I APOLOGIZE FOR THE PHOTOS, I CAN'T SEEM TO GET THEM TO WORK WITH STEAM
I'll put them on photobucket later tonight. For now just copy/paste URLs
Had no idea where to put this, so I figured I'd do it here. It happened while I was messing around with the new Hornet release today, not to mention the new planes BIS dropped us.
It is a simulated news special taking place a couple of months into the NATO-CSAT conflict. The journalist spent a week on the USS George H.W. Bush, and got to ride along on an interception mission, in which his pilot downed two enemy aircraft thanks to his Radar skills (sort of) and datalinked information for another plane to down another.
Yes I know that's really an AWG-9 display I used, but I couldn't find any other displays that showed three targets, or even one of the APG-79 at all.
AAN News: Chicago
NEWS SPECIAL: A day on the USS Nimitz
January 3rd, 2036
Back in December I was given an opportunity by the US Navy to spend a couple days on the Navy's oldest operational aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, forming the core of the US 5th Fleet, which includes the Nimitz, her escort, and one of the new Colorado-class cruisers with the fancy gauss guns. Due to my agreement, I was not allowed to take any pictures of those, but I do have plenty of the old Nimitz-class Carrier.
She was commissioned in 2009, she is the 77th aircraft carrier ever to enter service, and was due for retirement soon but was put headfirst into action when CSAT occupied Altis. She does not have the ability to operate the F-35C or the new F/A-24 Lions due to the fact that she still uses steam catapults, but she still can operate the E-2D Hawkeye and F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, which I learned over this voyage were plenty enough to cause some havoc.
Number 208 of VFA-103 takes off from Catapult 1, Day 3
The first day was mostly just getting used to everything. I have been on many ships before, but the scale of the Bush was staggering. Over 5000 crew members, 50 F/A-18 Super Hornets, Four E-2D Hawkeyes, and 20 SH-80 Seahawk IIs, not to mention the escorts. I wasn't able to get any good pictures of the lower decks (even the hangar), so I mainly just doped around taking it all in by myself.
Day two, they let me up on deck to take some pictures. My oh my was it busy.
F/A-18F in the foreground on the starboard (right) side of the deck, with an SH-80 and F/A-18E in the background on the port (left) side. Day 2
There were at least twenty of the planes on the deck getting some fresh air. The man i was with, Cheif Petty Officer Charles Miller tole me that they were going light on the number of sorties today, and they head moved many of the planes onto the bow, blocking Catapults one and two. Three and Four were retained so that operations could continue as normal, though they couldn't land and launch planes at the same time.
Day Three, they had cleared the way for all four catapults to be used. They also brought out the very colorful planes in Carrier Air Group scheme, which is meant as a morale booster and are nicknamed "Press" planes by some of the crew as they tend to be favorites for journalists to take pictures of.
Three F/A-18Es of VFA-31 in full color CAG paint. Day 3.
The three Super Hornet squadrons aboard the Bush during this deployment were some of the most prestigious in the Navy. Fighter/Attack Squadron (VFA) 31, nicknamed the Tomcatters, were flying the F/A-18E Super Hornet, the preferred aircraft for close air support and combat air patrol. The second Squadron was VFA-103 Jolly Rogers, who flew the F/A-18F Super hornet liked for interception and pinpoint strikes. The third squadron was the Electronic Warfare squadron VAQ-134 Garudas equipped with the EA-18G, a specialized version of the two-seat F/A-18F used for jamming enemy radars and destroying surface-to-air missile sites
A better look at the tail of plane 108 of VFA-31, showing the age-old Felix the Cat icon that has become synonymous with the Navy's fighter squadrons and has been around for well over 100 years. Day 3
Later in the day, I was brought to a briefing room, where I was told that two days from then I would get to fly along with a pilot during a Sortie or two. I then was instructed on how to operate the back seat controls, mainly the Radar, Radio, Map, and the Aircraft Systems equipment using three Multi-Function displays. Being a civilian, I would not be allowed to use any weapon systems or fly the aircraft in any way unless in an emergency.
Getting acquainted with my new office
Day four I finished my training and met my pilot. He was somewhat short, but very, very energetic, and I was told that he was one of the best pilots in the Navy. He had graduated from the 2032 Strike Fighter Weapons School, better known as Top Gun, at the top of his class. His name was Lieutenant Pete "Maverick" Mitchell.
My new friend
He told me that he had dealt with CSAT aircraft before and that I would either be pretty safe or not very safe depending on the aircraft they would face. The To-119A "Fireball" was an attack aircraft and would not really stand much of a chance despite partial stealth. What was much more dangerous were the Su-35S "Flanker" and MiG-35 "Fulcrum," Russian-made fighter jest that were easily a match for our Super Hornet. If we went up against the highly advanced Su-50 "Frisk" stealth fighter, we wouldn't stand a chance. He said that they hadn't detected many Frisks or even Flankers, so we were fairly safe for now.
Day 5 was the big day. Darkstar, a NATO E-3 Sentry AWACS plane, basically a flying early warning radar, picked up several small planes at low altitude and high speed headed for Altis from what appeared to be Syria. We suited up, got briefed, and headed up to our plane.
