Purple, white, green, brown, blue, yellow and red.
Ever wonder what all the different colored shirts on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier mean? It looks like some one threw a bag of skittles on the flight deck. Thought I could shed some light on the subject by taking a look at what these young men and women do for a living. Working on an aircraft carrier can be one of the most dangerous environments in the world. Often referred to as controlled chaos, it takes a wide array of positions to keep this environment as safe as possible, yet still completely functional.
Let’s break down these jobs according to color:
The yellow shirts are generally worn by the person in charge. Their job consists of aircraft handling officers, catapult and arresting gear officers and plane directors. This means they supervise movement, spotting and securing of aircraft and equipment ashore and afloat, and performing aircraft-handling duties related to the operation of launching and recovery of naval aircraft.
Mostly comprised of junior enlisted members, the blue shirts work under the direction of a yellow shirt director and by performing as aircraft handlers, tractor drivers, aircraft elevator operators, and messengers and phone talkers. The responsibilities of the blue shirts are to position and secure aircraft to the deck and handling a lot of the more physically demanding jobs of the flight decks.
Purple shirts – or aviation boatswains mate (fuel) – are also referred to as “Grapes”. These men and women operate, maintain and perform organizational maintenance on aviation fueling and lubricating oil systems, observe and enforce safety handling precautions, and maintain fuel quality surveillance and control in aviation fuel systems. They also supervise the operation and service of fuel farms and equipment associated with the fueling and defueling of aircraft while ashore and afloat.
Green shirts have a variety of different positions and jobs. They perform duties as catapult and arresting gear crews, air wing maintenance personnel, cargo-handling personnel, ground support equipment (GSE) troubleshooters, hook runners, helicopter landing signal enlisted personnel (LSE), and mass communication specialists (formally known as photographer’s mates). This means they do everything from working on the equipment that keeps the flight deck operational (including the catapults, barricades, and arresting gear), to documenting all the sailors who work and maintain all of the systems and equipment.
The red shirts (no, not those red shirts) consist of aviation ordnancemen, crash and salvage crews and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). They perform the daunting tasks like inspecting, maintaining and repairing aircraft for mechanical and electrical armament/ordnance systems, servicing aircraft guns, stowing, assembling and loading aviation ammunition including aerial mines, torpedoes, missiles and rockets. They are also the first responders to any incident that may occur.
Primarily consisting of plane captains, brown shirts are largely responsible for the maintenance and general well-being of all the functions on the aircraft itself. This includes everything from inside the cockpits to the tire pressure of the wheels.
White shirts are made up of air wing quality control personnel, squadron plane inspectors, landing signal officers (LSO), air transfer officers (ATO), liquid oxygen (LOX) crews, safety observers, and medical personnel.
So there you have it. The colorful cache of the personnel on a military aircraft carrier.
All the members of the flight deck crews, no mater what color the jersey, perform crash rescue, fire fighting, crash removal and damage control duties. When it comes down to it they all work as a team, and together these sailors can – and do – perform some of the most incredible feats on one of the most harvested locations of the world.