Phil Giordano Photography: Blog en-us (C) 2003-2019 Philip P. Giordano (All Rights Reserved) (Phil Giordano Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:54:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:54:00 GMT Phil Giordano Photography: Blog 90 120 Panchito's Flight 20150828_8172_NYAirShow20150828_8172_NYAirShow A firsthand account of one lucky photographer’s flight aboard Panchito, a B-25J Mitchell bomber owned and operated by Larry Kelly during the inaugural 2015 New York Air Show at Stewart International Air Port.


Anyone familiar with the B-25 Mitchell will immediately associate this warbird as the aircraft that completed the historic Doolittle Raid over Tokyo in 1942. However, the B-25 played a much larger role in WWII. Nearly 10,000 B-25s were built throughout WWII and they saw service in all theatres of the war including Alaska, North Africa, China, Europe, and the Southwest Pacific.

Named for famed airpower pioneer Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell, the B-25 was designed as a medium bomber to operate from altitudes between 8,000 and 12,000 feet. Powered by two 1,700-hp Wright R- 2600 engines, it became standard equipment for the Allied air forces in World War II, and was perhaps the most versatile aircraft of the war. It became the most heavily armed airplane in the world, was used for high- and low-level bombing, strafing, photoreconnaissance, submarine patrol, and even as a fighter.

Normal bomb capacity was 5,000 pounds (2268 kilograms). Some versions carried 75 mm cannon, machine guns and added firepower of 13 .50-caliber guns in the conventional bombardier's compartment. One version carried eight .50-caliber guns in the nose in an arrangement that provided 14 forward-firing guns.

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The original Panchito (B-25J, serial number 43-28147) was assigned to Captain Don Seiler of the 396th Bomb Squadron. Capt. Seiler named his new plane “Panchito” after the feisty Mexican rooster from the 1943 animated musical “The Three Cabarellos”.


Before I sat down to write this article, my intention was just to recount the sights, sounds, and feelings I experienced during my flight aboard Panchito. Some of that is still here in this article, so don’t give up on me yet. However, after reliving this experience in my mind, reviewing the many photos, listening to the audio recordings I captured while talking with Panchito’s owner/pilot, and then talking with my father about it all, I realize that this experience was not about me or about the B-25. It was about what this B-25 and her owner/operators represent and what they are doing through their efforts to maintain this aircraft and reach out to the veterans who have a real life connection with it as well. I found my own connection went well beyond my love of history, aviation and this warbird too.

This article and the experience that fueled it are not about the plane. It's about the men and women who served and sacrificed so that we may live free of tyranny and oppression. It's about never forgetting what they did for us then and now.

...Never forget.

After bragging recounting my experience aboard Panchito to my father (a Korean war era veteran), I learned that my Great Uncle James Burks was a B-25 pilot during WWII who flew missions in North Africa. I never heard him speak about this though he passed away when I was quite young. Unfortunately, his stories during the conflict are buried with him as he did not even share them with friends or family.

My Dad, now 86 years old and sharp as ever, described to me his own attempts to find out about experiences from family who served during WWII:

It was quite common that a lot of the returning servicemen (who saw action) did not talk about their experiences in the war. My cousin Joe was in the battle of the Bulge...never talked about it; only to his brother Rocky. Burks was a pilot and also flew in the air national guard after the war. When I spoke to my brother Joe about the war and some of the action he was involved in he didn't want to talk about it. One of his close friends was in the marines and served in the Pacific...never wanted to talk about it. Those were different times compared to today...all those guys are now deceased and their stories are buried with them.”

Burks was either a 1st or 2nd lieutenant. I don't remember which. Because he was so tight lipped I could not find out much; the war was not a pleasant subject. All I remember was North Africa and state-side duty; he didn't say much about anything else. The same with my brother Joe. He would tell me a little, his ship torpedoed, being in the water for almost a day, 10 weeks in the hospital, part of the invasion fleet during the invasion of Sicily, being in the Pacific and then going to Japan. Pretty skimpy for 4 years of service, seeing action, being wounded.

He [Burks], like a lot of guys, including my brother Joe (who got the Purple Heart) didn't talk much about their experiences during the war. All I know was that he flew the B-25 medium bomber and was in North Africa during the American invasion of North Africa and then returned to the states. Apparently he didn't fly in Europe. He spoke very little about the war and his experiences. My brother Joe was the same...It was only after his death that his son, Jay, found out that he got the Purple Heart. I knew because Joe and I were pretty close...not even my parents knew. I'm sorry, but that is all I know. I never pressured Burks about the war...the same with Joe.”

I count myself as very fortunate to have had this opportunity to speak with Larry Kelly and to fly aboard his B-25J. Larry recounted terrific details of the original Doolittle Raid (not what you saw and heard in the movies) as well as his own personal history with this fantastic warbird and his special connection and support of our nation’s veterans. Larry’s efforts to maintain this icon of military history is a tribute to the veterans of past and present and their sacrifices. It also serves as a lasting reminder to us all that Freedom is not free.

