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Somehow I got hooked on videos of aircraft carrier flight deck operations, and have been binge-watching over the last couple of days. (Glad it's a long weekend...)

I've been able to understand many of the hand signals from the Aircraft Signals NATOPS Manual (NAVAIR 00-80T-113), but I'm missing a lot of the context of what I'm seeing, because much of the video footage focuses rather narrowly on specific individuals and tasks rather than showing the "bigger picture."

I actually have many more questions than I will put down in this first post, and I will likely post more later. But here I will start off with just a few questions about the "Aviation Boatswain's Mate - Equipment" (ABE) rating, because it looks the most interesting to me.

All questions reference this video, which has some pretty clear shots of ABEs at work. (Parenthetically, I assume that the reason there are two ABEs working the catapult attachment task is that the "hands-on" one is under instruction, and his work is being checked by the other one. Have I got that right?)

  1. At 0:27 the two ABEs appear to be waiting for some kind of go-ahead signal from someone out of frame (to whom they are pointing?), before signaling for the aircraft to be brought forward to position the launch bar in front of the catapult shuttle. Who are they pointing at, and what condition needs to be satisfied before they can proceed?

  2. At 0:38, before signaling for catapult tension, they go through what appear to be a series of visual check-ins with three (or maybe four) separate individuals out of frame:

    • ahead of the aircraft;
    • behind the aircraft on the near side;
    • ahead of the aircraft again (same individual as before?);
    • behind the aircraft on the far side.

      These checks happen quickly enough that I believe they can only be looking for simple thumbs-up signals. What are the roles of the specific individuals they are looking to, and what, specifically, are those individuals verifying that make it okay to proceed with catapult tensioning?
  3. When tension is finally applied at 0:44, they make a final check of the holdback bar before getting clear. What possible failure modes of the holdback bar are they looking for, specifically?

  4. At 1:01, when the catapult officer signals “launch,” the deckedge catapult operator (center of frame, with hands raised overhead to signal “final ready”) turns his whole body first left, then right, before actuating the catapult. Is he checking something (what?), signaling something (what?), or both?

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    $\begingroup$ These should really be broken up into different questions. And welcome! $\endgroup$ – Bageletas Feb 21 '18 at 6:31
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like they're related enough to be combined. If they're broken up, maybe the "what are they checking for" parts could be separated. $\endgroup$ – fooot Feb 21 '18 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Bageletas It's a tough call. I believe 1 & 2 belong together, because they are part of the same action sequence and both involve "checks and signals." 3 is also part of that sequence, but (per fooot) is only a check; and 4 is about a different crew member; so these two might be separable. My rationale for grouping all four, though, is that any respondent who really knows the ABE specialty will likely know the answers to all four. Making a potential respondent visit 3 different questions lessens the likelihood that they would answer them all, even if they theoretically could. $\endgroup$ – Hephaestus Feb 21 '18 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ I thought this might be easy when I saw the title, but very detailed questions! I was never an ABE, but I've taken a few hundred cat shots as pilot. About the only one I can really answer is #4. He is doing both - he is checking forward and aft to make sure all personnel and equipment is clear and the airplane is ready to shoot, and he is signaling to all on deck, (especially the boss in the tower) his clearing of the space by exaggerating his body movements rather that just turning his eyeballs and head. Hope that helps a little! $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Jul 12 '18 at 0:07
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I'll take a stab at this. It's been many years, but I was a shooter (yellow vest, green helmet). Someone with a better memory can chime in.

You're correct that one of the hook-up operators is under instruction (U/I). There are also 2 shooters in this video; one of them is under instruction as well. Sometimes the instructor will give a thumbs up to indicate that the U/I operator's signals are correct and should be obeyed.

  1. Before 0:27 they are looking toward the "island" for a green beacon that indicates the Air Boss is ready for the crew to launch planes. At 0:27 they see the beacon turn green, then they look to the shooter for the hook-up signal. The shooter is checking for several things: green beacon on, deck clear forward, jet blast deflector (JBD) raised, nobody on the wrong side of the foul-deck line, proper aircraft configuration (flaps down, tailhook up, etc), wind speed hasn't dropped since the catapult steam setting was entered, and thumbs up from the squadron QA folks (white shirts, behind aircraft on both sides) who are watching the jet for proper functioning, no leaks, etc. When all those conditions are met, the shooter gives the hook-up signal, which triggers the hook-up operator to call for the jet to taxi forward. The yellow-shirt (ABH) receives the "rolling" signal from the hook-up operator, then signals the pilot to pull forward, which causes the tow bar to drop down in front of the shuttle.

  2. I think they are checking for a thumbs-up from the center-deck operator (sitting in the hole next to the shooter; thumbs up indicates good catapult steam pressure and good wind over the deck, which the shooter is no longer monitoring). They also may be looking at some of the same things the shooter is looking at.

  3. The holdback bar needs to be properly set in its slot in the deck, properly attached to the aircraft, not leaking hydraulic fluid, and IIRC there's a shiny metal ring between the orange and white sections that indicates proper functioning and tension.

  4. The deck edge turns his whole body so everyone can see that he's looking fore and aft for clear deck forward and JBD up, and maybe also so he can see past his arms which are raised so that everyone can see he's not pushing the launch button yet. At this point the shooter hasn't been looking forward because he has been mainly focused on the pilot and aircraft while the engine is running up and the pilot goes through flight-control checks, salute, etc.

Additional comments: most of the time the shooter and center-deck operator are below decks inside the glass "bubble" but they do practice deck launches to stay proficient. I did my shooting on an older ship that didn't have the bubble at all. Needless to say, communication is purely visual because you can't hear anything. Even the operators with radio or phone headsets can't hear anything when jet engines are blasting nearby.

Finally, if you think this looks complicated and dangerous, remember this video was taken in daytime in good weather.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer and thanks for serving! $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Sep 25 '18 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ Great answer! I can practically smell the jet exhaust again... $\endgroup$ – rclocher3 Sep 25 '18 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ Love the additional details! And echoing @FreeMan, thank you for your answer and your service! $\endgroup$ – Hephaestus Sep 27 '18 at 17:42

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