Jets roar onto floating city USS Kitty Hawk
By ALLAN McNEILallanm@gladstoneobserver.com.au
I'VE reported on music festivals, dined with politicians and interviewed the workers from Gladstone's first brothel.
But none of that comes close to my recent assignment aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, a fully operational aircraft carrier, which is taking part in joint US and Australian defence force exercise Talisman Sabre '05, and includes operations taking place in Gladstone.
Before we boarded our plane to fly on to the massive ship we were told in no uncertain terms what we were in for.
'It's a very dangerous thing we're going to do today, people,' petty officer George told us.
He was to be in charge of getting us on to our C2 Greyhound COD (carrier onboard delivery) propeller cargo aircraft and have us land on the ship's deck in what he described as a 'controlled crash' where we rely on a wire to hook the plane as it lands so we don't career off the end of the ship and into the greyness of the open ocean.
After about 45 minutes of flight Petty Officer George made the symbol we had been waiting for, signaling we would soon be making our "controlled crash'' onto the flight deck.
We braced, a thud, and a massive pull against the seat as our 200kph-plus speed came to a violent but relieving halt.
After what seemed like an eter-nity the hatch of the plane opened and we were surrounded by naval officers escorting us every which way. And then there was that massive roar ... the 20 odd journalists and photographers were taken aback by it, while the navy officers never batted an eyelid.
A quick happy snap on the deck and we were ushered away, many of us standing wide-eyed as we discovered the source of this guttural roar as an FA-18 Hornet roared over our heads.
Inside we sat down to lunch with the admiral and I realised that this was no ship, it was a floating city.
Across from me sat Thomas Walczyk, the head dentist on board, in charge of about 20 dental staff including four other dentists who service the 5500 strong crew.
Rear Admiral James Kelly described the movement on the ship as 'chaos transformed into a ballet.'
He wore a massive grin as he described daily life aboard the Kitty Hawk, he was a kid in a candy store, a bloke who had the best job in the world, in charge of a big boat filled with lots of planes and other cool stuff.
Up in the bridge overlooking the flight deck his description of a ballet was showcased. It was like a theatrical performance.
A plane travelling at more than 200kph landing every 45 seconds with colour-coded flight deck officers ushering the massive beasts around with intricate precision. The next stop was the flight deck itself.
At lunch my dentist friend Thomas had told me that the jet blast from the back of the planes could "blow you straight off the ship''.
Standing just metres away from these massive beasts as they were catapulted from the deck, I realised how right he was. I couldn't hear myself think, not that I was actually doing too much thinking, standing with my jaw around my knees, mind awash with what I was witnessing.
That roar again, building to a crescendo as the flight deck officers wave the plane into position.
The pilot can be seen through the hatch, one final check of instruments and then a nod.
As the plane shoots along the flight deck you can see him inside punching the air in unbridled excitement ? what a job, what a day!