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I was pleasantly surprised (relieved?) to find that my flight aboard Panchito felt very safe, secure and solid. The aircraft is meticulously maintained inside and out as you can no doubt see in every one of the accompanying photos. I was seated just behind the left wing during takeoff and landing, but was free to roam inside the tail section during our flight. I crawled back into the tail gunner station to take some photos of our flight near West Point and was pleased to find an open section of the canopy that easily allowed me an unobstructed view with my lens!

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I found Larry Kelly’s remark contained within the civilian history regarding the noise in the B-25 right on the money! He described it as follows:

“…the noise level on the flight deck during flight, especially on take-off.  Imagine you have a metal bucket over your head with two jackhammers attacking each side of that bucket.  That is what it sounds like in the B-25!  Now I know why most of the men who flew these airplanes wear hearing aids.”

To hear what it sounds like to be inside a B-25J right before takeoff and while flying at 1500 ft, check out these recordings from Panchito:

Click Here to listen to Panchito's engine start up prior to takeoff (MP3)

Click Here to listen to Panchito during flight at 1500 ft (MP3)



My thanks go out to Larry Kelly and his crew. Not just for the flight, but for what they represent and what they do every day to keep the history and the human connection alive.

The next time you see a soldier, take a moment and thank them for their sacrifice and for their service. They deserve it.


For the full history of the original Panchito, check out:

Background on the restoration of the the present day Panchito, B-25J, serial number 44-30734, can be found here:

Panchito’s civilian history is described here:

Panchito represents the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Organization. For more information - please visit

For more information about how YOU can soar on the wings of history and get a ride in Panchito, please visit:

44-30734 Panchito - Delaware Aviation Museum in Georgetown, Delaware


I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to Larry Kelly, Angela Leedy, and Matt Sager for the fantastic opportunity to board Panchito and get a firsthand experience of flying history. I would also like to thank Cathy Bassett and the NY Air Show for their efforts and enabling media access during the show’s events.


(Phil Giordano Photography) Airshow Aviation Military Mon, 14 Sep 2015 23:13:09 GMT
Leapfest 2015 20150801_3567_LeapfestLeapfest 2015© 2015 Philip Giordano

Paratroopers took to the skies near URI on Saturday August 1, for the Rhode Island National Guard’s annual Leapfest competition.

2015 is the 32nd annual Leapfest and featured teams from from The Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Italy, The Republic of South Africa, the United Kingdom as well as teams from all over the United States.

20150801_7502_LeapfestLeapfest opening ceremony© 2015 Philip Giordano 20150801_7502_LeapfestLeapfest opening ceremony© 2015 Philip Giordano 20150801_7502_LeapfestLeapfest opening ceremony© 2015 Philip Giordano

Since 1982, Leapfest has been the largest, longest standing, international static-line parachute training event and competition.

Each team consists of 5 participants: 4 jumpers and 1 alternate jumper. Jumpers exit from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at an altitude of 1500 feet (457 meters) using an MC-6 static line, steerable, parabolic parachute. They attempt to land as close as possible to one of three "X"s marked on the drop zone. Once the paratrooper lands on the ground, their time starts and it only ceases when the jumper touches the "X". The team with the lowest combined time wins the competition. This is both an individual and team event as jumpers compete for fastest individual and team times. Each jumper must complete 2 jumps to be qualified for the individual award, and each team must complete 8 jumps in total to be qualified for the team award.

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Jumpers were carried aloft in CH-47 Chinook helicopters. The CH-47s orbit the drop zone, about a mile away from the loading zone, where the 4 jumpers would jump and land in the athletic field, and race to one of several orange "X"s. The CH-47 circle around again and drop another 4.

20150801_3426_LeapfestChinook helicopter troop loading© 2015 Philip Giordano 20150801_3426_LeapfestChinook helicopter troop loading© 2015 Philip Giordano 20150801_3426_LeapfestChinook coming in for landing to load more paratroopers© 2015 Philip Giordano

Myself and others from the media flew near the Chinook in a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter enabling us to capture air-to-air photographs.

20150801_7541_LeapfestSikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters© 2015 Philip Giordano 20150801_7541_LeapfestAir-to-air photo of troops making the jump© 2015 Philip Giordano 20150801_7541_LeapfestAir-to-air photo of troops making the jump© 2015 Philip Giordano 20150801_7541_LeapfestAir-to-air photo of troops making the jump© 2015 Philip Giordano

We were also escorted onto the field of the landing zone to capture the action as the paratroopers landed and raced to the orange X's.

20150801_3580_LeapfestRI National Guardsmen overacting the part of a Leapfest judge© 2015 Philip Giordano 20150801_3580_LeapfestThe view from the ground as troops jump© 2015 Philip Giordano

20150801_3512_LeapfestThe view from the ground as troops jump© 2015 Philip Giordano 20150801_3512_LeapfestUp close in the drop zone as jumpers race to the "X"© 2015 Philip Giordano 20150801_3512_LeapfestUp close in the drop zone as jumpers race to the "X"© 2015 Philip Giordano 20150801_3512_LeapfestUp close in the drop zone as jumpers race to the "X"© 2015 Philip Giordano

Results from this year's event can be found on the Leapfest site.

Huge thanks and shout out to the Rhode Island National Guard for organizing and hosting this event - awesome job!