The deck was pretty spartan at that time since NATO was trying to make a push eastwards and run CSAT into the ocean, and most of VFA-31 and VFA-103 were in the air, as well as both flight-capable Hawkeye AWACS. Several planes were retained for usage in the event of an attack on the ship, including 200.
The plane had about 3500 flight hours on it, and was one of the second-wave Super Hornets built when the NFX program which spawned the F/A-24 was delayed. It is equipped with the AN/APG-79 radar, AN/ALR-63 Radar Warning Receiver, and AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser. The radar can detect large planes out to 150-300 miles, fighters out to 60-100, and stealth planes out to 20-50, depending on which way the enemy is facing.
It is armed with the M61 Vulcan 20mm gatling cannon, and for this flight, four AIM-9X-5 close-range air to air missiles, and six AIM-120D-6 Medium-Long range air to air missiles. These were the latest and final developments of these long-standing missile families, the AIM-9 tracing all the way back to the 1950s. We had three external fuel tanks to extend our range and time using Afterburners, which was crucial to interception missions like this one.
We were to wait on the deck with our engines off while Darkstar assessed the planes' intentions. When the enemy birds turned directly south about 50 miles away from Altis from the Northeast, we knew what was going on. They were likely to be carrying anti-ship missiles, and were going to try and make a dash around Altis to hit us south of it. We started engines up and taxied to catapult one. As I prepared for the shock of takeoff, I turned on the multi-function displays and calibrated my helmet-mounted display. We test-fired everything, and then were cleared for takeoff.
View from the backseat as we pulled away. With three G's of backwards force from the catapult, I have no idea how I managed to take such a good shot.
We took off, and began our climb to 10,000 feet in the air. We would fly the enemy's predicted path, turning north about 30km southeast of Altis and searching for them then. We kept our radar off as we did this and relied on Magic (Hawkeye 1) and Darkstar (the E-3) to guide us to a good interception. An EA-18G Growler of VAQ-134, Garuda 1-3, was also tracking them as they had their terrain-avoidance radars on, and thus could be seen by their equipment. They were the ones who told us that they were To-119 Fireballs. We hit our waypoint and turned north, at which point I got lost in the displays trying to turn on the radar.
The first one was a pair of Fireballs using techniques to mask the second from us. The second return further out was a single Fireball trying to give the impression of a fighter-cover group. The one with the X was a real enemy fighter pair that was being engaged by Felix 2-1 and 2-2, a pair of VFA-31 planes on standing patrol. They didn't last long. We maneuvered to get a head-on AMRAAM shot on the first target, which had now split on our display. We got clearance from Darkstar to engage, so I locked up the one on the right of the pair, and we fired one our AIM-120s
We hit him without much issue, and I got a good picture as he veered off to his left into the ocean. Don't worry, he did eject and apparently survived, but is blocked by the displays in that shot. I designated the one further out for Felix 2-2, which was subsequently destroyed, and I then went to lock up the second Fireball when I realized that we were about to pass him and Maverick had suddenly rolled to the right. He told me to release the outer drop tanks, which I did, so that we could maneuver better. We then engaged in a close-range turning battle with the enemy fighter. It was quite intense, and it took a while to get a good shot.
We fired one AMRAAM (the missile further away), which failed to track due to how close we were, so we fired an AIM-9 missile, which would have gotten him if it weren't for the fact that he deployed countermeasures: those bright red flares. Since missiles were not to be, we lined up for a try with the 20mm gun. It didn't take long before Maverick had an angle on him, and we took him down.
We then announced the good news to Darkstar and headed back to the ship. We had burned through most of our external fuel and decided to burn the rest. We then dropped the centerline tank to reduce drag for the journey home.
After another 20 minutes' flight, the Bush was in view. We turned on our navigation lights and started to line up for a landing. We got cleared to do so, and came in.
We missed the wires on the first try (Steel cable is used to slow down the planes as they land, allowing for a very short distance), and we had to go around again. I raised the gear and flaps as Maverick hit the boost. We came in again and successfully landed on the second wire.
We were then debriefed. Using my photography, we confirmed the two downed Fireballs of our own and filed some papers on the ordnance we used, and why and how we used it. Once that was taken care of, we went to the canteen for some rest.
The next two days I got to talk a lot more with the crew of the ship. I met people who came from everywhere, east coast, west, Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, the Rockies, the Midwest, and even a man from Colombia who was using his Navy service to apply for US Citizenship. I was on every deck, looking at everything from the weapons bay to the steam catapult system to the reactor maintenance station. I was impressed by all of it to a degree that cannot be described in text. They were all hard-working men and women, who knew the ship bow to stern, top to bottom. They operated on a ship that was older than most of them were, flying the oldest planes in the Navy, and were easily the most motivated and dedicated people I have ever met. The fact that they do this every day is astounding, and I feel that my week there has made me a more complete person. Plus, I get to say something that no other journalist can say.
I shot down an enemy fighter jet.
Stephen Holmes has been an AAN reporter for ten years hand has vast journalism experience.
Big thanks to VFA-103, VFA-31, VAQ-134, VAW-124, the Seahawk II squadrons, and the amazing men and women who operate the USS George H.W. Bush!
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