The seaman stood stiffly, both arms stretched overhead as if surrendering to the jet engines thundering at full throttle. He snapped his arms down swiftly, a button was pushed and the aircraft catapulted off the flight deck.
Banking sharply to the left, it took command of airspace just 500 feet above the ocean. Flying at this precariously low altitude for 7 miles, the thrill of speed engulfed the pilot as streams of blue rushed below him. Every 45 seconds aircraft launched or landed while the flight deck rumbled and pitched on rocking seas. The scene played out in my mind’s eye as a retired pilot recounted his experiences from the deck of the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier at Navy Pier in San Diego, CA.
Approaching it’s 10th year anniversary as a Navy ship museum, this veteran vessel speaks to visitors of its rich history, technology, flight operations and life at sea. Entrance is through the Hangar Deck and its sheer size alone belies the fact that you’re standing in the bowels of a ship. Perched high above the flight deck is the Bridge and Flight Deck Control. Panoramic bay, city and flight deck views are worth the guided tour wait.
Despite its impressive flight deck, resident aircraft and massive size, it was daily life in this floating city that intrigued me. Boasting a crew of 4,500 with its longest deployment of 327 days, the “City at Sea” seemed like a logistical nightmare to me!
The brochure laid out the numbers….600 men in engineering, 200 pilots, 40 corpsmen, 5 physicians, 3 dentists and 225 cooks who prepared:
* 10 tons of food daily
* 13,500 meals daily
* 3,000 potatoes daily
* 1,000 loaves of bread daily
* 4,500 lbs of beef, when served
* 500 pies, when served
With our RV Buddies, Steve and Kat, we scrambled up and down ladders through small hatches toting our self guided audio tour devices. We followed narrow passageways, stepping over and ducking through hefty metal oval door frames. No wonder head lacerations were the most common medical ailment among the crew! At 5’3”, I felt tall and our 6’ 5” friend saw stars several times despite his caution.
The enlisted sailors’ bunks looked like shelves in a storage room. Stacked three high along a tight aisle, the top bunk seemed like prime real estate. As expected, accommodations improved through the ranks as did the mess halls! No chow lines in the Executive Wardroom but formal dress was required.
Waxen mannequin crew members stationed at various locations added a surreal presence. “He’s real,” Kat stated matter-of-factly as we passed the postmaster. I looked at his pasty, shiny hand posed on the counter. “Oh, come on.” And then it moved! Tourists jumped, the postmaster grinned and waited for the next tourist victim.
Touring bunk rooms and quarters, mess halls, the sick bay, dental office, laundry, brig, galley, chapel, post office, laundry, barber shop and everything else “city” added a human touch to the mighty ship and a great appreciation for our gallant military men and women who endure less than ideal conditions in serving our country.