(Phil Giordano Photography) Aviation Competition Military parachute Wed, 05 Aug 2015 01:18:21 GMT
The USS Carl Vinson Embark: One Year Later Photo: US Navy 140123-N-HD510-024Photo: US Navy 140123-N-HD510-024Photo: US Navy

It has been one year since my visit to the USS Carl Vinson. During my preparation for this embark, I researched the experiences of other DV participants by reading their online posts and even emailing several people to ask questions about how best to prepare and find out their thoughts on their experiences. During this research, I found a post by a DV group from 2010 who reflected on their experiences one year later. I contacted one of the members of this group and asked if it would be OK if my own group mirrored their post with the same Q&A and received enthusiastic agreement. My thanks to Christopher Carfi and Rob DeRobertis. I proposed to collect our thoughts in a Q&A format, however, not every member was able to provide feedback or in the requested format. The most interesting aspect of this exercise was that there are no negative comments about the experience from my group or any other that I can find. The DV participants are overwhelmingly positive in their view of the US Navy and the impressive men and women who serve our nation.  Read on to hear our thoughts.

On January 22-23, 2014, 15 writers, bloggers, and media executives participated in the US Navy Distinguished Visitors (DV) program on-board the USS Carl Vinson which was preparing for a tour of duty in the Middle East.  This experience had a significant impact on everyone’s life in my DV group.
Photo: US Navy 140123-N-HD510-003Photo: US Navy 140123-N-HD510-003Photo: US Navy
Photo: US Navy

DV Group: Peg Fitzpatrick, Analisa Farias, Diana Weynand, Nick Turner, Steve Broback, Jeremy Epstein, Bill Wohl, Steven Bustin, Rocky Barbanica, Christian Rahl, Kim Merrill, Brett Murray, Ian Sobieski, Don Levy, Phil Giordano (Capt. W. Slaughter) (MIA:Susan Katz Keating)


These are their reflections one year later...


Jeremy Epstein: How the Vinson Changed My Vision

The former CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, coined a term known as the “strategic inflection point.”  It’s a point at which your life takes a turn and, after that, you are never the same person. Businesses face these moments, as do nations, and, of course, so do individuals. Marriage, death of a loved one, the birth of a child are among the most obvious.

While I knew that my visit to the Vinson would be an exciting adventure, going into it, I had no premonition that it would rank up there with the other major strategic inflection points of my life. Yet that is precisely what happened.

I had always been generally pro-military, the Vinson accelerated that. Not just in terms of the appreciation of the service and commitment on the part of the individuals who make up the armed forces, but also in terms of the operational excellence and discipline required to make the organization run. What really touched me were the human stories…of people who had come from very troubled backgrounds and found skills, training, confidence, and accountability through the Navy.  Like many, I don’t like paying taxes, but the story of a young gunnery mate who left gang-ridden LA at the advice of his aunt and talked of his transformation from boy to man, was a story of government ROI, the likes of which I had never seen before.

On a national level and as an American, I was proud, but that wasn’t the end of it.

 As growing professional and a leader of a team, my personal theme on the trip was to garner the advice of Naval leaders (from the Admiral all the way down) on what makes an effective leader.  The answer was uniform and consistent: Commander’s Intent.  I’ve adopted that practice and it has not only empowered but improved the performance of my organization in the year since.

There are so many memories. The flights to and from the ship, which I remember every time I put on my Vinson jacket replete with the “1 trap” patch sewed on to it; the technology; the treatment we received from each and every one of the sailors, that it could well be a book. I did, after all, write about 15 blog posts on the topic and, to this day, the profile picture on my page shows a panorama of the Vinson’s deck.

Still, it’s the life lessons that I cherish the most. About America’s role in the world and how I can be a more effective leader (at any level) that have impacted me the most.

I am forever grateful to the US Navy, the sailors of the USS Vinson and Mr. Dennis Hall for the opportunity and I cherish the connections and friendships I made with my fellow visitors.

Anchors Aweigh!


Q: What are the most lasting memories and impressions from the trip?

Brett Murray: There are the obvious memories… Arrival, a bit of disorientation on how it would all go, meeting my fellow embarkees, the briefing and trip out, the sights-sounds-smells of standing on the flight deck, up in the bridge watching operations at night, life in the stateroom, meeting the people and captain, the trip back.  All are still very vivid for me a year later. My major lasting impression really revolves around the people in the Navy and those serving on the USS Carl Vinson.  I was blown away by the quality of people – their intelligence, dedication, integrity and thoughtfulness.  In the private sector you experience a range of people from AMAZING to “who hired you?”  On the Vinson everyone seemed remarkably dialed in, laser focused, completely on top of their job, and with that spark in their eye.  I never would have guessed that such a concentration of excellent people was out there overseeing the safety of the United States.  Now if we could only get that same concentration in the private sector…  J

Steven Bustin: On a broad scale, the men and women who serve aboard the Carl Vinson.  Regardless of rank I found them to be friendly, dedicated, optimistic and professional.  On a more personal basis, it was the Trap and Cat!  The Trap landing was amazing and when that rear ramp of the Greyhound opened up it was an opening to another world.  The Trap was only exceeded by the Cat off the ship.  I felt like the classic cartoon scene where the character's body moves but the extended eyeballs linger!  What a blast!

