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Getting the Big 'E

ClickJohn Cayless reports on JMC 01-2 from the deck of the USS Enterprise

One of my lifetime ambitions has been to embark on a aircraft carrier on flying operations - this is the report of the fulfilment of that ambition!

Dateline Tuesday 29 May 2001: 10:00. The editor at Air-Scene UK has given the go-ahead. I take the bull by the horns and telephone US Navy Europe in London. I speak to one of the Public Affairs officers who is under a lot of pressure about the visit of the "Big E", the USS Enterprise, to British waters. They have received over 1,000 e-mails and thousands of phone calls about the visit - his advice is to send a mail with as many details as I could as soon as possible. Panic now sets in! 14:14: I manage to send the e-mail with just about everything crossed I can think of.
USS Enterprise - a history

A bottle of champagne shattered on the bow of the awesome new warship, USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65), breaking the silence of an anxious crowd at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, Newport News, Virginia. It was Sunday morning, 24 September 1960, when Mrs. William B. Franke, wife of the former Secretary of the Navy, christened the eighth USS Enterprise, bringing to life the longest, tallest and mightiest warship to ever sail the seas.

The Big 'EAt the commissioning of Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally, Jr., called it a worthy successor to the highly decorated seventh USS Enterprise of World War II. "The Fighting Gray Lady, as it was called, served in such well-known battles as the raid on Tokyo and the Battle of Midway." Secretary Connally went on to say, "The new Enterprise will reign a long, long time as queen of the seas."

Enterprise made its maiden voyage under the command of Captain Vincent P. DePoix on 12 January 1962. Enterprise and other ships in the Second Fleet set up a "strict quarantine of all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba." The blockade was put in place on 24 October, and the first Soviet ship was stopped the next day. On 28 October, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles and dismantle the missile bases in Cuba.

Enterprise made its second and third deployments to the Mediterranean in 1963 and 1964. During the latter deployment, on 13 May, the world's first nuclear-powered task force was formed when USS LONG BEACH and USS BAINBRIDGE joined Enterprise. On 31 July the ships were designated Task Force One and sent on Operation SEA ORBIT, a historic 30,565-mile voyage around the world accomplished without a single refuelling or replenishment.

The Big E transferred to the Pacific's Seventh Fleet in November 1965 and became the first nuclear-powered ship to engage in combat when it launched bomb-laden aircraft in a projection of power against the Viet Cong on 2 December 1965. Its hot decks launched 125 sorties on the first day.

In all, Enterprise made six combat deployments to Southeast Asia from 1965 to 1972. Between combat tours, Enterprise returned to Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in 1970 for an overhaul and refitting.

When Enterprise made its seventh Western Pacific (WESTPAC) deployment in September 1974, it became the first carrier to deploy with the new Tomcat fighter plane. During the deployment, in February 1975, Enterprise was called on to help in the evacuation of Saigon. During Operation FREQUENT WIND, Big E aircraft flew 95 sorties.

The ship made its eighth and ninth WESTPACs in 1976 and 1978. It sailed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in January 1979 for a 30-month comprehensive overhaul. Enterprise made its 10th, 11th and 12th WESTPAC deployments in 1982, 1984 and 1986.

When Enterprise deployed in 1986, it became the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier to transit the Suez Canal. It then entered the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in over 22 years.

In April 1988, Enterprise, on its 13th deployment, was assigned to escort re-flagged Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. Enterprise began its 14th overseas deployment in September 1989. In early December, Enterprise participated in Operation CLASSIC RESOLVE, President Bush's response to Philippine President Corazon Aquino's request for support during the coup attempt.

In March 1990, Enterprise completed its around-the-world deployment by arriving in Norfolk, Virginia. Enterprise had successfully and safely steamed more than 43,000 miles from its long-time homeport of Alameda, California. In October, Enterprise moved to Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company for refuelling and the Navy's largest complex overhaul ever attempted.

Enterprise returned to sea on 27 September 1994, and on 28 June 1996 began its 15th overseas deployment. The Big E enforced no-fly zones in two of the world's most critical areas, Bosnia-Herzegovina (Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR) and Iraq (Operation SOUTHERN WATCH).

