Here's how an aircraft carrier keeps track of where the planes are on the flight deck

Aircraft carriers are busy places. Sailors move dozens of planes, hundreds of bombs, and many gallons of fuel during launches and recoveries multiple times a day. To keep track of all this madness, the “Handler,” the man in charge of the movement of gear across the flight deck, uses a “Ouija Board,” a mockup of the carrier deck complete with model aircraft.

USS-John-C-Stennis-aircraft-carrier-ouija-board

Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Benjamin Crossley

The airplanes on the board are positioned exactly where they are on the actual deck. The sailors operating the board, usually some of the youngest members of the crew, get constant updates from their shipmates on the flight deck that let them know when an aircraft is being moved.

The crew uses colored nuts and bolts to indicate when a plane is being fueled or undergoing maintenance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOhuUgZTzQg

The Navy created computerized versions of the Ouija board and projected it would be in place on all carriers in 2015, but the electronic boards haven’t taken over yet. The F-35s first test flights were tracked on the USS Eisenhower‘s old-school Ouija board.

“Computers are nice, having electronic equipment is nice, but if you ever take any sort of battle damage, the first thing that’s going to go out is all those powered systems,” Capt. Ryan Shoaf, the air boss for USS Enterprise, told Air & Space. While using the Ouija board, “if ship’s power goes down, you don’t lose a thing. It’s still right there in front of you. It’s cheap, it’s reliable, and it’s been working for the last 60 years. It’s an effective system.”

Just never bump one of these tables. The Handler won’t appreciate it.