Photo: Robert Johnson — Business Insider
The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is a deadly and complex scene, riddled with incoming aircraft, snapping steel cables and the ever present risk of calamity and death.Flight Deck Control (FDC) is where the deck scene is coordinated and during flight operations it’s one of the busiest places on the ship, with everyone working on the flight deck constantly in and out tracking aircraft and information.
FDC is festooned with computer screens and video displays of all that’s occurring outside on deck, but it’s also home to one of the more arcane pieces of equipment in the Navy.
The Ouija board is a waist-high replica of the flight deck at 1/16 scale to the foot that has all the markings of the flight deck, as well as its full compliment of aircraft — all in cutouts, and all tagged with items like thumbtacks and bolts to designate their status.
While objects can mean different things on every carrier, purple generally designates fuel, and the Eisenhower uses a purple hex nut to signify when an aircraft is being refueled.
A green thumbtack can mean an aircraft is first to go; orange can mean an aircraft must be parked with its tail hanging over the lip of the deck.
Every colour has a meaning, just like every line on the deck designates space with its own set of rules. When I was on the Ike’s flight deck one reporter stepped over a yellow line after a flight and was hauled back by his guide. Rules on the flight deck are not to be ignored.
The Ouija board offers an immediate glimpse of the deck in real time and allows the “Handler” in charge the ability to make quick decisions, should the need arise.
The board has been in use since World War II and won’t be going away anytime soon.
It doesn’t take much time on a Navy ship to see that all important functions are done electronically, but also done manually. Like navigation. Right next to a state-of-the art GPS/radar station will be a drafting table like podium with ruler holding sailor, tracking pencil lines across a nautical map — just in case.
It’s widely understood that the first round of damage to a ship will likely take out the electronics; so to ensure the ship remains functional in battle, everything possible has a mechanical backup.
But there’s nothing quite as colourful as the Ouija board.
The Ouija board is stainless steel and covered in Plexiglas — the objects mean various things but the purple hex nut generally denotes fueling
The 'Handler' is in charge of Flight Deck Control and has many tools at his disposal, but none as valuable as the Ouija board
Green shirts on a flight deck are generally maintenance — but these two are helping the Handler keep track of what's happening on deck
Aside from handling the flight deck, the Handler will call below to the hangar bay to see what's going on with aircraft heading up and going down
Maybe it's the Handler's status as a former enlisted sailor that offers a slight difference in atmosphere — Mustang's are former enlisted troops who've become officers with no break in service
Regardless of leadership style this is the Handler's world for nearly every waking hour on deployments like this to the Persian Gulf
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