Why attention to detail is key

I spent 8 years of my life serving in the United States Navy onboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) which is a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. I worked in what most will say is the third dangerous job in the world! I was an airman, or what we called an Aviation Boatswains Mate (ABH) which is pretty much a flight deck crewmember.

Drilled into our heads

From day one in bootcamp, back in August 28, 2003, it was CONSTANTLY drilled into our heads as recruits about attention to detail. Attention to detail was in EVERYTHING that we did from folding our clothes, making our beds, polishing our boots, how we learned to march, etc. Obviously there is a huge reason for this.

There was one time at sea when we were in the Persian Gulf that I noticed something off. Or maybe it just felt like something was off. I’ll give you a bit of background so you can understand before I go into what happened.

There were 2 type of F18 Hornets on our ship; the regular Horney and then the Super Hornet. The regular Hornet had curved intakes while the Super Hornet had squared intakes.

F18 Hornet intake
F18 Hornet intake
F18 Super Hornet intake
F18 Super Hornet intake

During flight operations there was a light in the front of the Super Hornet’s that would flash 3 times and then pause, and then flash again. The regular Hornet didn’t do this.

Now, on the flight deck, the equipment team needed to know what type of aircraft was about to land so that they could set the arresting gear wires appropriately so that it would be able to handle the aircraft landing and the hook (located on the rear of the aircraft) could grab one of the four wires and pull it out to stop the aircraft once it’s landed on deck. If this weight setting is not set properly for that aircraft coming in to land, the plane could either land, grab the wire, snap it, and the plane would go in the water and the wire would snap back and cause great injury/death to any crewmember personnel standing in it’s way, or the force of the aircraft grabbing the wire could greatly damage the aircraft.

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F18 Hornet landing on USS Eisenhower

So now that you have an understanding how this all works, one day in the Persian Gulf something just felt off to me. Now, on the flight deck, ANYONE can call for a “suspend” which means the aircraft won’t be able to take off if something is noticed that is wrong OR anyone can call a “wave off” if something looks wrong and the plane is not able to land on deck due to safety of the pilot and personnel on the flight deck.

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F18 Hornet waveoff on flight deck

Well it was daytime. Because the aircraft about to come in and land did not have a flashing strobe on the front landing wheel everyone just thought it was a regular Hornet. So the weight setting on the arresting cable was set for a regular Hornet. I’m not sure why still to this day, but something just felt off. I grabbed my binoculars and I looked closely at the aircrafts intakes and they were squared. That means it was not a Hornet, but a Super Hornet and the weight setting was off. If the aircraft had landed it would’ve snapped the wire, the plane would’ve went in the water with it’s pilots and the arresting gear cable would’ve done a lot of damage to other planes and injured other Sailors. Even though the strobe was not working on the front landing gear, everyone just had assumed it was a regular Hornet. I called “WAVE OFF!” and about a second before the aircraft could land it went right back up in the air to come back around again and get prepared for landing.

I was called up to the air tower that day and I was thanked by the Air Boss (who’s in charge of the entire Air Dept) and from the Commanding Officer of that plane squadron. I had saved the lives of the pilots and the lives of the crewmembers on deck that day. And the plane too.

Flight deck crew

So in conclusion, whether it’s writing code like how I do now as a front-end web developer, working on the flight deck, or making my bed like I did in basic training…..Attention to Detail is KEY!

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