Here’s Part 3 of our military aviation blog post series. There’s one outstanding aspect of Military Aviation, and it is the capability of merging both Aerial and Maritime Operations within one single facility. The US Navy, with the service of Aircraft Carrier-CV, can operate maritime and air missions simultaneously as it can serve as a military airport in the middle of the ocean while also performing maritime military operations.
These unique and massive ships can carry up to 85 jet fighter aircraft and helicopters and have an active runway of approximately 250 Meter long from a 332 Meter Deck.
A comparison of ground airports and aircraft carriers
In comparison to a ground airport, the runways of these vessels are considerably shorter. A reference point can be the shortest Runway OF JFK Airport is approximately 2,560m compared to the 250m runway of the aircraft carrier. Consequently, it doesn’t allow any room for mistakes. The multiple aircraft have a limited time to take-off and land to not go overboard due to the weight and speed. Catapults, located on the vessels’ flight deck, support the take-off process. With the catapult’s force, the jets reach an acceleration from 0 to approximately 200km/h in less than 3 seconds.
The landing process is also supported by arresting steel wires on the carrier that helps the aircraft slow down. There are four wires on the ship, and pilots need to catch any of these. In case the pilots miss the wire, the aircraft has to take off again and repeat the procedure. In case the jet is low on fuel to repeat the landing process, refueling jets are ready to refuel the aircraft on air for his second landing trial. Just imagine all the precision these processes require to guarantee the safety of pilots and the crew on deck. According to the documentary Inside Navy Strategies – Aircraft Strike Group in Action from Welt, it is mentioned that approximately 5-10% of the pilots are required to repeat the maneuver.
Teams on military aircraft carriers
There are multiple teams on the flight deck for the entire flight operations composed of approximately 400 experts in charge of the air operations. Dress regulations on-deck follow a color scheme, where each of the colors indicates the responsibility and tasks of each of the teams:
Introducing the color teams
- Purple: Also known as grapes are taking care of the fueling and de-fueling of the jets. The produce constantly Tests on fuel quality to avoid contamination and guarantee maximum jet performance.
- Yellow: Aircraft handling officers, plane directors. These team members lead aircraft to parking and take-off positions and during the taxiing.
- Green: It can be considered the most dangerous job on the flight deck. This team takes care of directing the aircraft to the catapult sled until the take-off hook secures. Additionally, the deck crew programs the catapult system based on the take-off weight of the jet to guarantee the aircraft takes off at the end of the short runway. This team is also responsible for the landing process, where they need to prepare the arresting wires to guarantee the safe landing and stopping of the aircraft.
- Red: The red team corresponds to the Ordnance men, also known as weapons officers. This team takes care of the handling of all explosive loads and armaments. No other team is allowed to handle the loading machine guns. The primary responsibility of this team is to prepare the aircraft for combat.
- Blue: Trainee plane handlers correspond to an entry-level flight deck personnel, under the yellow shirts. They take care of the aircraft elevator operator, driver the tractors, and take care of messages and phone talkers.
- Brown: The brown team corresponds to plane captains and aircraft technicians. One fun fact is that each jet bears the name of its technician.
- White: Are in charge of quality assurance (QA) and are the squadron plane inspector and authorizes the first go for take-off. The team is a safety observer and has medical personnel identified with a Red Cross, landing signal officers, and air transfer officers.
Once the white team provides ok, and all staff gives the last ‘thumbs up,’ the deck is given the all-clear to initiate operations, allowing the aircraft to take off.
The first task all teams have to perform in parallel is the Foreign Object Debris (FOD) Walk. This walk scans every millimeter of the flight deck, detecting any metal or other material pieces that can present a threat to the aircraft. Once the FOD concludes, all teams take positions, and pilots board the plane. The missions and shifts can take up to 12 hours.
Applying KPIs to aircraft carriers
With all this previous information, we come to our favorite part. What kind of performance measures indicators (KPI)can we use within this type of operation?
Here are some measures we thought as a first instance can be relevant to monitor and generate awareness.
- Crew Onboard: Total crew on board on the vessel.
- Maritime Crew: Number of staff focused on maritime operations.
- Air Crew: Number of force members focused on on-air operations.
- Aircraft Type Onboard: Number of aircraft onboard on the ship with the specific type.
- Mission per Aircraft Type: Type of mission(s) executed per aircraft.
- Departures: Aircraft departures per day.
- On-Air: Aircrafts on-air.
- Landings: Aircrafts landed.
For landing, there are some additional potential measures. In case there are training sessions, the jet landing intervals are approximate of 1-minute. Hence, the runway and arresting wires need to be ready in less than a minute.
- Average Time Arresting Wire Preparation: Average time to prepare the arresting wires for the next landing.
- The number of delayed landings- Runway not ready -reason.
Turnaround process per flight tracking including:
- Fueling Time
- Weapon loading Time
- Weapon types loaded
- Catapult Preparation Time
- Arresting Wires Preparation Time
How many landing intents does the aircraft perform? As previously mentioned, some aircraft must perform the landing again as the pilot does not hook the arresting wire. How many times does the landing operation repeats per aircraft?
- Number of aircraft refueled on air.
- Amount of fuel boarded on-air per aircraft.
- Total amount of fuel boarded on-air per day.
- Fuel Boarded on Deck: Fuel boarded during turnaround process on deck.
- Total Fuel consumption
- Winds: For aircraft landing, the vessel needs to sail into the wind to facilitate the landing of the jets. Therefore, the tracking and control of wind speed and direction are necessary for the operation.
- Regions reached by Maritime Operation: Regions reached with the ship.
- Regions reached by Air Operations: Which regions are reached by the aircraft operation.
- Missile Warning System Activation: Number of missiles detected during combat.
- Weapon usage: From the weapons loaded per aircraft, what is the usage rate during the mission.
- Submarine Detections: Number of submarine detections during combat.
- Unidentified approaching Aircraft: Number of unidentified aircraft inside the airspace surrounding the maritime fleet.
- Allocated Parking Positions: Once an aircraft is back on deck, the yellow team allocates it to a parking position. Therefore, the positions available need to be directly identified by the deck crew.
- Elements identified in the runway: As the team is required to perform the FOD before initiating operations, the crew needs to collect all items found in the runway, identify where these pieces come from, and implement possible actions to reduce runway hazards.
Real-time to improve performance tracking
Real-time data can support the precision and short time pressure the staff has within the operations. The data can help reduce irregularities and threats in operation, identify what processes are working correctly, and detect aspects that require further evaluation. Working with data will help to improve failing processes, become more cost-efficient, have a complete awareness of the situation and optimize the resources within the different missions.
- Schmidt, Ann. A ‘well-choreographed ballet’: What the color-coded uniforms of US aircraft carrier crewmen mean and what they do to ensure planes take off and land smoothly. Daily Mail. (November 2017). Link
- Kohlstedt, Kurt. Rainbow Sideboys: Color-Coded Outfits Set Aircraft Carrier Personnel Apart (November 2017). Link
- US Navy Aircraft Carrier. CVN 75-USS Harry S. Truman. Seaforces.org. Naval Information. Link