Following a four-and-a-half month maintenance period at Newport News Shipbuilding and a comprehensive work-up cycle, the ship departed for its 16th deployment in November 1998. From 16-20 December 1998, Big E and Carrier Air Wing THREE participated in Operation DESERT FOX, expending more than 725,000 pounds of ordnance against military targets in Iraq.

The Battle Group also conducted operations in the Adriatic Sea and prepared for possible NATO military intervention in the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo. The ship returned to Norfolk in May 1999 and completed a six-month ESRA.

Enterprise and embarked Carrier Air Wing EIGHT deployed in April 2001, marking its 17th overseas deployment. Enterprise is current operating in the Mediterranean Sea as part of the US Sixth Fleet.

Dateline Wednesday 30 May 2001: Nothing back yet.
Dateline Thursday 31 May 2001: Still nothing back yet. Panic rises.
Dateline Friday 1 June 2001: If nothing happens soon I will have no hair or fingers left. I decide I have to phone them to see what is happening. I manage to get the courage to do this by 11:00 - here we go!! Oh heck! The officer I need to talk to answers the phone (not prepared for that). I explain who I am and what I am enquiring about. He is very understanding and helpful and would like to read my e-mail whilst I am on the line to give me an answer. I had directed him to Richard Siudak's report on the USS Abraham Lincoln when it visited Australia - he thinks it is excellent and wants to know what I wish to do in the way of a visit. The offer of a visit to the 'Big E' whilst she is in Stokes Bay is given, but (rather rashly) I said I really wanted to be on board her whilst she is underway and flying operations were taking place. Amazingly, he agrees to my request and will add me to the list - this would take about fourteen days to finalise. I'm glad he doesn't hear me fall off my chair!! I need a stiff drink at this point, but have to phone the Ed and tell him the news.
For the next couple of weeks I wait for the e-mail to arrive.
Dateline Thursday 14 June 2001: 13:47. As Homer Simpson would say, "The mail, the mail is here!"
*   Members of the press are invited on a media embarkation from RAF Kinloss to the USS Enterprise operating at sea off eastern Scotland on Wednesday, 20 June.

* The embarkation will depart from RAF Kinloss at approx. 0700 on the morning of the 20th. A carrier onboard delivery (COD) plane will deliver the group to USS Enterprise where media will be given a brief on JMC. There will be a number of opportunities for pictures once aboard. Flight ops are scheduled to commence mid afternoon.  The COD is scheduled to depart USS ENT at approximately 1700 and deliver everyone back to RAF Kinloss.

* Option: If desired, there may be an opportunity for media to fly from USS Enterprise to HMS Illustrious with follow-on transportation via helicopter back to RAF Kinloss.

