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The flight deck demands flawless performance.


How important is it to the flight-deck crew on board this Pearl Harbor-based guided-missile destroyer to get the job done safely? Their performance during a Composite Training Unit Exercise (CompTUEx) indicates it's the No. 1 priority. The flight-deck crews conducted more than 70 flawless deck-landing qualifications (DLQs) and numerous personnel and parts transfers during this exercise, which began Oct. 25.

Russell's flight deck can accommodate a landing by almost any type of military or civilian helicopter. Pilots land both day and night, when visibility often is restricted to just a few miles. For this reason, among others, our crew must stay well-trained and ready to react quickly in case of emergencies.

"As soon as flight quarters is announced over the 1MC, the team is ready to go," said Chief Boatswain's Mate Shawn Salazar. "They immediately don their life preservers and check them to ensure they contain all the required gear."

Flight quarters often is briefed hours or days in advance, with the crew's knowledge of what the evolution is going to be for (e.g., DLQs, parts transfer, or people leaving or coming to the ship). The crew begins by taking down all safety nets that line the edge of the flight deck; they also lower the ship's high-frequency antennas. These tasks require the ship to slow down. Good supervision is essential.

"Before we start taking down the nets," said Seaman David Burley, "the safety officer checks with the bridge to see if the ship is on a steady course. He also makes sure all personnel have donned their life jackets."

Next, the crew conducts a foreign-object damage (FOD) walkdown. This event ensures no loose particles will be sucked into the engines of the helicopter or cause an injury. Personnel form a line at the beginning of the flight deck and walk aft, visually inspecting every inch of the deck for any debris. "If a piece of the deck's non-skid was to blow up during landing, it really could hurt somebody," said Boatswain's Mate Second Class Daniel Kleemeyer. The ship's at-sea fire parties, known as "crash and smash," also participate in the FOD walkdown.


The three fire teams man up on station as soon as flight quarters is called over the 1MC. More than 15 crew members, with each assigned different roles, stand by in case of an aircraft fire.

If the helicopter needs fuel, another team, known as "grapes" (because they wear purple jerseys), gets called into service. They stand by each time flight quarters is called away, even if the helicopter isn't scheduled to refuel. "Sometimes, the helicopter stays longer than expected, and it's our job to be there in case fuel is needed," said Gas Turbine Mechanical Second Class Mathew McTighe, the refueling supervisor. "The fire and fuel teams are extremely well-trained," he added. "They know what their role is and how to fight a fire if one occurs."


Before getting underway, the ship sends team personnel to schools for training. Russell's deck division, primarily in charge of each evolution, sends personnel to landing signal enlisted (LSE) school, often months before assuming the role. This head start ensures they get plenty of on-the-job training.

Once a helicopter is on final approach, Ens. Kurt Welday, the ship's helicopter control officer, gives the pilot information about wind speed, direction, and the course and speed of the ship. This information ensures optimum conditions are met for a safe landing.

Putting down a helicopter on a moving ship is not an easy task. It takes a great deal of coordination, training and motivation to do the job safely. Russell's flight-deck crew is a testament to the fruits of hard work and dedication to duty; these Sailors perform flawlessly daily.


* Flight-Deck Awareness, A Basic Guide for Amphibious and Small-Deck Ships, FlghtDckAware_amphib_05.pdf

By Ens. Theresa Donnelly, USS Russell (DDG-59)
COPYRIGHT 2008 U.S. Naval Safety Center
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Author:Donnelly, Theresa
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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