USS Dwight D. Eisenhower

A Weekend Aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dr. Michael Palladino Invited on Distinguished Visitor Tour

USS Dwight D. EisenhowerEvery few days, the Navy holds a series of distinguished visitor tours (DV) as a “high-tech show-and-tell” that invites audiences to see a snapshot of the military that they would not normally experience.

Dr. Michael Palladino, Dean of the School of Science, was asked by President Paul G Gaffney II, retired Navy Vice Admiral, who gets these DV Tour invitations all the time, if he was interested in attending one of the tours.

Palladino described his experience as nothing short of “once in a lifetime.” He flew down to Norfolk, Virginia and then to the base on a carrier-onboard delivery (COD) transport plane, where his trip truly initiated.

“Our COD went from 105 miles per hour to zero miles per hour in only two seconds as it landed abroad the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as the USS Ike. After landing, it was a situation of ‘controlled chaos’ and they immediately got us situated.”

When the plane came to a halt, there were four arrested cables on its tailhook, a hook that attaches to the rear of a plane to reach rapid deceleration. “The pilots typically target the second or third cable, with the more skilled pilots grabbing the second one.”

The Mark 7 Mod 3 arresting gear is installed in most modern aircraft. It has the capability of recovering a 23,000 kilogram aircraft at an engaging speed of 150 miles per hour in a distance of 340 feet. The system itself is engineered to absorb a theoretical maximum energy of 64.4 mega-joules at maximum cable run-out.

The USS Ike has 58 planes and 100 pilots at full capacity and about 5000 people abroad the vessel itself. “Each cable was operated by 30 people. They set the tension based on the weight and speed of the incoming plane. Below deck there are actually huge tension spools that set tension on the cables above,” said Palladino.

“The pilots were doing ‘touch and go’s’ where they briefly landed on the plane and immediately took off afterwards so that they could stay in tune with their training. It is a really sophisticated little scheme.”

The ship needs 20 knots of wind, about 23 mph, to allow the plane to take off of one of the four main catapults. “You’ve got a moving ship, waves, wind, and now you have to land on it,” Palladino said.

Palladino said, “It was amazing to see thousands of people supporting what’s on deck. A nuclear submarine powers the aircraft carrier’s reactor, which has a 50-year lifespan, so we never saw anyone worried about conserving power. People had televisions, laptops, stereos on all the time.”

In terms of attack capability, the USS Ike has 18,000 tons of weapons abroad, which is more than what was used in the entire Vietnam War. At the start of the Iraq War, the aircraft carrier was loaded in only two and a half days. “The strike capability is insane,” Palladino said.

Due to the fact that the pilots were doing missions until 2:00 am, and the living quarters are directly under Vulture’s Row, which is where the planes land, Palladino “didn’t plan on getting much sleep, it was pretty intense.”

On Vulture’s Row, “we were wearing headgear [goggles)], a vest [life preserver] in case we landed in water. If we pulled a knob on the vest, it would release green dye that would diffuse the water surrounding us to allow the crew to locate us.”

As it neared the end of his DV tour on Sunday afternoon, Palladino prepared to fly back but soon experienced a mechanical problem with the plane. A small quandary emerged as the next round of DV tour visitors were scheduled to arrive when Palladino’s group was supposed to leave.

“On Monday morning, they took us to our hangar. You wouldn’t believe it. Our plane was lying in pieces next to 18 and 19-year-olds holding manuals taking apart the plane.” By the time the Admiral had brought the replacement parts, the ship was near Jacksonville, Florida, having gone in a big oval.

“As they told me, apparently they get mechanical problems all the time,” Palladino said.

As his return journey began, Palladino was thrown forward about a foot as the COD “accelerated from zero to 128 miles per hour in three seconds. Five seconds after being launched by the catapult, the plane was in the air. Once the plane was on its own, we got thrown back again.”

The USS Ike uses steam catapult technology which has been in use for quite some time now. They plan on upgrading to electromagnets in the next few years. The net effect of the change, however, will still be about the same in terms of acceleration of the planes.

“It was an incredible opportunity,” said Palladino. “They gave us tons of cool gifts and challenge medals. It provided an amazing opportunity to see the high end communication and weapons systems. As incredible as all that technology is however, the amazing men and women doing all that for us are simply awesome.”

PHOTO COURTESY of Dr. Michael Palladino