Wow - it's going to happen!!! 14.24: "I received your reply and will let you know the status by COB Friday." The reply from Public Affairs.
Dateline Friday 15 June 2001: Today's the day!! 15:57: E-mail arrives. "Please forward me soonest information on how to contact you in the next few days regarding USS Enterprise embark. I'd like home, work and mobile phone numbers if possible." Oh!! Am I going to have to wait all weekend? I explain to Public Affairs my transport and accommodation plans are in place and can be cancelled if need be and will phone them on Monday.
18:01: Another mail with details of the trip.
The proposed itinerary is as follows: Wednesday, 20 June: (all times are local) 0630 Media representatives meet Public Affairs Officer  at the front gate of RAF Kinloss. 0730 Media representatives depart RAF Kinloss en-route Enterprise. (Flight time 1 hour). 0830 Arrive Enterprise. Tours/observe flight Operations/interview opportunities. 1630 Depart Enterprise en-route RAF Kinloss. (Flight Time 1.0 hour). 1730 Arrive RAF Kinloss.
Well, that's it then, I'm ready for the off, just a little matter of a 18th Birthday party in Yorkshire this evening to attend. The weekend flies by and my plans for the 450+ mile drive have all been organised.
Dateline Monday 18 June 2001: E-mail arrives confirming the details of the visit. I cannot settle at all during the day and decide I will travel part of the way Monday evening, leaving home at 19:00 I plan to get to at least Carlisle before I stop and get some sleep.
US Navy Orions at Kinloss. Picture courtesy of Gill Howie
Dateline Tuesday 19 June 2001: 05:30. Wake up to a overcast sky and it's time to hit the road. A friend has very kindly offered to put me up in the caravan he is staying in near Lossiemouth. I arrive at RAF Kinloss at 10:15, completely shattered after driving 480 miles, but what a lovely part of Scotland this is. Not managed to see anybody wearing a kilt yet! Terry meets me by the base and we have a quick look around the area.
Kinloss is hosting a multitude of aircraft for the JMC which include a Norwegian P-3, French Atlantic, Italian Atlantic, Canadian CP-140s and FR Aviation Falcons. Also based here for the period are two C-2 Greyhounds from the US Navy (VRC-40 Det. V) and a MH-53 from the US Navy (HC-4). These have been flying support missions for the "Big E".
Dateline Wednesday 20 June 2001. The day has arrived! I'm up bright and early at 05:30. Gill Howie from Squadron Prints is going to pick me up to go to Kinloss. We get there at 06:30 and are the only people there apart from the RAF Police in the Guard Room. We book in and are told to wait in the car park where somebody will arrive shortly to pick us up. After a short time a few other people on the trip start arriving and tell us the itinerary has been changed and we are going to HMS Illustrious first - What!!! That means we will be flying out Clickby helicopter and miss the 'Trap' on the 'Big E'! Oh, how I wanted to be a member of the Tailhook Association! I can't complain really - two Aircraft Carriers in one day can't be bad!
"I'm sure I left a Sea Harrier around here somewhere"We get taken to the Visiting Aircraft Section and have to get kitted out in full immersion suits which are bright orange and do wonders for your figure. We are told we will have a flight of about twenty minutes to HMS Illustrious via a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter.
We arrive at Illustrious at 08:15 with the sun trying to break through and good visibility. At last we can get out of the suits,I now know how it feels to be Tangoed!!
Embarked on HMS Illustrious for JMC are the following assets: 801 Naval Air Squadron with Sea Harrier FA2s, 820 Naval Air Squadron with Sea King HAS Mk.6s and 849 Naval Air Squadron with Sea King AEW Mk.2s. We are welcomed aboard by Captain Charles Style and given a briefing on JMC 01-2 by Commander Mike Whittaker. At the present time HMS Illustrious is the "On-call" Royal Navy carrier which means she has to be ready to deploy to any trouble spot anywhere in the world at short notice.
Sea King AEW prepares to launchFifty-one naval units are involved in JMC 01-2 which includes 15 submarines, 14,000 military personnel and 100 You've been Tangoed!!aircraft. Nations involved include the United Kingdom, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, United states, Sweden, Belgium, Spain and Italy.
The basis of the exercise is that there has been a attempted coup in the Federation of Independent Sovereign States by the thirteen men of Calanish who have taken over one of the islands and are trying to dislodge the elected Government. The Illustrious is there to wave the flag in support of the Government and will react accordingly. Also involved from the US Navy are the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and four Enterprise Battle Group ships, including USS Philippine Sea (CG-58), USS Arctic (AOE-8), USS Hampton (SSN-767), USS McFaul (DDG-74) and maritime patrol aircraft.
We spend a pleasant time on the platform above the main deck watching the launch of some of the Sea Harriers, but I can't wait to get to the 'Big E'. It's back to the hangar deck and back into the suits, I hope they have been washed, but can't be sure what I am climbing into!
So it's back to the Sea King and try to make ourselves comfortable. After flying for about twenty minutes (which seems a lot longer) the loadmaster holds up a map which says another forty minutes! Looking around at some of the people on the trip this does not go down at all well - I hope something doesn't come up as well looking at some of the pale faces.
Tom Cruise, eat you heart out!CVW-8We arrive at the 'Big E' and circle around a couple of times for Sky News to get some video footage and give nobody else the opportunity to get into the doorway to take some pictures. The weather is absolutely awful, about a 1,000 ft cloud-base and less than a mile visibility. It looks absolutely awesome from where I am sitting and I must admit I have a lump in my throat - "here comes one of my ambitions" I think to myself. We land safely and I cannot wait to get out of the helicopter, come on people, hurry up! I climb out of the Sea King and put my feet down with a big smile on my face. Wow, I am speechless as I look around as we are guided off the deck to meet the Big E's Public Affairs Officers and get out of the 'Tango Suits'. Lieutenant Christopher Lounderman and his assistant JOC[SW] Mark Piggott give us a quick brief about our visit and explain what we will Clickbe doing during the course of our stay. We start off with lunch, Chilli Mince, Fries and Chilli Dogs. It's off to Vultures Row we go and quite a climb it is as well, more than a couple of people are puffing as we climb the steps (good tip, if you ever get chance to go, take as little as possible with you!) and eventually we arrive at Hornets galorethe 'Row'. What a view - from up here we look down on Tomcats, Hornets, Prowlers, Vikings, Hawkeyes and Seahawks. The 'Big E' has Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8) embarked for this cruise comprising of VF-41 with the F-14A (the Squadron's last cruise with the F-14, but they are going to convert to the Super Hornet, so all is not lost), VF-14 also with the F-14A, VFA-15 and VFA-87 with the F/A-18C, VAQ-141 with the EA-6B, VAW-124 with the E-2C, VS-24 with the S-3B and HS-3 with SH-60Fs and HH-60Hs.
We spend some three-quarters of an hour on Vultures Row and are told we now have to go and get kitted out with safety equipment to go down on deck. This comprises of a Cranial, which is like a safety helmet with built in ear defenders, blast goggles and a safety vest. After a very good brief by the safety team we are led out onto the deck, our first port of call being between Catapults 1 & 2 which is called the "Crutch Possie". Having to be on one knee for a Tomcat to take off is something that will be burnt into my memory - if you don't kneel down you will lose your head as the wing passes over you! Awesome!!
ClickAs one aircraft departs from in front of you another winds up behind. Today, they are also using a third catapult to launch - which way do I turn? They seem to be going off all over the place, kicking up dirt and steam. A EA-6 501 landingEA-6B is put into position and starts to wind up. It's off. Where has it gone? I can't see for all the steam, what a beast! It is without doubt the most powerful aircraft on board, VAQ-141 you are awesome!!. I wish at this point I could send a postcard, the only problem is I wouldn't know what to say, words cannot describe the feelings I have at this moment.
It's time to move. I have seen Tomcats, Hornets, Vikings and the awesome Prowler launch and now it's time for some landings. We move to what is known as the arrestor wire turn buckle, by number 4. First we watch the arrival of some Hornets, they are all recovered before the Tomcats, as the tension is different for the weight of each aircraft. Vikings and Prowlers are also recovered during our stay on deck. I enjoy watching the recoveries but to be honest the launches are.....I just don't know how to put it into words!!! Back to Public Affairs and time to exchange some dollars for baseball hats.

