the Big 'E
Cayless reports on JMC 01-2 from the deck of the USS
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
- 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.
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 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
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
- 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
- Dateline Thursday 14 June 2001: 13:47. As Homer
Simpson would say, "The mail, the mail is here!"
- USS ENTERPRISE BATTLE GROUP PARTICIPATES IN JOINT
MARITIME COURSE 01-2
* 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
* 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.
- 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
- 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
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!
- 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
- 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.
- Fifty-one naval units are involved in JMC 01-2
which includes 15 submarines, 14,000 military personnel and 100 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
- 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.
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
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 the
'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
- 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!!
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-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.
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.