Diana Weynand: So many wonderful memories… How remarkable it was to see so many young sailors doing such important work for our country. Wow. How gracious the Captain and other officers were to the crew. How respectful everyone was, and how much that helped the success of every mission. And of course, bonding with my social media co-hearts. It was an experience to treasure for a lifetime.

Christian Rahl: Hands down the sheer magnitude that an aircraft carrier represents.  The amount of work, logistics, and scale required to operate an aircraft carrier far exceeded any preconceived notions. Also the tailhook landing followed by the catapult takeoff were obviously very thrilling.  It was a great introduction to the power and a summary of the magnitude that is an Aircraft carrier.

Rocky Barbanica: The Jets - Just awesome power. The catapult system .. Well, First and FOREMOST, the arrested landing and the Catapult T/O - without a doubt - PARAMOUNT :-)  I SO wanna do that again... and again ... and again :-D

Don Levy: The most lasting memory is the quality of the people who I met; from the captain to the newest enlisted person.

Ian Sobieski: How small the Vinson was. Might sound like a surprise because its a huge ship by any standard; a thousand feet long with a crew of a small town. But 150 miles off the California coast its huge 4 acres are a speck compared to all that water. And I imagined how small it truly must feel 150 miles off a hostile shore.

Steve Broback: On almost a daily basis I think of an experience I had onboard the Carl Vinson. One big thing that stands out for me is that (not unlike landing on the moon) is the amazing things that can be achieved by teams who pull together. When you combine state-of-the-art technology and a group of consummate professionals managing it, a mind-boggling result is possible.

Phil Giordano: The crew impressed me on so many levels. I saw bright, dedicated, young men and women working long hours with very little privacy or luxuries that civilians take for granted, doing important work in service to our nation; defending our freedom and protecting my family and yours. I observed amazing teamwork in harsh and dangerous conditions and was made very much aware that every single person I saw on board was a volunteer – all heroes in my eyes. The planes, the ship and the technology were all impressive, but none of that matters without the people who maintain, support and utilize it all. I was also impressed with the Navy’s approach in providing this experience to us. The lack of censorship and the encouragement to form and voice our own opinions about everything we saw and heard.

I’m amazed at how much this experience affected me, all in very positive ways. The glimpse at life aboard an aircraft carrier: the hard working men and women who serve on board, the connections I made with the crew, the visceral, exciting, dangerous places, the necessary yet tedious “groundhog day” that is training, the long hours with little privacy endured by the crew, the industrial atmosphere of the ship, the noise, the smell of jet fuel on the flight deck.


Q: Did the trip change your views of the military?

Brett Murray: Absolutely.  I always had great respect for the military (both my grandfathers served in WWII), but until you see it all in motion up close you can’t understand what an almost insane logistical machine it is.  The learnings, planning, experiences that have combined over time to make it all possible are impossible to grasp.  Moving tons of industrial grade equipment and explosives in a synchronized dance day after day on a moving mobile platform is incomprehensible at first glance.  That said, it’s extremely obvious how powerful it is, why it gives us a competitive advantage in the world, and also why it demands the level of investment it requires.  None of that is possible to grasp from an armchair position, you have to get amongst it.

Steven Bustin: While I am far more knowledgeable about the military than the average civilian, it did indeed, in a most positive manner.  As stated above, I was impressed with the crew and in awe of the amount and degree of work they perform on a daily basis, the sacrifices they (and their families) make.

Diana Weynand: Yes. With this up close and personal look, the military looked less like an unfeeling machine, and became a living, breathing entity built of very caring individuals, some from my home town. I also gained a respect for the hierarchy of command on board. How important it was to follow orders. Why that is so necessary.

Christian Rahl: No it did not, but it did further reinforce the importance of our military has on our country and around the world.  Additionally the military not only provides an outlet for employment but also a huge motivating force to the sailors and soldiers.  I truly second guessed my choice on turning down the Coast Guard Academy for the civilian world.

Rocky Barbanica: Not, not really - I've always supported and been impressed by our military - I just thought is was THAT MUCH COOLER after being with them and on that ship - truly a thrill that's going to be hard to beat - but I'll try ;-)

Don Levy: The trip absolutely changed my views.  I have always appreciated the role of the military but did not fully understand how the men and women in the service conduct themselves and their missions.  It was incredibly eye-opening and gave me tremendous respect for the men and women who serve.

Ian Sobieski: Nope, reinforced them.

Steve Broback: Yes and no. It amplified my pre-existing (favorable) bias toward the remarkable work these brave men and women do, but must say it increased my respect for what a political economy (vs a market economy) can achieve. Despite the recent high-profile failures (Web site launches etc.) the government can and does run extremely complicated/complex systems with great success.

Phil Giordano: I’ve always supported the military (my dad served in the Army before I was born) and at one time seriously considered entering into service myself, so I can’t say that this experience necessarily changed my views but it definitely enhanced it for the better. This experience gave me more of a personal connection and replaced uniforms of those who serve with names and faces. It also strongly reinforced and expanded my understanding of the role of the Navy in particular and the need for a strong military.


Q: Since the trip were you in contact with sailors whom you met on this trip?

