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  • Writer's pictureRipley Johnson

Fair Winds and Following Seas CV63

I'm not saying I feel old, but I still remember the feeling of thunder in my chest up on the deck during flight ops like it was yesterday instead of more than 20 years ago.

Today, one again, the Battle Cat is underway and memories of my brief time on board as part of a support detachment for my squadron roll back through my mind.

  • The deck where jet engines roared like huge ferocious mechanical lions and a painful gruesome death was always just one mistake away.

  • The "coffin rack" where I was gently rocked to sleep by the waves of the Pacific while a few meters above me jets were slamming into the deck in a series of carefully orchestrated landings that are better described as "Controlled crashes."

  • The galleys that served surprisingly tasty meals and, while I was aboard, inexplicably advertised croutons as being the main option for every meal, and normal main courses described only as an afterthought. (*Note: I do not recall ever seeing one single crouton in either of the ship's two galleys the entire time I was aboard).

  • The chapel that smelled like JP8 (the type of fuel that was used on board) and where worshipers sat flanked on either side by the massive anchor chains made up of hundreds of links over a meter in length and twice as heavy as any of the more than 5,000 member crew.

Her destination is a port call for destruction, recycling, and rebirth as something other than one of the finest aircraft carriers to sail for the defense, goodwill and humanitarian efforts of the United States of America.

USS Kitty Hawk

The smell of the steam coming off the launch piston and the way it rolled and swirled across the flight deck during system testing - as we did yet another "FOD walkdown" (slowly walking the deck looking closely for foreign objects that could cause damage), is something I've never forgotten. Mostly I remember the hours spent with some of my favorite people on earth playing cards and catching quick naps while we waited for the call that our birds were on their way back and it was time to head topside to catch them, inspect them, make any necessary repairs, turn them around, and send them back up in the air again. I remember one particular afternoon when we were all kicked back in the maintenance space telling stories waiting for out pilots to fly the birds back and someone looking up at the deck cam TV and saying, "isn't that Vandy 51?" And with a sudden jolt of embarrassment and urgency all of us jumping up and doing a mad crazy dash up onto the flight deck because one of our planes was about to be on deck and none of us were up there to take care of it.

Oh, and the night that the media crew screwed up and had The Exorcist on the entertainment CC TV feed while the chaplain was delivering the evening prayer over the 1MC (ship's PA system). That was surreal!

So many memories for such a short time at sea.

She wasn't my home. She was just taking our land based squadron pilots out to the middle of the Pacific to either renew their cat & trap qualifications or to test some new weapons electronics system. When I enlisted, women weren't allowed to be on carriers at all. My second year in service, the rule was changed provisionally as a kind of experiment. Female sailors could be on board for no more than 8 weeks at a time as part of a TAD assignment or squadron qualification/testing detachment. I was selected by my CPO to be included on our next detachment and to be the among the first batch of women to go to sea after the policy change took effect. My being one of the first few women to work flight ops topside on an aircraft carrier, and to prove the naysayers wrong by doing the job flawlessly, is one of my proudest accomplishments. Today women are shipmates on every kind of ship in the world's best Navy and it fills me with such joy to have been able to be a part of the generation of women who respectfully kicked out the hatches that stood between us and the jobs we wanted to perform and knew that we could do well.

But of the hundreds of millions of people on this earth, less than 0.003% have experienced the strange blend of extreme intensity and monotonous drudgery that can only be found on a working flight deck at sea. if you know, then you know. And if you don't, you never will. Now all of that is on its way to be cut up, melted down, and disassembled. Does that me and my shipmates old? I don't feel old. For all of her antiquated technology and tens of thousands of repairs, I bet she still feels like she has one more fight left in her. #BattleCat #CV63 #AKATheShittyKitty #FirstInFlight #FairWindsAndFollowingSeas

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