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24 hours aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln
[Written by: Dick Hedahl]

I was privileged to be invited to participate in the program offered
by the US Navy to bring people on-board ships in the fleet. This program is designed to show US citizens what the Navy does with the tax dollars used by the Navy to defend the United States interests world-wide. The program allows private citizens to witness firsthand the fantastic capabilities of the modern Navy.

I was in a group of 13 who flew on a C2 Navy Turbo Prop cargo plane 100 miles west of San Diego into the Pacific Ocean to the USS Abraham Lincoln. These planes only have one window per side, so passengers fly blind and sit backwards in the plane. The plane hit the deck hard and then decelerated like crazy while the pilot gunned the engines to full take off throttle – just in case he missed the catch cable on the deck and has to launch off the deck again to go around. Wild ride and lots of racket.

We were hustled off the deck and taken to a meeting room below deck to get briefed on our day’s activities. It was to be fun filled and action packed! But first stop was lunch. The ship has 10 dining areas aboard. There are 5000 people who live on this ship during deployment. That requires a lot of food. In fact, it is the food that makes the ship stop in port. The Lincoln is a nuclear powered Nimitz class aircraft carrier. As such, it only needs to be refueled once in its 50 year life. Imagine – this carrier could sail for 25 years nonstop, if it were not for the needs of the people who run it.

Our afternoon was spent climbing stairs - lots of stairs. Every level has 12 steps to the next level. There are 12 levels above the water line. And when you climb up, you next have to climb down. I have never climbed so many steps in my life.

This ship is really a highly sophisticated military machine. The people on board are working and living in this industrial environment. The passageways are tight, but comfortable, and the areas are efficiently designed for each of the tasks required of the men and women who run it. We were told we could take pictures of any of the areas we toured, except no flash on the deck (distracting to pilots) and no pictures in the radar control room. It was quite dark in the control room and the flash there would distract the people operating the equipment. We were taken to nearly every corner of the ship, except the nuclear reactors area.

We toured the arms storage level. We saw the Laser and GPS controlled bombs and missiles. No nuclear weapons and very few unguided bombs are on board. The Radar room looks like the control tower of a major airport. In fact, that is exactly what it is. They control the airspace above and around the carrier group. And they control the 30 some aircraft connected with the Carrier Group.

The hanger deck is three stories tall and bigger than a football field. All of the aircraft on the ship are maintained in this hanger. Major repairs can also be performed here. The three elevators that take planes up to the flight deck are accessed through three huge doors – open to the sea when the elevators are on the top deck. They are amazing gaping holes in the side of the ship.

The Navy F-18 is the predominant plane on the carrier. It has a Gatling gun in the nose that can shoot over 4000 rounds per minute. It only holds 587 rounds, so if it were let loose, the whole belt would be emptied in less than 10 seconds. Of course it would melt down at that point too. The pilot controls the firing in small bursts. The range of the gun is up to 5 miles.

The statistics of this ship are staggering – it weighs 97,000 tons, travels up to 34 miles per hour and holds a million gallons of jet fuel. The numbers go on and on. They consume 600 gallons of milk, 13,000 sodas, 180 dozen eggs and 620 pounds of hamburger each day. The flight deck is 4.5 acres!

Being on deck to witness the takeoff and landing of the F-18’s was a truly thrilling experience. The crew is capable of launching one F-18 every 30 seconds. That is a rate as busy as Chicago’s O’Hare airport. They also capture them back on board. The cycle is repeated for every plane on deck 6 times each day during maneuvers. All of this happens with military precision. And it happens day and night and in all kinds of weather. When they are in combat, they cannot choose the conditions, so they need to be ready for anything. The training the men and women go through is constant and impressive. About 10 percent of the crew is women. The average age aboard ship is under 21 years. The attitude and commitment of everyone I talked with was impressive. These folks want to be on this ship. They are committed to their mission. The all-voluntary military is working well.

This ship is preparing to be deployed to the Persian Gulf in March of 2008. The deployment will last for 7 months, so next spring and summer you may see news reports about the USS Abraham Lincoln and its activities in the Middle East.

The most thrilling part of the whole experience was the catapult take off. We were propelled from zero to 120 miles per hour in three seconds. Remember that we were facing backwards on the plane when it was launched, so they told us to put our heads down and grab the straps of our safety harness. The plane shook before the launch as it throttled up to full take off power. Then – BANG!! – the plane lurched forward and we were thrown against our safety harness. Hard! It felt like a kick in the chest by a mule, but it lasted for over three seconds. It literally takes your breath away. And then – BANG! – again as the plane was released from the catapult and we were floating free of the launch pressure. We did soon feel the ordinary airplane flying movements, but it seemed much calmer at that point.

It was an amazing experience and I can report to you that your tax dollars have bought a very impressive United States Navy. Some of the pictures on this page are supplied by the Navy, but most are picture I took aboard the Lincoln. All of the videos were recorded by me during my experience aboard the ship.  Enjoy

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