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Article and Photography by Britt Dietz | Published on April 29, 2011
 The distant thumping sound of helicopters filled the air as the helicopter portion of the airshow began, and first up was a MH-60S Knighthawk Search and Rescue (SAR) Demo from the HSC-12 'Golden Falcons.' The Knighthawk came in with a loud roar, just off the port side of the ship. I'm sure the Knighthawk was a pretty safe distance away, but it still felt like I could reach out and high five the landing gear. The sound was incredibly loud as the Knighthawk pulled into a nose up pitch to slow and stop the helicopter and put it into a hover directly in front of me. Maybe they saw the big lens and decided to stop there for photos. At any rate, the starboard (right) door opened, and a rescue diver with scuba gear was lowered via the wench down to the water. After reaching the water, the diver popped two very vivid orange colored smoke canisters, which immediately started spewing these very colorful clouds. A Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk from HSC-12 'Golden Falcons' lifts a Navy diver up after performing a mock Search and Rescue demo during the Air Power Demo on the USS Abraham Lincoln. - Photo by Britt DietzA Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk from HSC-12 'Golden Falcons' lifts a Navy diver up after performing a mock Search and Rescue demo during the Air Power Demo on the USS Abraham Lincoln. - Photo by Britt Dietz The Knighthawk crew then hoisted the diver back up as the downdraft wind from the helicopter made the orange smoke dance around in circles. Almost up to the Knighthawk, the diver released the two canisters and they fell down to the water. Reaching the chopper and climbing in, the crew chief pulled the side door shut and the Knighthawk pitched nose down to get some speed and head out of the area. Only seconds later, a MH-60R Knighthawk from HSM-77 'Saberhawks' came in with that high nose pitch in order to slow to a stop, and once hover was achieved, the Knighthawk spun around to face directly at me. Almost immediately a Sonobuoy, a small expandable sonar system that is fired from the side of the MH-60R that travels underwater for anti-submarine and sonar work, was first from the port side of the Knighthawk and into the water. Shortly there after, an AN/AQS-22 Airborne Low-Frequency Sonar (ALFS) was lowered from the bottom of the Knighthawk on a wrenched cord. The two devices work for greatest sonar detection and coverage for submarines that might be lurking. Just as quickly as this Knighthawk had arrived, it then banked away pulling the AN/AQS-22 back up and headed off going around to the back of the ship. Spinning back around to the back of the ship, a MH-60S Knighthawk from HSC-12 came in and hovered to a stop over the back end of the ship that had been roped off to perform a rapid deployment of troops onto the deck of the Carrier. May attention was affixed to this Knighthawk when what seemed like out of nowhere almost startling me the same MH-60S Knighthawk from HSC-12 that had performed the SAR demo popped up directly in front of me at even closer range and was firing the onboard M60 Machine Gun with what I would assume were blanks as the expended shells fell from the chopper. The suddenly appearance of the Knighthawk and the almost immediate loud machine gun fire made a lot of people jump but was a great demonstration to the surprise capability that a Knighthawk can have when you focus is distracted. After the troops had descended from the Knighthawk near the back of the ship and the other Knighthawk had fired a couple long bursts of the M60 gun, both choppers pitched nose down and gained speed heading off towards the front of the ship and then around to the starboard side of the Carrier. With that fun demo over, it was time for the grand finale and end to the airshow.

Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3

 A good five minutes past as we waited for the finale to start. I knew there'd be a Carrier Air Wing flyover by all the aircraft that participated in the show, but first it looked like the three Knighthawks from HSC-12 and HSM-77 were heading inbound at a slower pace, each one with a flag carried under the Knighthawks and weighted down by a dummy mini-bomb. The three flags were (in order) the American Flag, the 'First Navy Jack' flag with the words "Don't Tred on me" that has been heavily used in the current Naval war on terrorism, and finally the well known Prisoner of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) black flag. F/A-18 Hornets, F/A-18 Super Hornets, and a EA-6B Prowler are led in a fly-over by a E-2C Hawkeye representing the Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2) that is stationed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. - Photo by Britt DietzF/A-18 Hornets, F/A-18 Super Hornets, and a EA-6B Prowler are led in a fly-over by a E-2C Hawkeye representing the Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2) that is stationed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. - Photo by Britt Dietz The three Knighthawks were perfectly spaced, and the flags flapped so much they almost appeared still at times. The Knighthawks fly by in this spaced formation at a rather slow speed, perhaps slowing down to wait for what was amassing behind them. Once the three loud choppers had passed, in the distance a dark shape started to grow larger and larger, it was the Air Wing flyby. It didn't take long for the large shape to turn into 13 different shapes representing every type of aircraft that is currently assigned to the USS Abraham Lincoln. From the rear of the ship to the forward end, the impressive formation of five F/A-18C Hornets, six F/A-18 E and F Super Hornets being led by a E-2C Hawkeye and followed up by a EA-6B Prowler filled the air with an incredible noise. It wasn't a high speed pass, but it sure seemed like it only took a few mere seconds for them to fly over. It was pretty awesome to see the mix of legacy Hornets and the new Super Hornets. I have to point out at this point that if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a huge fan of the F/A-18 Hornet, so this airshow was one of the best I've ever seen filled with F-18 after F-18. As the formation once again turned back into dots, and the dots started to all connect together back into that large shape, it spelled the end of this amazing airshow. Now it was time for the landing, and I had to hurry up to Vulture's Row if I wanted to shoot my only opportunity to get any shots of anything landing on the Carrier during this Tiger Cruise.

Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Air Wing    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Air Wing    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3

 Now that the show was over, it was the mad dash of everyone to get back into the Carrier as the flight deck had to be cleared so the aircraft could land back on the ship. It was a pretty jam packed line to get back inside the island, which had the stairs I needed to take to get up to Vulture's Row, and I wasn't the only one who had this idea. Thankfully for most people, they wanted to head inside and get lunch that was waiting for them in the mess halls. I snapped some shots of the various F-18s sitting on the read of the ship with a really nice blue water background, which was probably the only thing keeping me from stressing out as I had no control over the line to get back into the island. Finally inside, my sponsor and I went up the ladders necessary and we found ourselves at the first level of Vulture's Row. Unfortunately, it was so jam packed there was no way we'd be able to get out to that level, so we went up one more level to the middle balcony, and there was enough room for us to squeeze out onto the balcony, but way in the back. While I have the utmost respect for all servicemen and agree they should be treated with the utmost respect, this was the only time the entire cruise I actually got a bit annoyed. Two F/A-18C Hornets sit on the aft of the USS Abraham Lincoln Aircraft Carrier as flight crew prepare for the return of the Air Power Demo aircraft. - Photo by Britt DietzTwo F/A-18C Hornets sit on the aft of the USS Abraham Lincoln Aircraft Carrier as flight crew prepare for the return of the Air Power Demo aircraft. - Photo by Britt Dietz I understand that the crew would like to be with their Tigers, but I found myself behind several crew members who, had they just moved over, I could have squeezed in and had a nice view of the landings. Instead, I missed a bunch of the initial landings because there were so many heads in the way. The way I figure it, the crew has seen landings a million times during the deployment, they should let the Tigers all go up front so we can see it. This would be my only chance to watch the aircraft land and catch the hooks, and I was staring at the back a Navy officer's head. It would have been nice if they'd let me and the other Tigers that were stuck in the back up forward. I realize we got there a bit late, and tried to get in after the airshow was over, but still, the crew has seen so many landings on the carrier, why not let us get a chance? Thankfully for me, eventually a spot opened up (after a bit aggressively making sure I was able to squeeze through and no one took my spot) and I was able to finally have a nice unobstructed view of the landings. By this time, several Hornets had already landed, and I was only able to see them to a point till they were blocked. Now I could see all the action and I started to fire away with the camera. The Hornets would do a Carrier Break to land, splitting off in groups of about three and forming a line to land that was perfectly spaced out with enough time for the Hornet to catch the wire, release the wire so it could reset, and taxi out of the way to go park. The ship was moving again, to help aid the aircraft as they landed in case they had to 'bolter' if they missed the wire. Already a few Hornets missed the hook, and had to go back around and try again, which I attributed to the now back to heavily pitching deck. Not having swells this big during their entire deployment, they probably weren't used to the deck pitching up and down as much as it was, and ask such it made things a bit difficult.