C-2 GreyhoundDon't do it!Some vital statistics about the Big E - she has around 3,500 souls on board, has 4 and a half acres of flight deck, power of some 280,000 horsepower from eight nuclear reactors and can reach a speed of thirty knots. Incredible to think of the technology employed some forty years ago when she was built - she is older than most of her complement of crew.

Time has flown and it's time to go. Now the fun reaches a crescendo as we are to be launched form the 'BIG E' in a C-2 Greyhound to return to Kinloss. A clean Cranial and Blast Goggles along with a Life Jacket are donned, the safety brief is very through and to the point. I'm not sure what I want to do, stay and take some more pictures or get the launch of a lifetime, but in the end I have no choice - I am going. We get strapped in and the crew come and check everything - we are moving into position. The brief was to put your feet up onto the seat in front of you, cross your arms, hold onto the straps at shoulder height and put your chin into your chest. All done, ready to go! The engines wind up and BANG, we are airborne, zero to very fast in about three seconds! I can't say what I said as it happened, I just leave it to your imagination. Some half an hour later we are back on dry land, having spent a wonderful day at sea. On leaving the C-2A we are asked if we would like to by some patches - silly question really, as VRC-40 Det. V has just become my favourite airline in the world!
Later, it takes me eight cups of coffee before I feel relaxed. I have a text message on my phone asking "How did it go?" My answer is "Aaawwesome!! DDazed !!" I think that is probably the understatement of the year...If you ever get the chance, Just Do It!!!

I would Like to thank the following for making this dream come true...Public Affairs, US Navy Europe; The Officers and Crew of the USS Enterprise; Public Affairs Officers, USS Enterprise; Safety Team USS Enterprise; VRC-40 Det. V (my favourite airline); The Officers and crew of HMS Illustrious; Gary Parsons of Air-Scene UK (your turn will come); Gill Howie from Squadron Prints (for being there); Terry Senior for putting up with me for four days; My wife Sandra, children Emma, Ian & Laura for leaving them for four days.

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