dance with danger... those who perform the 'Flight Deck Ballet'.

The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is a dangerous place to be. It is noisy, slippery and hectic. Combine this with jet engines that can suck you in, jet blast that can either fry you or blow you into the sea and it becomes a health and safety nightmare. Throw in some helicopter rotors, E2C Hawkeye props, elevators going up and down, folding wings, mules driving about, jet fuel, live weapons, arrester cables that could cut you in two.... and then there is the unseen danger - fatigue. Its amazing that carrier personnel aren't nervous wrecks!

Each person on the flight deck must wear a colour coded jacket and helmet to identify them and the role that they perform. Here is a breakdown of what the colours stand for:

Yellow: Aircraft Handling Officers, Catapult and Arresting Gear Officers, Plane Directors.

Green: Catapult and Arresting Gear crews, Air Wing Maintenance personnel, Air Wing Quality Control personnel, Cargo-Handling personnel, Ground Support Equipment (GSE) troubleshooters, Hook Runners, Photographer's Mates, Helicopter Landing Signal Enlisted personnel (LSE).

White: Squadron Plane Inspectors, Landing Signal Officer (LSO), Air Transfer Officers (ATO), Liquid Oxygen (LOX) crews, Safety Observers, Medical personnel, Visitors and VIPs.

Red: Ordnancemen, Crash and Salvage Crews, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)

Blue: Plane Handlers, Aircraft Elevator Operators, Tractor Drivers, Messengers and Phone Talkers

Purple: Aviation Fuel Handlers (also known as Grapes)

Brown: Air Wing Plane Captains, Air Wing Line Leading Petty Officers.

To watch these consummate professionals in the performance of their duties, in such a fast-paced and dangerous environment, is to witness the embodiment of teamwork and skill. It is absolutely fascinating.

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