 Stopping a supersonic jet almost immediately on the top of a floating and rocking ship that has a runway only about 500 feet long is one of the hardest things for a pilot in the US Navy, but the technology is probably the most simple. Behind the rear landing gear of any Navy aircraft is what's known as a tailhook. The tailhook is just a little longer than that landing gear, and can be raised or lowered from the aircraft. As the aircraft approaches the Aircraft Carrier, onboard radar systems and Carrier Air Traffic Control monitor the aircraft to make sure it's on course and heading the correct way. The aircraft come in at a bit of an angle as the landing area is slanted at about a 14 degree angle from the front of the ship to give a little bit of extra landing room, and also allow for the aircraft to not hit the parked aircraft on the front of the ship. As the pilot brings the aircraft in closer, he's in constant contact with a Landing Signal Officer (LSO) who stands on the port catwalk side of the ship almost at the very rear with a large array of sophisticated equipment that precisely monitor the approaching aircraft. The LSO will instruct the pilot on lowering or raising the airplane and also speeding up or slowing down. On the deck of the carrier there are 4 large very strongly woven high tensile steel wires that are equally spaced apart about 50 or so feet. An F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-2 'Bounty Hunters' comes in for a landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln as the deck pitches to one side. - Photo by Britt DietzAn F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-2 'Bounty Hunters' comes in for a landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln as the deck pitches to one side. - Photo by Britt Dietz Each wire has a number with the first wire at the very far back of the ship, the first one the pilot would encounter, being the #1 wire. The next one would be the #2 wire and so on till #4. The idea is for the pilot to take that tailhook and 'catch' one of those wires, which would then pull on the wire activating a hydraulic system that absorbs the incredible energy of the fighter jet and stops it from about 145 miles and hour to full stop in about two seconds. Of the about 500 feet of available landing space, just above 300 of that is used with a successful catch on the wire. Typically, the pilot will want to catch the #3 wire, as it is the safest wire to catch. If you try for the first wire, you could be too low and crash into the back of the ship. If you try for the last wire, you could miss and not have to go around. It's just easier to try for the #3 wire, and is often seen as a 'perfect landing' when a pilot does catch it, often what's necessary to go higher in rank. Now, you might think that once the pilot's wheels hit the deck, they'd immediately shut down their engines. That's not the case, and in fact, they actually apply full afterburner power as they touch down on the deck. Why would they do that? Well, it's because if they miss all the wires, or a wire breaks (it's rare, but happens) they need enough power to continue down the rest of the little runway and get airborne again for what's called a 'bolter' before the end of the ship where they'd crash into the water. But applying full power, there's enough thrust in that short time for the airplane to get back up in the air and try again. That being said, the second a successful catch of the wire and slowing is achieved, the jet's engines are pulled back and the airplane comes to a stop. The caught wire is released, and it snaps back into position after being pulled back. This is when things are very dangerous for flight crew, and they have to be alert at all times for the wire snapping back into position as it could whip their feet out from under them or worse. The whole process takes only seconds and is reset for the next aircraft as soon as possible, about every 20-30 seconds if the conditions are right and the flight deck crews are on top of their game.

Boeing F/A-18C Hornet    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Grumman EA-6B Prowler    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Boeing F/A-18F Super  Hornet  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Boeing F/A-18E Super  Hornet  - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3

 As the various Hornets from the flight demo continued to land, one F/A-18C Hornet in particular kept having issues and either missed the wire or just applied full power just before touching the Carrier deck and doing another go around. It's a general rule I heard that after three missed landings most aircraft will be 'bingo' on fuel by this point, meaning almost empty. At that point they'll have to go up and meet with the F/A-18 Super Hornet refueling tanker that circles around waiting to be one of the last to land just in case. I'd assume that's what happened with this F/A-18C Hornet as it disappeared for a little bit. It was pretty amazing to watch this whole process unfold, and the pilots struggling to land on this heavily rocking ship. An F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA-137 'Kestrels' bolters, aborting his landing after missing the wire and activates full afterburners to try another attempt on the USS Abraham Lincoln. - Photo by Britt DietzAn F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA-137 'Kestrels' bolters, aborting his landing after missing the wire and activates full afterburners to try another attempt on the USS Abraham Lincoln. - Photo by Britt Dietz I have to hand it to them, many of the pilots made it look really easy, but after seeing a few bolters, I knew it was really tough on them all. Hornet after Hornet continued to land with very loud results as that full afterburner is applied and then cut, and soon that troubled F/A-18C that had been having a hard time finally came in and caught the #4 wire on the now fourth attempt. The last F/A-18 Super Hornet, the refueling Hornet, came in for a very well done landing, hitting the #4 cable as well. The only remaining fixed wing (non helicopter) aircraft in the air was the E-2C Hawkeye, which was on final approach. It also landed catching the #4 wire and coming to an immediate stop and after letting go of the wire, folded back its wings into the compact storage shape and taxied out of sight to the front of the Carrier. All that was left were four Knighthawks which had been just hanging out in the distance waiting for their turn to come in and land. Now that the jets had all landed, most of the people had left Vulture's Row and headed down for their turn for lunch. I wasn't about to miss watching the Knighthawks landing, especially since they'd be directly in front and below me, perfect for almost 'air to air' looking photos. The first two Knighthawks came in and peeled off in a nice high speed pass, one at a time. After coming back around they slowed down and matching the speed of the ship one at a time, but off to the side over the water still, then they'd gradually drift over to their right and once over the landing strip on the Carrier, a green shirt flight deck crewman would direct the Knighthawk down until it was safely landed. This process was repeated the three other times for the rest of the Knighthawks until all four were on the deck and their engines shutting down one at a time. While the whole airshow and landings felt like a long time because of how much was packed into them, only two hours had passed since the airshow began. Now, it was time for lunch!

Boeing F/A-18C Hornet    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Grumman E-2C Hawkeye    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3
Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk    - USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Tiger Cruise 2011 - Day 3



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