On the wings of speed
I woke up to the yell of a young aviator. His voice carried over two layers of ear protection, the sound of the aircraft engine, wind, and the props blasting against the costal air outside the non-insulated hull: “Here we GO!”I reached for my video camera in the darkness, even though there was no chance of catching the action considering the time frame I was dealing with. Not to mention I was harnessed backwards in the hull of a cargo prop plane, with no light and less than a few seconds before this once-in-a-lifetime experience passed me by. But I had to give it a shot.The plane tossed back and forth. I fumbled for my camera underneath my survival vest when BAM! We hit the deck of the aircraft carrier and the tail hook jolted us to a dead stop from 130 mph in less than a couple of seconds. I felt the plane lunge backwards then spin around. While this was happening the tail of the plane opened up to reveal where I had just ended up.I felt like I had landed on the set of Top Gun. Men and women were running all over the place with space outfits on, and it was loud very loud. We were hustled out of the tail of the craft when less then 20 yards away an F-18 fighter came to a screeching halt. Even though he was grinding to a halt, the F-18 pilot kept the throttle floored, just in case the tail hook did not catch and he needed power to take off again.We moved from the landing deck toward a metal archway, while to my left another jet was being catapulted towards the edge of the ship, his afterburners on just slightly before launching into orbit. In front of me was a narrow hallway followed by stairs that were essentially a ladder. The hallways were only high enough for people smaller than 6-feet tall, yet the guy that was leading us was 6-foot, 5-inches. This, I later learned, was one reason the ship’s hospital was busy dealing with head lacerations.In a moment’s time I was in the living room of the Captain’s Cabin, with several others entitled Distinguished Visitors (DVs). We were about 200 miles west of the California coast. Beside the three other individuals I was traveling with, the other DVs names were all preceded by either Doctor or Professor and sometimes ended with CEO.This was the USS Nimitz: A $4.5 billion marvel of modern technology being steered by an 18-year-old female from Ohio. She was so focused on her job she did not once raise her eyes from the gauges behind the wooden wheel to laugh at any of my jokes. She was surrounded by 20 others, all with specific tasks to keep the carrier on course and at the right angle and speed. The importance of their jobs was underscored by the fact that $65 million fighters were practicing “catches,” or “touch and go’s,” from the deck. Along with the crew of 20 on the bridge, there was another 4,000-plus working on this ship to make sure that the 70-plus planes on board could function at a moment’s notice.But I wasn’t there just to marvel at the size and power of the ship. I was there to show a Warren Miller Movie that evening, between night operations. Strange but true, snowriding does touch some of the strangest parts of our planet. Just as it did when I spent time with the U.S. Marines two years earlier in their winter warfare camp. Or a year prior to that, filming skiing in the Middle East, not far from where the Marines might be in the near future and close to where they are now.Life has its moments. This was one of those moments, standing on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, watching our young men and women train in the finest capacity amidst one of the single most fascinating manmade things I have ever seen.As I looked around at the engineering, and the duties of those men and women in its shadows, I was so baffled at what mankind had envisioned and then built. We can achieve so much and are only held back by our own limitations. This was evident under the pitch-black night while pilots risked their lives to land their planes on a moving runaway in the middle of the ocean.After touring this magnificent vessel, and talking to the pilots in the briefing room, I went to the belly of the ship and showed a ski and snowboarding movie to the enlisted and officers. They were fascinated by it. This is crazy, I thought to myself as we loaded the plane the next day to be catapulted off the deck. We were headed back to solid land land that those amazing folks and machines protect.But then again, it made sense. We have it pretty darn good in our world. We push the limits of our sport, and our military engineers and soldiers push the limits of man and machine. All of us have the desire to get better, to move forward. They protect us, and we give them something valuable to protect. VTChris Anthony is a professional skier living in Vail. He can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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