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#2970 2008-08-08 GMT-5 hours    

It was down to the wire Wednesday onboard the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk as 53 aircraft from Carrier Air Wing Five flew off the ship for the final time.

Most of the wing’s aircraft had already left the ship earlier in the day, but two aircraft — an F/A-18 Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron 102 and an EA-6B Prowler from Carrier Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 136 — had maintenance issues and needed parts from off the ship.

A final launch was scheduled for after 5 p.m., when the C-2A Greyhound “COD” from Detachment Five of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30 was due to return to the ship.

As it happens, the COD was late. But when it finally landed, the maintenance crews grabbed their parts, and the race was on to see who would make the sundown deadline for launch. It would be close.

In the meantime, Capt. Todd Zecchin, the Kitty Hawk’s commanding officer, climbed into the right-hand seat of the COD and was shot off the ship as the co-pilot to VRC-30’s Lt. Cmdr. Mark A Nicholson.

At 7:01p.m., Zecchin and Nicholson brought the C-2A back onto the flight deck, catching the No. 3 wire for what would be Kitty Hawk’s 407,511th and final arrested landing.

“It was a real joy and a great honor to have been able to get my first trap on the Kitty Hawk and the ship’s last all at the same time,” Zecchin said afterward. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Zecchin, who will decommission the Kitty Hawk at the end of January in Bremerton, Wash., was also the final commanding officer of the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, but during his command, the ship was no longer certified to have fixed-wing flight ops, though he’d had numerous traps on the ship earlier in his career.

It almost appeared as though the final catapult launches might have to wait until Thursday morning as the Cmdr. John Kurtz, the ship’s air boss, came over the ship’s flight deck announcing system.

“For those of you keeping track, we’ve got 20 minutes left to make these launches,” he said.

Near Elevator 4 on the starboard side, Prowler No. 503 was the first to get the necessary parts installed tested. Very quickly, the maintenance crews had the aircraft buttoned up and the engines turning and moving onto Catapult 3 abreast the island. A few minutes later, Lt. Cmdr. Billy Fraser, Lt. Kumar Sankara and Lt. j.g. Dan Peel shot off the catapult and headed to shore.

Meanwhile, the COD was next to go, and Nicholson made that catapult shot with co-pilot Lt. Robert J. Deneau.

Now it was just Hornet 104 that had yet to launch, and the air boss’ 20-minute deadline had come and gone.

The maintenance crews were still buttoning up side panels as pilot Lt. Cmdr Jeremy Andrew and weapons officer Lt. j.g. David Robinson climbed into their aircraft and began to fire it up. A thumbs up later, they taxied to Catapult 3. Shooter Lt. Dustin Hendrix got the signal to launch, and at 7:53 p.m., the final aircraft left the Kitty Hawk.

“Launch complete,” Kurtz announced with little fanfare as Hornet 104 climbed out of sight and headed to shore.

But the celebration had just begun. It had been a light-hearted day on the deck.

Traditionally, all the ship’s shooters use a final catapult shot to launch off their boots at the end of a deployment. That didn’t happen today. Immediately after the final launch, the steam was blown off. But not to be left in the lurch, the group removed their boots anyway, headed to the aft end of the flight deck and heaved their boots into the ocean manually.

As Air Wing Five’s aircraft headed to shore, they, too were making history. It has been 35 years since the complete wing has landed in the U.S. They left in 1973 on the aircraft carrier Midway and have called Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan, home ever since. Their stay in the U.S. will be a short one, as they are due to fly onto the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington shortly after the ship leaves port Aug. 21.

It’s not totally over yet for the Kitty Hawk, though. Its remaining aircraft, the helicopters from Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron 14 and Light Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron 51 Detachment 3 are scheduled to fly off the ship Thursday, just prior to Kitty Hawk’s San Diego homecoming.

The final statistics for the ship’s flight deck have the bow catapults, No. 1 and 2 at 165,433 and 99,190 shots respectively. On the waist, Cat 3 ended its career at 100,085 — the only waist catapult in the Navy to achieve more than 100,000 — while Cat 4 finished its career at 83,592.

Though the catapults themselves have fired a total of 448,301 times during their lifetime, Kurtz said that number also takes into account what are called “no-load” shots where no aircraft are attached. The arrested landing number, however, is an exact count of landings on the ship, he said.

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#2971 2008-08-08 GMT-5 hours    
Amazing... Great post!

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#3701 2009-02-22 GMT-5 hours    
I was on the Hawk when we went around the world in 1987 in VA-147, The Argonauts. I was TAD to AIMD hydraulics shop. I carried a 7212 NEC. We did the ditch and disembarked at Norfolk. She went to Philly for a 3 year SLEP. Oddly enough, my CO in the Argonauts, JR Hutchison also commanded Kitty Hawk during the SLEP.

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