The U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) has completed Flight Deck Certification (FDC) and Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC) Certification, Mar. 20.
In order to certify Ford’s flight deck and carrier air traffic control center, the ship was required to complete a Precision Approach Landing Systems (PALS) certification, and conduct two consecutive days of flight operations with 50 day traps [aircraft recovery with Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG)] on day one, followed by 70 day traps and 40 night traps on day two. Together, the crews of Ford and CVW 8 exceeded those minimum requirements.
Over a two-day period, F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets from four squadrons assigned to CVW 8 conducted 123 day, and 42 night cats [aircraft launch with Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS)] and traps aboard Ford to reach this milestone in Ford’s operational readiness.
“Our Sailors performed at a level that was on par with a forward deployed aircraft carrier, and this was a direct result of the hard core training and deployment ready mentality we have pushed every day for the past year,” said Capt. J. J. Cummings, Ford’s commanding officer. “Our team put their game faces on, stepped into the batter’s box and smashed line drives out of the park. It was fun to watch.”
Prior to FDC and CATCC certification, Ford received its PALS Mode IA and Mode II certification from Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD). PALS, through the assistance of air traffic controllers in CATCC, aids pilots as they execute night or bad weather landings, guiding pilots to a good starting position for approaches; and is a requirement for ships to conduct flight operations.
“PALS cert was a critical step to achieving our flight deck certification,” said Cmdr. Phil Brown, Ford’s air operations officer. “Our system performed really well during our approaches, and provided a solid level of confidence to NAWCAD in our ability to recover jets.”
The Ford CATCC team was not only essential to FDC, but was also required to complete a certification in concert with the flight deck certification.
Ford’s CATCC certification was the culmination of a three-phase process that began in October 2019 at the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) in Pensacola, Florida. Since then, NATTC instructors have been alongside Ford Sailors for every phase, testing their practical knowledge, reviewing their checklists, and observing their recovery operations.
The case III recovery scenario Ford completed during certification required aircraft to be stacked up behind the ship in 2 mile increments, in order to land on the flight deck every minute, a challenging task required of deployment-ready aircraft carriers. Ford was able to trap aircraft 55 seconds apart.
The human element critical to FDC is the relationship between ship’s company and the air wing in the “black top ballet” of flight deck operations. During hours-long evolutions, the teams work together to communicate pilots’ status, their requirements, and provide them services.
The completion of FDC and CATCC certification marks another first for Ford. She is now the only carrier qualification asset regularly available on the east coast this year.