Newest Carrier Flies Its Big Birds

Editor's Note: This is part two of a five-part series. Tomorrow's story will focus on what goes on below deck when the crew of the USS Truman isn't launching and landing aircraft.

The Navy has a dozen carriers, the newest of which is the USS Harry S. Truman. Fox News recently caught up with the ship some 100 miles off the coast of Virginia, where the men and women aboard were training for a deployment to fight the war on terror.

Heather Nauert Reports

The Truman is a fully operational airport at sea, a moveable air base. It lets the military go anywhere in the world and get close to foreign soil, without ever having to get permission.

"Put an aircraft carrier in someone's backyard and we can be delivering ordnance on target within a matter of hours," said Cmdr. Steve Guse.

The Truman’s biggest asset is the air wing, which holds fighters, bombers, surveillance planes and helicopters. These big birds can destroy other aircraft, even submarines. As many as 45 aircraft are on deck at any time, but a lot goes on before they take off.

Before the planes take off, they position themselves on to what is called a catapult. Some of the personnel dressed in bright yellow are called "shooters," who make sure the planes take off on time — one every 20 seconds.

"We do a lot of pointing," said Lt. j.g. Chris "Bull" Servello. It "lets pilots know we're checking everything right before we launch them off deck, making sure they're configured for flight, then away they go into combat."

The flight deck is less than 1,100 feet long, but pilots only have about 300 feet to take off. It takes them only two seconds to go those 300 feet - from zero to 165 miles per hour in the blink of an eye.

Executive Officer Ted Carter holds the Navy's record for carrier landings. And he just added one more, for a total of 1,700.

"I've never had to eject," Carter said. "I've had my share of close calls. It's a job I love and that's why I keep doing it."

Naval aviators — men and women — take each mission at face value and execute it, whether it's going to support the no-fly zone, drop ordinance or fly combat air patrol.

But the hardest part is getting home. Air traffic control lines up the planes when they come in for a landing.

"We put them in a holding pattern and keep them separated vertically and laterally so they don't smash into each other," said Denise Davis, supervisor of air traffic control.

Then, it's up to the airboss in the primary flight control center to guide them in.

Landing 24 hours a day, pilots rely on special lights to tell if they’re too high or low. The runway is very short, so the jets hook a retractable cable that bring them to a halt in less than 400 feet. Sometimes, though not often, they miss — and they're off to give it another try.