Aircraft carriers are the heart of the U.S. Navy. The deck of a carrier is literally a few acres of American territory floating around the world, projecting massive air and seagoing military might.
Carriers are expensive, with new Ford-class ships running about $US13 billion, but they last about 50 years.
We visited the USS Eisenhower during a massive mine clearing effort in the Persian Gulf not too long ago.
The Ike, which is currently undergoing repairs, is the second oldest U.S. carrier still in service; but as you’ll see, her age takes nothing from her powerful presence near foreign soil.
The U.S. Navy currently has 10 commissioned aircraft carriers, some of which can carry upwards of 90 aircraft. Thousands of men and women serve on aircraft carriers, with 5,000 pilots and soldiers serving on the Ike at any one time. Carriers are essential to U.S. power projection around the world.
We took this picture from 'Vultures Row,' overlooking the flight deck as it sends F-18s on patrol over the Persian Gulf.
Then he's off. Out of runway and nowhere to go but up, LT Shelly hits his afterburners and shoots into the sky.
As LT Shelly is still plotting his course, the previous batch of fighters who went out earlier come in for a landing.
Tail hooks down, the pilots are aiming for the second of four cables stretched across the deck to stop them from careening off the other end of the flight deck.
Carrier landings are challenging, even in the bright, midday light and this pilot leans forward waiting to catch.
Touching down on deck, the wheels throw plumes of smoke as the hook dredges the surface looking for a cable before finally catching the third line.
The aircraft rips the steel cable from its coil before reversing its afterburners and coming to a halt.
'Red Shirts' also move in and disarm the jets, storing unused ordnance deep below decks until the next mission.
It's unbelievably loud out on the hangar deck, even while wearing protective headgear, necessitating that the deck crew communicate and work through a choreographed routine.
And though it's routine for the crew, it doesn't change how dangerous every minute out here really is.
And with barely time to drag the camera around, the 30,000-pound jet is flung like a toy down the length of the deck.
All type of craft sit in various states of repair as everything that flies from the deck is maintained here.
Because of its sheltered and open space, the hangar deck is one place troops exercise to stay fit for their physical fitness test.
Going up, the way to the deck passes through flight deck control where the old-school 'Ouija board' is used to keep track of the confusion outside.
The cutout planes get tagged with random items and colour-coded, designating them with a specific function or service needing to be performed.
As the Captain speaks, work on the deck never stops. Some maintenance can only be done with the tail of the plane hanging off the lip of the deck, so this is where this jet will spend the night and where work will begin in the morning.
Close to the main captain's bridge is the admiral's bridge; notice the cigar within arm's reach from the chair. From here, the admiral can exercise control over other vessels in his fleet without interfering in the running of the Ike.
Even miles from land and months from home, there's plenty for sailors to spend their money on with retail goods having been brought onboard in Naples, Italy.
These gloves approved for use on the flight deck are likely far bigger sellers than the bikes, which will never have a place on the ship.
And there's no shortage of other goods to buy if the mood strikes. Sellers know they have a solid customer base in the thousands of pilots and sailors contained within the ship.
There is even a Starbucks. These sailors trained in a civilian store in the U.S. prior to working here on the ship.
Despite the onboard amenities there is no replacement for family contact. Officers encourage crew members to wake up at 3 a.m. to call home and wish families a good morning before starting the day's shift. Every single person we speak with says missing family is the biggest challenge out here.
Back on deck it is quieter now, and we're able to step into the world of the landing signal officers.
This group is responsible for lighting up the 'Christmas Tree' for pilots to let them know if an approach is on target.
Despite precautions, mistakes are not unheard of, which is why there's this emergency escape chute to take the landing signal officers to safety if a plane careers out of control.
As we helicopter out from the Ike, we get a glimpse at what most of this military presence is about: safeguarding passage tankers such as this as they carry most of the world's oil supply through the Strait of Hormuz.
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