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About Aircraft Carriers

Carrier: Powerhouse of the fleet


Arresting cables — Each carrier-based aircraft has a tailhook, a hook bolted to an 8-foot bar extending from the after part of the aircraft. It is with the tailhook that the pilot catches one of the four steel cables stretched across the deck at 20-foot intervals, bringing the plane, traveling at 150 miles per hour, to a complete stop in about 320 feet. The cables are set to stop each aircraft at the same place on the deck, regardless of the size or weight of the plane.

Bridge — This is the primary control position for every ship when the ship is underway, and the place where all orders and commands affecting the ship, her movements, and routine originate.

  • An Officer of the Deck (OOD) is always on the bridge when the ship is underway. Each OOD stands a four-hour watch and is the officer designated by the Commanding Officer (CO) to be in charge of the ship. The OOD is responsible for the safety and operation of the ship, including navigation, ship handling, communications, routine tests and inspections, reports, supervision of the watch team, and carrying out the Plan of the Day.


  • Also on the bridge are the helmsman who steers the ship, and the lee helmsman who operates the engine order control, telling the engine room what speed to make. There are also lookouts and the Boatswains Mate of the Watch (BMOW) who supervises the helmsman, lee helmsman, and lookouts.

  • The Quartermaster of the Watch assists the OOD in navigation, reports all changes in weather, temperature and barometer readings, and keeps the ship's log.

  • Catapults — The four steam-powered catapults thrust a 48,000-pound aircraft 300 feet, from zero to 165 miles per hour in two seconds. On each plane's nose gear is a T-bar that locks into the catapult's shuttle, which pulls the plane down the catapult. The flight deck crew can launch two aircraft and land one every 37 seconds in daylight, and one per minute at night.

  • Elevators — Each of the four deck edge elevators can lift two aircraft from the cavernous hangar deck to the 4½ -acre flight deck in seconds.

  • "Meatball" — This series of lights aid the pilot in lining up for the landing. In the center are amber and red lights with Fresnel lenses. Although the lights are always on, the Fresnel lens only makes one light at a time seem to glow, as the angle at which the pilot looks at the lights changes. If the lights appear above the green horizontal bar, the pilot is too high. If it is below, the pilot is too low, and if the lights are red, the pilot is very low. If the red lights on either side of the amber vertical bar are flashing, it is a wave off.

  • "Pri-Fly" — Primary Flight Control ("Pri-Fly") is the control tower for the flight operations on the carrier. Here the "Air Boss" controls the takeoffs, landings, those aircraft in the air near the ship, and the movement of planes on the flight deck, which itself resembles a well-choreographed ballet.

More online resources about aircraft carriers

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