Brett Murray: Alas, no I haven’t been.  I follow the ship and some of the key people on social media, and have been carefully watching their current mission as well.  Naturally I have an attachment to the ship and crew at this point!

Steven Bustin: Not with any specific sailor but with the PA officer in regards to ideas I had on reaching out to the sailors.

Diana Weynand: Yes, a few.

Christian Rahl: I am not.

Rocky Barbanica: A couple times - I exchanged thoughts and such but it fell away... sadly- Life has a way of commanding attention...

Don Levy: I have not.

Ian Sobieski: (no response)

Steve Broback: Sadly no. My reticence is significantly guilt-driven. They have so little time to themselves, I’d hate to be a distraction.

Phil Giordano: Yes. I’ve corresponded with a number of crew members. I traded a number of emails with one of the PAO escorts ENS Rob Bell as well as with Vinson Media Center leader, Senior Chief Monica Hopper. I also received an email from AECS Aldrin Ledwidge with whom I shared breakfast on the second day of my embark. Aldrin wrote me a very eloquent email after he read my blog post and I was very grateful for his kind words and the opportunity he afforded me to get acquainted while on the Vinson. I have also kept in touch with PAO LCDR Kyle Raines via twitter and also via email. LCDR Raines sent me an email very recently while deployed with the Vinson in the Middle East in support of Operation Inherent Resolve which brings the fight to ISIS. I’ve also corresponded with some family members of the Vinson crew who saw my blog post and photography galleries. I’m proud to say that I’ve made a real connection with the father of one of the Vinson pilots too. We’ve shared a lot of personal information and built a friendship and I plan to continue our correspondence and hopefully meet in person someday. Right now I’m praying for the safe return of all aboard the Vinson on their current deployment. My embark has given me a very personal connection with the Vinson crew for which I’m deeply grateful. I never expected that the personal connection and ongoing correspondence with the crew and families would have been the most rewarding aspect of my visit to an aircraft carrier, but it is.


Q: What was the coolest thing you saw on the ship?

Brett Murray: While a lot of the first impressions blew my mind – seeing an F-18 launch and trap up close, going in the hanger, seeing the armory, etc – however, night operations from the bridge is the one amazing moment that sticks with me.  The complex dance that happens onboard, but all happening in the dark with many of the pilots in training mode, and no one getting hurt, never mind killed – truly spectacular.

Steven Bustin: Night flight operations.  The compelling visuals and the skill of the pilots...about the coolest thing I have ever witnessed.

Diana Weynand: Hornet landings - tail hooks - camaraderie - pride of sailors doing a job well done.

Christian Rahl: I would actually have to list two items that impressed me about the ship.  The first one actually was within the store on the ship.  There was one hatch in the middle of the store which stood right above the reactor.  The other was learning that very little communication occurs between the jets overhead and the jets coming down to land on the ship.

Rocky Barbanica: Wow - that's hard to just pick one ... I think it's seeing my face being left on the deck as the COD slingshot off the bow :-) -  The coolest thing other than the power of machines, engines, bombs ... Is the synchronized cadence of ongoing ops - Just a wonderful choreograph of teamwork...  bad ass !

Don Levy: I’m in between the flight deck and meals.  I think I will go with the flight deck!

Ian Sobieski: The bioluminesensce in the wake of the ship at midnight with f-18s landing overhead...

Steve Broback: My first instinct is to say it would have to be the night landings. Those afterburners at full throttle were SO cool.

Phil Giordano: I’m a huge aviation fan so observing flight operations on the flight deck was definitely the coolest thing I saw on the ship. It was amazing to stand so close to F-18s as they took off and landed. Watching the teamwork of the sailors on the flight deck was also incredible. While the ship, aircraft and weapons are the muscle and bone, it is very clear that the crew are the heart and soul.


Q: What was the least cool thing about the ship?

Brett Murray: Not sure how to answer this since so much was amazing and inspiring.  I suppose the claustrophobic nature of life below deck was really hard to get used to, and it was obvious to me how adapting to that environment for the long term would be a serious challenge.  The quality of the bathrooms was a bit shocking too, not so much because I demand better for myself, but I would hope we’d do better by our service men.  Given there are multi-million dollar planes and missiles all around, you would think we’d invest a little more in the comfort and morale of those driving them.

Steven Bustin: If I have to pick, the Head.  A Head is a Head is a Head.  Especially at 0300 hours.  

Diana Weynand: We had it pretty good in the VIP quarters. But I think it would be really tough living in such tight quarters for the enlisted folks.

Christian Rahl: The showers. It felt like boy scout camp all over again.

Rocky Barbanica: Well... hmmmm - probably the cramped quarters they have to live in...  I bet it's the Ritz compared to a submarine... but, dang - that would suck.  No real privacy AT ALL ... that would bug the heck out of me - That said, I GET IT though.

Don Levy: That we had to leave.

Ian Sobieski: Not a thing....

Steve Broback: Our “distinguished visitor” quarters were quite comfortable. College dorm-room-esque. But least cool was thinking about the cramped/communal quarters that the enlisted guys share for many months in a row. The lack of space and privacy must be one of the least attractive aspects of life at sea. Also, I have to say I am very spoiled by my bathroom (and big tub) at home.

