Powerline Division … What it takes to fly successful combat missions from ‘Big E’

31 Aug 2007 | Cpl. John Jackson

ABOARD THE USS ENTERPRISE – “Fuzed bombs: on target, on time, first pass, with weapons system video,” reads the commander of Carrier Air Wing One’s mission statement.

Carrier Air Wing One, which is comprised of seven Navy squadrons and Fightertown’s Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, is currently deployed in the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Enterprise. The Air Wing’s mission is to put bombs on target, on time and to support the troops on the ground. Successful completion of this mission saves many service members lives.

Since August 12, combat flights have been launching off the flight deck of the “Big E” and flying over miles of ocean and hundreds of miles of Iraqi desert to meet their objectives. Many different parts and gallons of sweat go into making each of these combat flights a success.

One group of service members that is essential to flying successful missions is the Powerline Division. These Marines and sailors have a very important job.

“We are responsible for maintaining the aircrafts’ engines and fuel systems,” said Cpl. Patrick Webb, a powerline Marine and plane captain with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251.

In addition to turning wrenches on the engines of the aircraft and making sure the fuel systems are a go, the powerline service members can also become plane captains.

“It takes anywhere from three to six months to become a plane captain,” said Lance Cpl. Brian Butler, a Thunderbolt powerline Marine and plane captain. “To become a plane captain, you have to be proficient at launching jets, know emergency procedures and memorize approximately 40 hand and wand signals. You basically have to know everything about the aircraft you’re working with.”

In addition to the study time and the on-the-job training, each plane captain works directly with a pilot before he launches off the flight deck.

“We basically walk the pilots through all of their pre-flight checks,” Webb said. “We make sure that everything is good-to-go before the aircraft launches, and the aircraft is safe to fly. We are the last eyes on the aircraft before it takes off.”

No matter where the squadrons are launching jets, the powerline Marines and sailors are still responsible for the aircraft engines and fuel systems before their jets fly. Performing these duties on a flight deck of an aircraft carrier has its unique challenges compared to the steady ground aboard the Air Station.

“Working on the flight deck is like nothing else,” Butler said. “With all the jets on the flight deck, you have to be extra careful.”

At any given time, there is anywhere from 15 to 30 aircraft on the flight deck. During flight operations, several different aircraft will all be in preparation to launch at the same time.

“Sometimes you can never really escape the jet exhaust,” Butler said. “You have to pay much more attention (on the flight deck) and always keep your head on a swivel.”

In addition to working around the heat of jet exhaust and working in tight quarters, the pace on the flight deck is much faster.

“You are working on the flight deck anywhere from 7 to 12 hours a day, and you have to turn the jets much quicker,” Webb said. “It’s a much faster pace here.”

Despite the long hours, the extreme heat and the fast pace, the powerline Marines and sailors continue to work together to accomplish their mission – launching safe, reliable aircraft off the flight deck.

“We are all out here doing the same thing,” Webb said. “We have to continue to work together and try to help one another. There are a lot of combat operations going on during this deployment, and we all need to use our ‘A’ game and keep the jets in the air.”

Editor’s note: This is part one of a five-part series focusing on what elements are essential to successfully launch and fly combat operations off of the flight deck of the USS Enterprise