As the cruise continued, the CO's wisdom shone as the seas calmed and the sun eventually broke through. A special F/A-18 Super Hornet fly-by was arranged, with two of these strike fighters making several passes close enough to practically hit with a stone. Beyond the piloting demonstration, the flight crews also treated us to an ordinance drop and Vulcan Gattling gun exhibit, sending fountains of salty spray into the gusty air at the ship's rear. As the wind again picked up, we sought shelter within the protective steel hull.
Air Boss, Commander Brian Wild, explained that in addition to taking the planes off the ship, they have also unloaded several hundred thousand pounds of ammunition. "This is a heck of a lot more motion than we're used to seeing," Wild explained. "We're pretty much a cork right now." That's certainly how I felt bouncing on my well-worn mattress at night.
Typically, Abe is laden with 65-75 planes, with about 40 on the flight deck. The others are stored in the massive hangar, packed a tight six inches apart. Bumping wings is inevitable, but precautions are taking to protect the birds. The previous tour saw 24 "crunches," though the crew was proud of only nine incidences on their current mission.
"The [crunches] I've seen that have done the most damage are ones where the aircraft spins. You're taxiing all the way up to the bow. The aircraft needs to turn as tight as it possibly can. So the nose wheel starts to turn slowly, but the tail comes around quickly. There's another airplane right there, and thunk. It takes out a $70,000 part, an aileron for example on a Hornet. For us, it's such a heart breaker. It would be like you guys bumping a car on a test drive." The air wing carries three F/A-18 Hornet squadrons, one F-14 Tomcat squadron, a four-plane EA-6B Prowler squadron, and two E-2C Hawkeye all-weather defense prop planes, as well as SH-60 Seahawk helicopters and S-3B Viking submarine fighters.
Wild said, "The Hornet and Tomcat are like the fastest, baddest sports cars you can think of. Something in the Lamborghini range. They are top-of-the-line screamers. And they are maintenance intensive, as well."
"The Hawkeye and Vikings are more like good, solid pickup trucks. They have important missions, but they're the support guys. They don't get the glory. And they're kinda ugly."
The air boss explained that the Abraham Lincoln launches 80-90 sorties per day when on post. While working in the Persian Gulf, the crew launched as many as 30 flights for a single mission.