On the highly complex, choreographed decks of an aircraft carrier, hundreds of Navy servicemen work in what is likely the most dangerous aviation environment in the world. Live munitions, jet fuel, multimillion dollar aircraft, and electronics equipment work in such close proximity that a single misstep can cost the lives of dozens.
Within yards of an airplane catapulting forward with full afterburner, a flight deck crewman refuels another plane in preparation for a mission, its bombs hanging under its wings. Across the deck, an E-2C Hawkeye is maneuvered into position next in line for launch, its spinning propeller blades dangerously close to the catapult crew. On the fantail, a flight of F/A-18C Hornets is landing at speeds of almost 150 miles per hour.
While the deck of an aircraft carrier may be the largest moving piece of real estate on the planet, with all the action on board, it seems more like the size of a postage stamp on the sea -- a comment often heard from Naval aviators in discussing what it's like to land on its pitching deck.