Phil Giordano: The Head. As Distinguished Visitors we were treated to accommodations that were quite luxurious by comparison to the bulk of the crew, but the bathroom was not so cool. No complaints and I never expected a cruise ship experience…just sayin’…


Q: Were the sailors and aviators open?

Brett Murray: Absolutely.  Thoughtful in their responses, but not in a guarded way, and very open and candid.

Steven Bustin: Impressively so.  I can imagine that we, at times, had to be in the way of them quickly moving about the ship doing their jobs, but each and every one made way for us, smiled, greeted us and responded thoroughly and often with great humor to all of our questions.

Diana Weynand: They seemed to be completely open - to the degree that they were allowed to share their knowledge and protocol. And they all seemed very eager to share their stories.

Christian Rahl: By the end of the trip I felt like I answered more of the sailors questions then I asked of them. I was pleasantly surprised by this fact as it showed these sailors want to learn. However whenever I had a question I could always expect the honest, sometimes hilarious, answer to my questions.

Rocky Barbanica: Most  were - Had a full spectrum of impressions - Some seemed annoyed, some were SUPER STOKED about us being there - or putting on a good act :-) Some simply remained focused 

Don Levy: The soldiers and sailors were incredibly open, which is what made all the difference.

Ian Sobieski: Very

Steve Broback: Absolutely. Few questions or locations were off-limits.

Phil Giordano: The sailors were all very honest, candid, and willing to share information and answer questions. Every sailor I spoke with was impressively articulate and polite.


Q: Would you support the decision of someone to join the Navy?

Brett Murray: Part of what was so amazing, was coming to understand how tough the lifestyle is.  Away for months and months on end.  Working very long shifts.  Tight quarters with no privacy.  High standards of performance.  It’s not a life that everyone can handle, and as a result joining the Navy should be a deeply considered decision.  That said, if you are up for the challenge you’d be surrounded by great people, amazing machinery, and an inspirational cause.

Steven Bustin: Would I?!  Heck, I would join myself this instant if they allowed me!

Diana Weynand: Of course it depends on the person and where they are in life and their expectations. But for some, it would be an amazing opportunity to grow, learn career skills, be involved, and develop a sense of dedication to excellence.

Christian Rahl: Yes and no.  Joining the navy should not be an easy choice nor a last ditch effort.  Joining the navy has some very serious challenges, but the rewards and experiences from the navy cannot be matched.

Rocky Barbanica: Absolutely - IF they weren't doing it out of desperation... Well... I guess I would even then - I'm certain you get out what you put in - opportunities seem endless - Extremely dangerous too ... but that's not a negative score - in short - YES, I would.

Don Levy: Yes.

Ian Sobieski: Yes

Steve Broback: Years ago I did try to talk my nephew out of joining the Navy, because he was on a trajectory to become a SEAL and given the risk, I selfishly wanted to not expose our family to a devastating loss. He did become a SEAL and ultimately won a bronze star with valor for his role in a deadly firefight, and is now a Navy surgeon. I’m very glad (now) that he did not listen to me. Naturally, it would depend on the individual — but in general I think the military needs good people and many people can gain terrific life skills from their military experience.

Phil Giordano: Yes, with no reservations as long as they fully understood what a tour of service involves and they and their family are ready for the commitment and sacrifice.


Q: Was the embark an effective way for the Navy to get its message out?

Brett Murray: Absolutely.  Carefully qualifying the participants for social reach and industry influence, investing time in helping them understand what we’re pouring our national resources into, and making it clear the security we get in return, are all things that can’t be conveyed remotely.

Steven Bustin: I believe so.  Our embark group was made up of educated, successful and widely connected individuals.  Everyone was capable of spreading the word to a large network of people in various manners.  And each of us did.

Diana Weynand: I think so. I talk about my own experience on the USS Vinson quite often. I find people are very interested in knowing what goes on at that level of operation. Makes the military less mysterious. And it’s been interesting following the movements of the ship. It was nice to know that the sailors took some time during the holidays in Danai. I still feel a connection to the ship and the people on it.

Christian Rahl: Yes it is!

Rocky Barbanica: Without question... absolutely.  They have a great PR side to them and an embark, LIKE OURS,  just REALLY BRINGS IT ON HOME

Don Levy: Yes. I cannot begin to tell you how many times since the embark I have referenced the trip and my experience.  I think it may have even more impact because people don’t necessarily think of me in the context of the Navy or the military. When I say something positive, they know that I am speaking of an honest impressive and not repeating some entrenched position.  In other words, I am maybe a little bit of a fresh voice and because of that, maybe some new people listen, think or consider. 

Ian Sobieski: Yes

Steve Broback: My superficial notion is a big YES. What I don’t have a handle on is the total universe of costs and benefits, so can’t speak definitively. I was already fairly evangelical about the Navy so don’t know if my presence moved the needle at all.

Phil Giordano: Yes! To expose a bunch of civilians to life aboard a working carrier and then let them tell everyone their uncensored story is quite simply brilliant. Bravo Zulu! It is what I love about America and I wish every American could experience an embark first hand to truly understand and appreciate those who serve our country.


Q: Was there anything you were unable to do while aboard that you wish you could have done?

