NORFOLK, Va. (WLUC) - Landing on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier feels just like the end of a roller coaster ride: One second you're flying at more than 100 miles an hour, and then you come to a complete stop.
Touching down on the flight deck of the USS Harry S. Truman is a moment I will never forget.
This is part three of TV6's Andrew LaCombe's series, A Sailor's Life.
• Click here to watch part one: An introduction to the U.S. Navy
• Click here to watch part two: Aviation Survival Training in the U.S. Navy
• Click here to watch part four: Life on the USS Truman
• Click here to watch part five: The future of the U.S. Navy
We took a C-2 Greyhound from Norfolk, Va. to the Truman.
There are pretty much no window seats, and you face the back of the plane.
Our flight took about an hour and a half. I shut my eyes for a bit, but woke up as we started to descend.
To land on an aircraft carrier, the plane's tail hook has to catch one of four steel cables stretched across the aft part of the flight deck in 20-foot intervals. It usually hooks, but on our first try, it didn't. We kept going, back up in the air.
We eventually landed, coming to a stop in just more than 300 feet - far shorter than a typical runway. Then we were escorted off the plane and down below the flight deck to meet the ship's commanding officer.
"An aircraft carrier is many things," said Captain Nicholas Dienna. "It's a large city at sea. It's a manifestation of American combat power, but ultimately, it's a symbol of the American ideal."
Named after the 33rd President of the United States, the Truman is the Navy's ninth nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and it's full of people.
"Just about 5,500 men and women from Truman, from Carrier Strike Group 8, from Carrier Air Wing 1 and from Cruiser and Destroyer Squadron 28 are at sea working 24 hours a day," explained Dienna.
The flight deck is 1,096 feet long with a length of 257 feet at its widest point. From waterline to mast, the Truman is 20 stories tall. It can travel at speeds greater than 30 knots. The ship was commissioned in 1998.
The air wing can take down enemy aircraft, ships, submarines and land targets.
"So the crew itself is 3,000 people," said Dienna. "There's 5,500 on board right now, and about 40 percent of them are in their late teens or early twenties. They come from all walks of life, all 50 states."
The ship's command master chief is from the Ann Arbor area.
"We can sustain for long periods of time and still lean on each other during those long periods," said Jonas Carter. "So in order for 5,500 sailors to come together as a family maybe similar to what you're experiencing in Marquette. We come together like a family to create that sense of brotherhood, sisterhood."
Sailors working on the flight deck wear colored shirts and helmets based on their responsibilities.
Green shirts are hook runners. They reset the steel cables after each landing.
On the opposite side of the flight deck are the catapults. Four steam-powered catapults can take aircraft from zero to 165 miles per hour in just two seconds.
The Truman crew is between deployments. While we were on the ship, the crew was getting re-certifications.
"To re-hone our combat skills and ensure we're able to deploy wherever and whenever required," said Dienna.
The training doesn't stop when the sun goes down. Planes continue to land and take off after dark. It's an around the clock operation on this symbol of American freedom.
Thursday on your TV6 Morning News, we'll take a closer look at a sailor's life on the ship: The jobs they have, how they stay in shape and how they start each day. Then Friday morning, what the future holds for the U.S. Navy.