Sailors scramble across the flight deck. Hands wave in the air. The jet’s tail hook and landing gear drop as the pilot sets his speed and angle. All eyes turn aft to watch as the roaring of the jet’s engine gets louder and louder. The jet comes in and catches the arresting cable and its tires hit the deck with a loud screech, leaving behind a trail of smoke. As the jet comes to a complete stop in mere seconds and the smell of burnt rubber and jet fuel fills the air, the entire ship can feel the impact. From the flight deck, the jets go back down to hangar bay where they receive routine maintenance. Sailors throughout the work centers below decks work vigorously to keep these jets in working condition.
During the 21-month Extended Planned Incremental Availability (EPIA) the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) recently underwent, the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD) was focused on shipboard maintenance. After the ship completed the time in the yards, AIMD had to shift its focus back to aviation maintenance to support the air wing on board.
Nimitz has now completed two underway periods since the yards, and AIMD is still getting used to the change, overcoming hardships after shifting its operational focus.
“Our mission as an aircraft carrier is to launch and recover aircraft,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Timothy Goraj, a work center supervisor for AIMD’s IM-2 division. “Without AIMD, that can’t happen. Squadrons don’t have the full capability to repair their stuff when it breaks; we do. If AIMD wasn’t here, the squadrons couldn’t do their job, which means the boat couldn’t do its job.”
Goraj’s responsibility is to oversee the work being done by junior Sailors, many of whom do not have on the job experience with aircrafts.
Goraj says it’s been challenging for AIMD due to many of the Sailors being new to aviation maintenance and being unqualified on board the ship.
This is common for ships going through a maintenance cycle as large and extensive as the one Nimitz recently completed.
“It’s nothing that is their fault,” said Goraj. “It’s just because we haven’t been in a position where we’ve had aviation maintenance to do.”
This transition in work load can be felt from the deck plates up.
“It’s very difficult to change the mindset of Sailors who have been on board for the past two years where all they know is shipboard maintenance,” said Master Chief Adam Rocks, the AIMD maintenance master chief.
Even though AIMD was lacking aviation maintenance to complete, they still tried to keep up proficiency in their rates throughout EPIA.
According to Goraj, professional training was held every week on some form of aviation maintenance. It would be on certain procedures, programs or how things would run in the shop.
Although reading through manuals and receiving verbal lectures may work to an extent, hands-on training is where Sailors can get the best experience.
“On the job training has been very limited because up until now we haven’t had any aircraft components to work on,” said Rocks. “That changes with the air wing on board.”
During Nimitz’ last underway, AIMD got the opportunity to work in their field once again when part of Carrier Air Wing 11 (CVW 11) embarked on board Nimitz. It was obvious that AIMD was a vital part of the ship’s recent flight deck certification.
“Our tire and wheel technicians have become fairly proficient dating back to the last carrier qualification (CQ) we had with the air wing last month,” said Rocks.
Not only did Nimitz achieve it’s CQ, but also helped qualify the Flying Eagles of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 122, a squadron with pilots fairly new to landing on a flight deck.
Inexperienced pilots can quickly produce tires that need maintenance and replacing. The AIMD tire shop was busy working on the tires to keep flight operations going.
“They worked tirelessly for 27 hours straight during CQs to make sure that the pilots could finish their carrier qualifications,” said Rocks.
During Nimitz’ recent underway period, nearly the full CVW 11 was on board for the first time in almost two years, which gave AIMD another chance to train and qualify their Sailors.
“So are we fully ready to support the air wing?” said Rocks. “No. However, we’re getting there.”
AIMD has faced some challenges in the past months, but they hope to continue to move forward as The Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) and the slated 2017 deployment draw closer every day.
When the maintenance is complete, the jet is put on the elevator back to the flight deck. Slowly, the jet pulls up to the catapult with a fresh set of tires and full tank of fuel. As the jet blast deflector (JBD) comes up, Sailors take their positions behind the safe shot line. Final checks are made. Thumbs go up in the air. The pilot turns up the engine, ready to be launched from the 90,000-ton steel city. With a sudden jolt, the jet speeds off the short runway toward the waters ahead. The pilot continues to accelerate and pulls up as the jet’s tires leave the bow of the ship. A wall of steam is left behind from the catapult. The JBD goes down as Sailors scramble across the flight deck once again to repeat the process that AIMD helped make happen.
Story by MCSN Leon Wong