Brett Murray: Not really.  Maybe sleep more.  ;-)

Steven Bustin: Sure, I wanted to see the nuclear reactors and fire a few missiles, and even do a Cat and Trap on an F16 SuperHornet!  But alas, I understand why that fantasy was not going to happen.

Diana Weynand: Talk to more people. Shoot more video. But that was just because we were always on the go. Be a fly on the wall some times - without having people talk to us or perform for us.

Christian Rahl: I think having a little more time to explore or follow an individuals duty would have been interesting. We had very little time to sit down and chat with each sailor as they were trying to give us a brief and moved along.

Rocky Barbanica: Oh hell yeah!! Fly in a jet Launch and Trap...  Launch a cruise missile - fire the 20mm cannon... the list goes ON AND ON ... :-)

Don Levy: Not really. 

Ian Sobieski: Nope.

Steve Broback: One thing. Bin Laden was buried at sea on the Carl Vinson. I wanted to stand in the spot where he met his watery grave. Due to aircraft placement, we could not make a formal trip to the specific location. Might have been there by accident/randomly though.

Phil Giordano: Fly in an F-18; launch my airstrike...Seriously, I would have liked to talk with more sailors and at greater length. Time went by so fast and I just wish I had more of it.


Q: Did you post to your social media blogs, podcasts, etc. about the trip? Please provide links if you did. 

Brett Murray: I did.  My primary blog post was:


Steven Bustin: Yes.²-butare-we-asking-too-much-of-the-us-navy/


Diana Weynand: Yes. I did a few blogs and posted on my Facebook page. Here are links to my blogs:

Christian Rahl: I had two posts. One is internal to cisco only so it cannot be accessed from the outside.  The other is on my personal blog


Rocky Barbanica: I posted on my FB page - had dozens of private conversations - Had a couple MOVIE nights at The Barbanica residence :-)   Sad thing was - PHIL did SUCH an amazing job - I mainly shared YOUR link.

Don Levy: Yes.  My biggest posts were on Facebook. I also wrote and had published a letter to the editor

Ian Sobieski: Private newsletter to my 200 person membership.

Steve Broback: Yes:

Phil Giordano: Yes. I intended to make multiple posts that all combined to tell the story of the embark but once I got it all down, I made one very long and epic blog post. I also posted a gallery of photographs and video. I’ve also posted on Google+ and continue posting on Twitter.


Q: Did you participate in any traditional media reporting on your embark?

Brett Murray: Not formally.  I’ve spoken to dozens (if not more) of friends who are reporters informally about the experience.  I did a presentation in front of about 500 people at NVIDIA (my former employer) headquarters in Santa Clara, California as well.  Naturally, I continue to share my experiences in any and all forms that I think people want to hear it in.

Diana Weynand: No. I would still like to edit together some video I shot.

Christian Rahl: I did not. I am not a reporter nor a media representative.  I tried to experience the trip from an engineers positions.  What can I learn from the navy that could be applied to the civilian world.

Rocky Barbanica: No, unfortunately.  I did send a couple links to our local news channels to see if they were interested in hearing more but nothing ever really developed... THEIR LOSS....

Don Levy: I wrote a letter to the Editor for my local paper.

Ian Sobieski: (no response)

Steve Broback: No.

Phil Giordano: No, although I did make a number of multimedia presentations to large groups at my employer, MITRE, and at a local photography club. I also continue to share my experience with anyone who will listen.


Q: Would you be willing with guidance and consultation to lead a social media embark?

Brett Murray: Absolutely!  Sign me up!

Steven Bustin: I would love to do so.  Where do I sign up?

Diana Weynand: Absolutely. I would love the opportunity to do that. Where do I sign up?

Christian Rahl: Yes I would! I would absolutely enjoy providing the same experience I had to others!

Rocky Barbanica: Wow - great question - YES - I would have to make sure I was well trained, deep dive on a lot of the REGULAR stuff so the story would be complete and I wouldn't leave holes - gaps - that stuff... BUT, HECK YEAH !

Don Levy: Yes.

Ian Sobieski: Yes

Steve Broback: Absolutely.

Phil Giordano: Hell YES!


Q: Since your trip what has happened to you in your life/career i.e. where are you now?

Brett Murray: I have since left my role heading up Global Marketing Campaigns at NVIDIA and am now Vice President of Marketing at a pre-IPO company called View, Inc. in Silicon Valley.  View has raised over $400 million and makes architectural “dynamic” glass, a type of smart glass for buildings that changes tint levels intelligently in reaction to weather conditions outside, and how people are using the building inside. You can check us out at

Steven Bustin: My life and career have stayed on the same track for the most part.  However, I now have many jealous friends!  Seriously, I have met people and had conversations that never would have occurred if I had not been on this embark.  I have given multiple presentations to organizations that in turn have led to other professional and personal opportunities for me.  And quite frankly, people are impressed for their own reasons and that often affects the dynamics of conversations.  As it has with the writing of my book, the embark experience had migrated to other areas of my life in ways I never anticipated, all positive.  I wil forever be grateful to Dennis Hall and the United States Navy for an impactful and life changing experience.

