The USS Nimitz’ (CVN 68) four catapults or “cats,” as they are commonly referred to, used for aircraft launch and recovery, are one of the most essential pieces of equipment on the ship. They perform thousands of aircraft launches while underway and are essential to mission readiness.
If anyone understands that, it’s the Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE) division, V2.
V2 consists of Aviation Boatswain’s Mates (Equipment) (ABE) who are the go-to-guys for repairs and maintenance on all launch and recovery equipment. They’re currently getting catapult two ready for the fight by removing all of the grime and buildup caused by all of the launches during the last several underways.
Most of the built up grime is caused by grease, and lube oil or JP5 that may have leaked out of an aircraft onto the catapults.
“V2 is cleaning out the catapult trough, so when it is time to put the catapult back in there it doesn’t catch fire,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Marcus Roberts. “We’re making sure all of the equipment is mission ready, and we’re trying to get all of this grease out of here ASAP.”
According to Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) Marcus Burgess, the V2 Maintenance Chief, this level of catapult maintenance can occur anywhere between 18 months to a couple of years.
“Generally it would take between 10 and 15 days to get it completely cleaned out,” said Burgess. “We cleaned out cat three already, cat two was cleaned after deployment and cat four was done previous to that.”
Burgess added that since Nimitz is in the yards and has a little more time to be thorough the process will take longer. Currently, V2 is on week three of cleaning.
“It can be a pain trying to get all of the grime out of the trough,” said Roberts. “Getting the grease out of all the little crevices with a putty knife is very tedious work.”
Getting into the trough to clean it can be just as tedious as the cleaning process itself. Sailors don all white coveralls over their uniform, trash bags over their boots (to protect from decay), gloves, hard hats and safety glasses.
In the summer heat, digging dirt and grime out of the trough in all of those layers makes for sweaty, tiring work that can easily demotivate.
“We try to keep these guys motivated,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) Robert Turrone, Assistant Leading Petty Officer of V2. “Little things like bringing the radio out and listening to music, giving them more time on their chow breaks and little breaks throughout the day help keep them going.”
This evolution gives the ABEs a chance to see parts of the catapult they typically wouldn’t see on a day-to-day basis.
“For a lot of guys this is their first time to see the cat broken apart like it is,” said Burgess. “Anytime you get to break out of the monotony of doing the same job every day, and do something so big, it gets the guys excited.”
Cleaning the cat troughs is so vital because a buildup of grease and grime could cause a fire. A fire could lead to a rotary cable being snapped, and then the deck plates would need to be lifted to fix it, causing the catapult to be down for an extended period of time.
Nimitz was made specifically for the launch and recovery of aircraft, so keeping the cats mission-ready at all times is essential. Without the catapults the ship is unable to complete its primary mission.
V2 division takes pride in their work, and they know how essential their role is when it comes to the mission.
“Without the catapult this boat isn’t going out to sea,” said Roberts. “It’s what this carrier is made for, launch and recovery is the main priority.”
Story and photos by MC3 William Blees