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Aircraft Launch, Recovery Equipment; the Catapults

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class William Pittman
Posted: July 26, 2012

PHILIPPINE SEA– USS George Washington (CVN 73), like every aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy, possesses four steam-powered catapults that are used to launch fixed-wing aircraft, allowing it to protect and defend the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its partners and allies in the Asia-Pacific region.
 

Each catapult is individually manned by aviation boatswain’s mates (equipment) to ensure that the catapults are properly maintained and functional, and that George Washington’s embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 can perform their sorties without incident.

“Each of our catapults launch an average of 30 aircraft each day,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Luis LaTorre-Colondres, from Ponce, Puerto Rico. “Our first launch usually starts at 10:00 a.m. and our last launch is usually not until 9:00 p.m.”

George Washington can launch an aircraft every 20 seconds from the four catapults aboard the aircraft carrier. When aircraft are ready for takeoff, the aircraft handlers on the flight deck guide each plane onto the catapult tracks and hook the catapult to the aircraft. A shuttle protruding from the catapult track hooks onto the landing gear of the plane, allowing the pilot to start and power up the engines before the shuttle launches the aircraft from the flight deck into the air. When the catapult fires, aircraft can reach speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour in less than two seconds.

George Washington’s aviation boatswain’s mates (equipment) working with the catapults endure temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the catapult control rooms, monitoring catapult operations and maintaining communication with the Sailors on the flight deck.

“The catapults run on steam and the Sailors in the control rooms monitor the steam levels used in each catapult, which is why the rooms are always so hot,” said LaTorre-Colondres. “The steam is necessary because that’s what determines how much power the catapults will use when they launch aircraft.”

Sailors monitor more than the steam used in the catapults; they also monitor each aircraft’s individual weight, the catapult’s hydraulic pressure and the integrity of the catapult’s equipment.

“Hydraulic fluid keeps the catapult well lubricated so it can function smoothly,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class Cody Thurman, from Cleveland, Tenn. “Our weight board tells the pilot how much weight the aircraft is carrying, which includes fuel and ordnance. When an aircraft is weighed down, that factor affects the plane’s launch speed.”

The Sailors in the catapults also conduct daily preventative maintenance on the equipment, including pre-operational and post-operational daily checks, corrosion control maintenance on the catapult’s shuttle, calibration checks on the control gauges and sustaining the integrity of the catapult tracks.

“The reason there’s so much maintenance is because each part is equally important,” said Thurman. “We do it all day every day because the catapults are vital to the ship’s mission.”

George Washington, as the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier, conducts more flight operations than any other aircraft carrier. Aviation boatswain’s mates (equipment) have more than 150,000 successful launches and recoveries to their credit; however, this credit comes at the price of very few no-fly days and an 18-hour minimum work day.

“The hours are very long and the temperature is very hot, but I man one of the fleet’s most important weapons,” said Thurman. “That’s what makes this job worthwhile.”



 

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