Flying Colors


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:

 

Photo: ARABIAN SEA (Nov. 4, 2012) Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Robert Vitolo, from Tucson, Ariz., directs an E-2C Hawkeye assigned to the Golden Hawks of Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 112 aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). John C. Stennis is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released)

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Robert Vitolo, from Tucson, Ariz., directs an E-2C Hawkeye assigned to the Golden Hawks of Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 112 aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). John C. Stennis is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released)

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.

Photo: 120928-N-WW409-201  PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 28, 2012) Sailors participate in barricade drills on the flight deck of the forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). George Washington and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jennifer A. Villalovos/Released)

Sailors participate in barricade drills on the flight deck of the forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). George Washington and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jennifer A. Villalovos/Released)

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.

Photo: 110927-N-GZ277-163 PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 27, 2011)€” Aviation Boatswain€™s Mate (Fuel) Airman Gabriel Nievesclass, fuels and an F/A-18E Super Hornet on the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Carl Vinson and Carrier Air Wing 17 are underway conducting operations off the coast of Southern California. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicolas C. Lopez / Released)

Aviation Boatswain€™s Mate (Fuel) Airman Gabriel Nievesclass, fuels and an F/A-18E Super Hornet on the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Carl Vinson and Carrier Air Wing 17 are underway conducting operations off the coast of Southern California. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicolas C. Lopez / Released)

Purple shirts – or aviation boatswain€™s 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. 

Photo:  PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 15, 2012) Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class Blake Hill, from Clarksdale, Miss., launches a F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Dambusters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195 from the flight deck of the U.S. Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) during routine, flight operations. George Washington and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian H. Abel/Released)

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class Blake Hill, from Clarksdale, Miss., launches a F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Dambusters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195 from the flight deck of the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) during routine, flight operations. George Washington and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian H. Abel/Released)

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.

Photo: ARABIAN SEA (April 30, 2012) Aviation ordnancemen assigned to the Vigilantes of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151 remove ordnance from an F/A-18C on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Lincoln is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tim D. Godbee/Released)

Aviation ordnancemen assigned to the Vigilantes of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151 remove ordnance from an F/A-18C on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Lincoln is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tim D. Godbee/Released)

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.

Photo: 120817-N-RY232-019 ARABIAN SEA (August 17, 2012) - Airman Apprentice Dylan Firth assigned to the Nightdippers of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 5 inspects an SH-60F on the flight deck aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69).  Eisenhower is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Julia A. Casper/Released)

Airman Apprentice Dylan Firth assigned to the Nightdippers of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 5 inspects an SH-60F on the flight deck aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Eisenhower is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Julia A. Casper/Released)

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.

Photo: 121103-N-RC246-052 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 3, 2012) Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) push a nitrogen cart across the flight deck. Nimitz is currently underway participating in the ship's composite training unit exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ryan J. Mayes/Released)

Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) push a nitrogen cart across the flight deck. Nimitz is currently underway participating in the ship’s composite training unit exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ryan J. Mayes/Released)

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.

 

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