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News | Jan. 26, 2021

FRCSW VRT Maintains Carrier Flight Decks

By Jim Markle

When the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) arrived to its new homeport at Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI), the Voyage Repair Team (VRT) of Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) began planning its workload to maintain the aircraft carriers flight deck.

Located in Buildings 65 and 249 aboard FRCSW, the VRT is comprised of more than 30 artisans who ensure the readiness and safety of the ships four steam catapults, five arresting gear systems and visual landing aids found throughout the 4.5-acre flight deck of the Nimitz-class carrier.

Deployed Navy aircraft carriers are typically equipped with about 80 aircraft including F/A-18 Super Hornets, V-22 Ospreys and MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters.

Catapults launch aircraft down the light deck at 160 miles per hour in less than three seconds, while arresting gear bring landing aircraft to a complete stop in about 340 feet.

"Of the six months allocated for the maintenance procedures, VRT will spend about four months on the removal, overhaul and reinstallation of the catapults," according to Jeff Scarano, VRT deputy program manager.

Though not scheduled this interval on Lincoln, artisans periodically align the catapults to reduce the wear and tear on the systems internal components. The alignments require close to 15,000 manhours, and improve system performance.

Artisans overhaul water brakes and the steam powered piston assemblies prior to a deployment on an as-needed basis, dependent upon launch numbers.

Water brakes are a crucial part of the arresting gear that work with arrestor cables to stop landing aircraft. When overhauled, VRT artisans remove the water brake cylinders and pistons, machine them in the shop, and reinstall them back into the catapult system. The procedure takes about 650 man-hours per catapult.

Lincoln, like other Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, is equipped with the Advanced Recovery and Controls (ARC) System.

ARC is an automated computer-controlled system that eliminates the drive system cables and chains from the arresting gear engine, and improves safety by reducing human error during the arresting process of aircraft. 

FRCSW VRT artisans installed the first ARC system aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) in 2007.

The artisans also maintain the lighting of the island, the carriers main control center that towers over the ships flight deck. More than 100 landing lights illuminate the flight deck.

Other lighting components, including the ships Visual Landing Aids (VLA) that assist pilots in recovery and landing operations, are assessed during the flight deck renovation.

The VLAs are comprised of three primary systems: the Improved Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System (IFLOLS), the Landing Signal Officer Display System (LSODS) and the Long Range Line-up System (LRLS).

IFLOLS uses a series of lights to assist pilots in determining the proper glide slope when landing on flight decks or airfields.

Aboard ship, pilots use IFLOLS within three nautical of landing, while the LRLS substitutes up to 10 nautical miles from landing. Unlike IFLOLS, the LRLS uses lasers to assist pilots in lineup landing in relation to the paths centerline.

Overhauls to the LRLS require about 200 hours including the disassembly, stripping, blasting and painting of the unit.

The LSODS is used by landing signal officers (naval aviators who provide guidance to pilots during landing) and provides a variety of information including live video feeds and equipment status.

"Most lighting components come to the shop for overhaul, preservation and repair before we reinstall them on the ship," Scarano said.

Certification of landing aids is handled by the Carrier Air Field Support Unit (CAFSU). Assigned to Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), CAFSU serves as the liaison to the carriers, ships and the VRT.

In addition to the aircraft carriers homeported at NASNI, VRT artisans routinely deploy to service others assigned elsewhere.

"VRT artisans also deploy to carriers at sea. We recently sent a team of four to USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in the Persian Gulf to repair catapult systems that needed depot-level repairs," Sarano said. "Were able to deploy worldwide at a moments notice, and we respond to Casualty Report (CASREP) requests at sea a couple of times annually."

Other VRT workload includes the overhaul of jet blast deflectors, control runout valve assemblies and submarine launch tubes and their containers for countermeasures.

Scarano said that VRT artisans would be installing Jet Blast Deflector modifications at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., to support new F-35 aircraft in the Fleet.

"VRT work is both physically and mentally challenging to our artisans," he said. "They work on the ships primary weapons system (Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment) in a variety of adverse environmental conditions, with strict deadlines, and often times given little advanced notice of TDY requirements to support flexible aircraft carrier mission requirements. Their work is a vital function to the success of naval air power."

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