36 Hours Aboard the USS Ronald Reagan
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Recently, I had the great opportunity to be invited aboard the USS Ronald Reagan for a two day trip from Santa Barbara to her home port of San Diego. The Reagan had been visiting Santa Barbara, her sister port to Newport News where she was built. During the trip, the Reagan was going to rendezvous with a supply ship and transfer ordinance while underway.
We boarded the Reagan in calm seas at 5:00 am in the morning. By 6:00 we were already under way. We were taken below decks to ward room 1 where we had a short orientation. Do's, don'ts and a variety of safety concerns were presented to our group. The Reagan is a nuclear powered ship, which also contains a variety of other toxic substances, so we were instructed on what to do in the unlikely event of any accidental release of toxic materials.
We were paired up with the other people in our party, which was comprised of 50 lucky people from Santa Barbara. We were assigned "DV" (distinguished visitor) quarters. Each room contained two "racks" (beds) as well as a sink, two flip down desks, file and clothes cabinets. Two Chiefs, Kilgo and Ouellet, who worked with the air wing when it was aboard, were assigned as our "tour guides" for the trip.
We spent most of the morning below decks seeing the big systems of the ship. Above are the compressors for the launching catapults. The box thing on the left is 1100 gallons of hydraulic fluid that generates the pressure to accelerate a jet from zero to 135 mph in about 100 feet.
This machine is what stops the jets when they land and catch hold of the arresting cables. The energy is absorbed by four huge pneumatic/hydraulic pistons and arresting cabling shown above and below. I was told that this particular device is a new design and many times more efficient and reliable than previous designs.
Here is a close-up of a portion of the cabling that stretches back and forth several times under the pistons.
By 9:00 am, the Reagan had already positioned itself alongside the supply ship at a distance of 100 yards traveling approximately 20 knots. We were allowed topside to watch. You can well imagine the impact seeing these two huge ships so close together traveling at that speed. Frothy blue water churning between the ships, the noise of helicopters and the engines of the supply ship...wow. I assumed that they would have used laser tracking devices tied into the ship's navigation system to coordinate this maneuver. But they actually used a fairly simple manual tracking system which employed about a dozen people to measure and relay information to the navigator. With the ships in position, they began transferring ordinance using two cabling systems, fore and aft, as well as a helicopter shuttling material from deck to deck. You can see the Captain in the window there on the left.
The helicopter would fly backwards from the Reagan to the aft deck of the supply ship and get into position over the cargo to be lifted.
Sailors would then fix the hoist netting to a hook on the belly of the chopper. One sailor would steady the other from the rotor wash while he connected the hoist to the chopper.
The chopper then lifted off and headed over to the Reagan's aft deck where crews of sailors were waiting. The skill of these pilots is amazing. Remember, they are flying sideways at 20 knots to appear to hover over the ship's decks.
Here we see the chopper delivering a load to the Reagan. BTW, the dome there in the rear houses a series of satellite antennas which provide internetworking capabilities for the ship anywhere in the world. The smaller cross polarized yagis in the near-ground are used to communicate with the pilots of the air-wing when it is aboard.
Here we see teams of sailors removing the hoist and picking up the load with forklifts
Here we see ordinance being placed on an elevator for transport below decks to be stored in the ship's magazines. I was told that a variety of surface to air, and air to air missiles were contained in these crates. In the foreground, you can see two sailors in yellow shirts coordinating the choppers. I timed this process several times. It took only 60 seconds on average for a chopper to pick up a load on the supply ship, drop it off on the Reagan, and fly back and pick up another load! The precision of this process was totally amazing to watch. Both crews operated like this for about 7 hours, in 3 hour shifts, making more than 400 trips! No mistakes, no near misses, no problems.
While the choppers were doing their work, cables were strung into the hold of the Reagan. Here we see the cables being put into place with loads of ordinance waiting to be transferred.
How about some bombs floating over the water?
And here we see another load reaching the end of its traverse. Between the two systems, the choppers moved materials at a far greater pace than the cables. Light seas made the work much easier than they had originally planned. What was estimated to take the better part of two days, took only about 7 hours. Good news for the crew, but bad news to us as it meant we would be at sea only a day and a half, not the three that we were hoping for.
Here we see about one-half of the hanger deck. The Titanic could easily fit inside this space horizontally with room to spare. That's the Admiral's shuttle on the left, with the Captain's on the right. They're 40 feet each and dwarfed by the size of the hanger deck.
Above is a portion of the crew's mess. They eat in shifts over a several hour period. The flat screen monitors they're watching are supplied by private funds, not by the ship's budget. In fact, all ship's amenities are provided by private contributions, most of which come through the Navy League. Table cloths, tv's, 300 books, computers and magazines for the ship's library are all acquired by private funds. Without these contributions, most of our ships would be stark places for their crews.
The Reagan is always bustling with activity. Nothing stands still for long. While I was sitting at this table sipping a coke and snapping pictures, a hatch on the floor opened suddenly and out popped this crewman who disappeared as suddenly as he appeared.
Breakfast on our second day in ward room 3.