USS Theodore Roosevelt visits the CapeDate: 3 November 2008
Article and photos by Dean Wingrin
Invited by the SA Navy, ships from the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TR CSG) assigned to Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet, arrived in Cape Town in the first week of October 2008, as part of an ongoing effort to reinforce relationships, increase interoperability and address maritime issues.
The visit by the Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) (TR) to Cape Town marked the first time an American carrier has visited South Africa in more than 40 years. The last carrier to visit South Africa was USS Franklin D Roosevelt in 1967. The TR is also the first nuclear powered auircraft carrier to visit South Africa and permission had to be obtained from the National Nuclear Regulator prior to the TR being allowed to enter South African waters.
The cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) docked on 3 October, but as the USS Theodore Roosevelt was too big to fit into Table Bay Harbour, she anchored offshore in Table Bay on the morning of Saturday 4 October.
"The South African government has invited us to visit Cape Town, and we are grateful for the opportunity," said Rear Adm. Frank Pandolfe, commander of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group. "We look forward to strengthening the relationship with the South African Navy."
The TR CSG ships held military-to-military exchanges, and participated in a variety of community relations activities. This included a TR versus SA Navy rugby match!
Prior to the arrive of TR in Cape Town, 22 Squadron, SAAF, performed cross deck training by landing an Oryx helicopter aboard the aircraft carrier. After TR and USS Monterey departed Cape Town on Tuesday 7 October, they participated in a one-day theatre security cooperation (TSC) exercise with three South African Navy ships and one French Navy ship while underway in the Indian Ocean on 9 October.
The TSC exercise consisted of tactical communications, coordinated shiphandling manoeuvres and an aerial photo shoot of the ships in formation. TR and Monterey were joined by the South African Navy frigate SAS Isandlwana (F146), support vessel SAS Drakensburg (A301), patrol boat SAS Isaac Dyobia (P1565) and the French Navy frigate FN Floreal (F730) for the multinational exercise.
Just over a week later, the TR relieved the USS Ronald Reagan in the Gulf of Oman, with the first sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom flown over the skies of Afghanistan.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) is the fourth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Also known as "Big Stick" or "TR", her radio call sign is "Rough Rider" Construction began in October 1981 and she was placed into service in October 1986. With a flight deck 333m (1,092 ft) long and a height from keel to mast top of 74.4m (244 ft), this gargantuan of a ship consists of 15 levels and is powered by two nuclear reactors. 3 200 naval personnel serve aboard her, plus an additional 2 480 air wing personnel. About one-third of the crew is female. Her maximum speed is in excess of 30 kts.
But so much for vital statistics. What is it like to serve aboard her and to operate an aircraft from a carrier?
Embarked onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt is Carrier Air Wing 8 (CVW8), tail code "AJ". The task of CVW8 is to conduct offensive air operations against both land and sea targets, and provide for Carrier Battle Group defense and sustain air operations in support of other forces as directed.
CVW-8 employs a mix of sophisticated aircraft capable of air warfare, strike warfare, antisubmarine warfare and electronic warfare
The 44 aircraft comprising the strike fighter squadrons are:
- VFA-15 Valions (F/A-18C Hornet)
- VFA-31 Tomcatters (F/A-18E Super Hornet)
- VFA-87 Golden Warriors (F/A-18A+ Hornet)
- VFA-213 Black Lions (F/A-18C Hornet and F/A-18F Super Hornet)
The Tactical EW Squadron is VAQ-141 Shadowhawks with approximately six EA-6B Prowlers. The carrier AEW Squadron is VAW-124 Bear Aces flying the E-2C, while the helicopter ASW Squadron is HS-3 Tridents flying the SH-60F and new HH-60H SeaHawk.
The Flight Deck
The flight deck is 18 211 sqm (4.5 acres) and is equipped with four catapults (two on the bow and two on the angled deck) and four arresting wires.
As the flight deck is a very dangerous place and extremely loud, there is no room for error. Communication is done through hand signals. There are seven different groups of people on the flight deck and each group wears a different colour jersey for easy identification.
The Yellow shirts are catapult and arresting gear officers and traffic directors, while green shirts are aircraft maintenance and arresting gear crews. Blue shirts are tractor drivers and elevator operators and Purple shirts are aircraft fuelers and fuel system maintenance crews. Brown shirts are aircraft maintenace chiefs, red shirts are weapons handlers and crash crew, with safety officers and landing signal officers wearing white.
