“Watch the line!” echoes across the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) early one morning. Green and yellow jerseys stand in position around Nimitz catapult one. A stillness seems to take hold of everyone in attendance. A thumbs up to signal the launch is clear and the silence is broken by the catapult roaring to life, steam shoots the shuttle the length of the catapult in seconds.
The Sailors of Nimitz Air Department V-2 division have spent the last 20 months preforming maintenance and modifications to the catapult systems, commonly referred to as cat, on board. Last week they completed the final stages of testing before welcoming Carrier Air Wing 11 on board.
The launch valve test, conducted during Nimitz’s sea trials, was the culmination of all the work done during the yard period coming to a conclusion.
Ensign Lester Quinlin, Air Boatswain in charge of V-2’s maintenance program, said approximately 45,000 man hours were put into the catapults to get them to this point.
“We replaced three cat launch valves and all the rotary retraction engine cables,” said Quinlin. “We also repacked all four catapult accumulators and removed the launching engine cylinders on cats two and four.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandon Gewecke, flight deck petty officer of V-2’s bow cats, said the hours were long but worth it.
“It’s good to see them coming back up,” said Gewecke. “We spent a lot of hours just getting everything back together, 11 to 18 a day, but that’s just how Air is. Everybody has to work together.”
“Teamwork, A Tradition” came into full effect during this multi-month operation. According to Quinlin, V-2 couldn’t have made their timeline without help from other departments and divisions on board Nimitz.
“Supply worked miracles to get up the parts we needed, not an easy task when coming out of the ship yard at the end of the fiscal year,” said Quinlin. “Engineering was a huge help in aligning steam and getting ventilation working throughout various spaces.”
With the cats certified, V-2 now looks toward the reason behind all of the work put in, the launch and recovery of aircraft.
According to Gewecke, one of the problems with an Extended Planned Incremental Availability (EPIA) is all the personnel and subsequent experience that is lost due to transfers, but he remained hopeful, stating that while his crew is under-qualled, they are highly motivated to get back to the operational ability Nimitz expects from V-2.
“We have a very young, green crew,” said Quinlin. “We will train and qualify the future of V-2.”
With completion of the cats launch valve certification, V-2 passed a major milestone, not just for Air Department, but for Nimitz as a whole.
“It feels great to be able to go to sea and know we have the ability to take CVN 68 to the fight and put some serious firepower in the air,” said Quinlin. “I can honestly say I speak for all of V-2 division when I say we cannot wait to launch a strike against ISIS or anyone else who wishes to hurt the American people or interfere with our way of life”.
That first blast of steam off the flight deck of Nimitz and the shuttle shooting forward was not just one certification, it was a milestone on top of thousands of hours of work, put into work by hands all across the ship. It is a milestone that reflects the integrity of Nimitz crew. It is a sign of what’s to come. The whistle of the shuttle is now accompanied by the roar of jet engines. A new milestone has been reached. The road ahead to deployment is still a long one for V-2 but at sea flight operations are here.
Story by SN Kenneth Blair