Articles

The 12 most important places on an aircraft carrier, top to bottom

The U.S. Navy's Nimitz Class aircraft carriers are some of the most powerful weapons systems known to man, floating cities that can take strike warfare capability to the far reaches of the planet, places unreachable by other military assets.  With an embarked air wing these carriers are manned by 5,500 sailors (and a few Marines) and home base for more than 80 airplanes.


Here are the places that make these 97,000 ton ships work:

1. Pri-fly

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joshua Scott)

Pri-fly (short for 'primary flight control') is also known as "the tower." Pri-fly is where the Air Boss sits and controls all of the goings-on on the flight deck as well as the airspace within a 10-mile radius of the carrier.

2. Bridge

Officer of the Deck briefs the commanding officer on the bridge of the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The bridge is a few levels below Pri-fly in the carrier's superstructure. The bridge is where the Captain sits along with the navigator and all of the officers of the deck and the rest of the watch team charged with steering the ship and staying away from hazards. During flight ops it's the bridge team's responsibility to keep a favorable flying wind across the flight deck.

3. Flight deck

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kyle D. Gahlau)

The Navy likes to refer to the flight deck as "4.5 acres of sovereign and mobile American territory." The flight deck is where aircraft launch courtesy of steam catapults and land -- one every minute -- with the assistance of steel arresting cables. The movement around the flight deck is choreographed by the "handler" in Flight Deck Control who manages the limited real estate and makes sure aircraft get where they need to be either to fly or get worked on.

4. Ready rooms

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Flight briefs are conducted in ready rooms, but these spaces are also where squadron aviators congregate to discuss other business or to relax and watch a movie.

5. Paralofts

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

The paraloft is where the aviators' flight gear like helmets and survival vests is stored. This is the final stop for crews before they walk one level up to the flight deck.

6. Crew berthing

(U.S. Navy photo by Tim Cook)

Sleeping quarters cram as many as 96 sailors together, but still provide a bit of privacy and a place to get away from the stress of the workday.

7. CVIC

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass)

The carrier's intelligence center is where classified mission planning takes place. Intelligence officers give aviators the latest details about the enemy's whereabouts and weapons systems status using state-of-the-art hardware and software.

8. CATCC

( U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Ronald A. Dallatorre)

The Carrier Air Traffic Control Center is where controllers sit at radar displays and guide airplanes safely back to the ship just like controllers do for airliners at civilian airports.

9. Hangar bay

( U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Dwayne S. Smith)

The hangar bay is where airplanes are parked for major maintenance and where gear is staged, including ordnance. Things get from the hangar bay to the flight deck on one of the three huge elevators along the edge of the carrier.

10. Mess decks

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tiffini Jones Vanderwyst)

Sailors have to eat, and a good carrier's supply department takes pride in serving chow that's nutritious and delicious. Mess decks have a variety of offerings to suit the tastes of entire crew, everything from corndogs to surf and turf.

11. Medical

Dental officer and assistant perform a procedure on a crew member aboard the USS George Washington (CVN 73). (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Carriers have impressive medical resources, including surgical and dental facilities.  (Need a vasectomy? The ship's surgeon has got you covered.)

12. Reactor spaces

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Nimitz Class carrier's two reactors are what puts the nuke in nuclear power. This amazing energy source allows the carrier to sail for up to 25 years before refueling.

 

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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