Flight Deck Control occupies a small room with a view over the flight deck. The ‘nerve centre of carrier operations', it is here that every aircraft position on deck and in the hangar is plotted on a manual ‘Ouija Board'. In addition to determining what is where on deck, an item is placed on each aircraft cut-out to indicate it's current status. A purple nut may indicate that the aircraft is awaiting refuelling, while a small washer will not that the aircraft must be washed. This second by second knowledge is vital for deck safety.
In addition to the flight deck, there are three hangar bays for the storage of components and the maintenance and storage of aircraft.
Launch Control determines what and when aircraft are launched, while Primary Flight Deck Control gives the actual order to launch.
Launching an aircraft from a carrier is an intricate and very loud exercise. The carrier will turn into the wind to increase the flow over the deck. The Aircraft Controllers bring the aircraft to the correct steam-powered catapult on the flight deck and the nose-wheel latch is lowered and attached to the catapult gear. Blast deflectors are then raised behind the aircraft. This not only protects the deck personnel, bit it also adds some useful thrust to a jet taking-off.
The aircraft's engines are brought up to full power and the Signal Officer gives his ‘go'. The aircraft is accelerated to over 150 mph in 2 seconds over a length of just 76 m (250 ft). It was reported that the aircraft crew could experience up to 8 g's during take-off. A heavily loaded Super Hornet takes-off at about 170 kts.
It is normal to see an aircraft dipping below the bow after leaving the catapult, then pulling up to a climb. However, the newer F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet has sufficient engine power to ensure a positive rate-of-climb after launch.
The carrier can launch an aircraft every minute for up to 12 hours at a time.
Coming back home to Mother
While it is relatively easy to launch an aircraft, landing back on the carrier is a very nerve racking experience for any pilot.
The arresting gear is used to stop aircraft at the same position on the deck, regardless of the size and weight of the aircraft. With four arresting wires stretched across the (angled) deck, all pilots aim to trap with the third wire. As one Super Hornet crew member told me, hitting the third wire is ‘sweet'.
Once established on final approach, the pilot will be looking at the "Meatball", an optical carrier landing aid situated just to the left of the landing area. It has a horizontal row of green lights and an orange light, or "meatball," that rides up and down to indicate the situation relative to the optimum glideslope. The Landing Signal Officer will invariably give a "wave-off" if the aircraft is too low.
As the aircraft crosses the stern of the carrier, it powers up to full power prior to trapping the cable. The landing speed of the Super Hornet is about 130 kts. Should the pilot miss all four cables, The Boss yells "Bolter, bolter, bolter" and the aircraft has enough power to go around. It is not for nothing that a landing on a carrier is called a controlled crash.
Once the pilot of a bolter lands and walks into the Ready Room, he will find a string with a big metal bolt hung over his seat. This will be a constant reminder until it is moved to the seat of the next pilot who performs a bolter.
In a worst-case scenario, there is an Emergency Crash Net that is raised across the deck to catch the aircraft.
As if this was not enough to unsettle the nerves, every single landing is filmed and graded. All launches and traps are broadcast on live TV for all ship crew to watch, no matter where they are on the carrier. This is because the crew like to see what is going on and can react immediately, even before an alarm is sounded.
The floating city
The carrier is actually a small American city at sea. Besides the normal services one would expect on a warship such as a medical facilities, canteen, etc, there is a Judge to hear criminal cases (under the US Uniform Code of Military Justice), a Brig (jail), psychiatrist and even a full service live TV channel in addition to satellite TV and internet facilities. There are four separate areas for religious services and when the Task Force is at sea, the Sunday "Holy Helo" will transport the various denominational ministers from ship to ship!
With so many people on board, it is a major military task just to feed them all. There are eight separate messes that are open 22 hours per day. The two separate one hour closing periods is to enable the mess staff to attend to cleaning while serving 18 600 meals a day. There are also four separate gyms and even a basketball court that can be erected in the hangar bay.
As well as fighter aircraft and helicopters, the USS Theodore Roosevelt is also equipped for self defence. Three NATO Sea Sparrow anti-aircraft and anti-missile missile launchers and four Phalanx (Close-In Weapons System) Gatling guns comprise the primary defence system. There are also ten .50 Caliber M2HB mounted machine guns.
I would like to thank Mark Canning of the US Embassy and Lt Brian Badura of the US Naval Forces Europe, US Sixth Fleet, for their assistance.