Diana Weynand: At the time of the embark, I was just stepping away from my primary career as a video consultant, training and author of video editing books. I took a turn back toward my first career, as a musician and singer-songwriter. Over the past year, I produced music shows, wrote new material, placed a holiday song onto a TV show, and completed my goal of performing 100 gigs. This year, I’ve stepped into the role of President of a non-profit organization called Earth Law Center, which helps create laws that support the rights of nature. And I’ve just sent a new revision of my book, How Video Works, off to the publishers for a release date in June.

Christian Rahl: I changed roles into a new area of Cisco doing the same basic job but in a new technology.  However the Navy embark has started me along the path of trying to change my career to more of consulting / leadership / project role.  This was all from observing how much your chiefs and officers enjoyed their jobs.  The embark helped me reinforce that I truly enjoy leadership and projects. I looking forward to starting my MBA program at NCSTATE in the coming months.

Rocky Barbanica: Still truckin' - Always a few high drama days/events per month, balanced with pure awesomeness and day to day grind - I'm still loving life -Still Ecstatically happily married, Being Dad ROCKS --- The job still kicks butt too !

Don Levy: The fledgling companies that I was advising are starting to get some traction, which is exciting.  My older son graduated from college and just moved to NY.

Ian Sobieski: Same place. Running Band of Angels.

Steve Broback: Hosting the conference and sessions and parties at San Diego Comic Con.

Phil Giordano: I’m still working as a Systems Engineer at MITRE in support of the public interest. I’m also continuing to explore my interest in photography and post new images regularly to my web site at


Blog Posts:

Rocky Barbanica


Steve Broback


Steven Bustin

Jeremy Epstein

 Here’s my first post on our adventure together

 Here’s my next one…on the value of the DV program

 Lessons from an aircraft carrier on Quality Control


Life on the Carrier: Big and Small

Would love your thoughts on this one.

Clarity of Communication-Lessons on Management from the USS Carl Vinson


On Nicknames and Call Signs for Naval Aviators


Analisa Farias


Peg Fitzpatrick

Night and Day: My Life vs. Life in the Navy

My article is live on Huffington Post


Phil Giordano

"How The US Navy Had Me Arrested And Shot"

24 Hours Aboard the USS Carl Vinson - Life Aboard A Warship From A Civilian's Perspective

Photo Gallery: USS Carl Vinson Embark:


Susan Katz Keating


Don Levy

While I prepare some more stories, my original post appears in The Thousand Oaks Acorn, our local paper that really does get read by everyone in this Los Angeles Suburb.  It has a verified circulation of about 40,000.

Kim Merrill

Pre-embark Post:


Brett Murray


Christian Rahl

This video was quick to get up as it required 0 editing.


Ian Sobieski

Subject: Check out "Somewhere in the Arabian Sea" from This American Life

Check out this episode of This American Life,"Somewhere in the Arabian Sea"

"Life aboard the USS John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea that's supporting bombing missions over Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Only a few dozen people on board actually fly F-18s and F-14s. It takes the rest of the crew—over 5,000 people—to keep them in the air."


Nick Turner


Diana Weynand


Bill Wohl

Facebook album with captions:



My embarking to and from the USS Carl Vinson (CVN70) aircraft carrier was made possible via my nomination by Dennis Hall, founder of Avere Group LLC (, through collaborative referral to him by Guy Kawasaki ( and through recommendation for nomination by my good friend, Robert DeRobertis ( Dennis Hall initially submitted my nomination to the Public Affairs Officer of the US Navy’s Third Fleet. The Public Affairs Officer then referred my nomination to the Office of Public Affairs, Commander, US Pacific Fleet. The US Pacific Fleet selected me for the Distinguished Visitors Program, inviting me to embark.

I also want to thank my wife and daughter for their amazing support and encouragement. Pam and Jessie, you are my inspiration.


Thank you to the U.S. Navy and the crew of the USS Carl Vinson for hosting me. You have my deepest gratitude for your service and sacrifice.

"Integrity, Honor, and Commitment to Excellence"


To all the men and women who serve our country - Thank You For Your Service!

© 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip GiordanoSocial Media Links

(Phil Giordano Photography) DV Distinguished Visitor Embark Military Navy USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier carrier Wed, 11 Mar 2015 01:25:30 GMT
2014 Rhode Island National Guard Open House and Airshow  

© Philip Giordano Rhode Island National Guard Open House and Air Show

May 17 and 18 at Quonset Air National Guard Base

The Rhode Island National Guard Open House and Air Show will run May 17 and 18 at Quonset Air National Guard Base.

The US Navy Blue Angels will headline the list of performers this year which also includes the following:

USN Blue Angels 
F22 Raptor Demo 
Sean D. Tucker 
John Klatt - Air National Guard 
Geico Skytypers 
Rob Holland Ultimate Air Shows 
Flash Fire Jet Truck 
The Horsemen 
USAF Heritage Flight 
Julie Clark 
P51-D Mustang 
V22 Osprey Demo 
A1E Skyraider 
FM2 Wildcat 

The Rhode Island National Guard has participated in the Open House/Air Show since 1991. The air show is a safe,fun, family event that is free of charge. Many sponsor companies have made significant donations that include sunscreen, water, ear plugs and various items to the show's children’s area and offers this all to families at no charge. The air show also provides a vehicle for contributions to local charities which to date exceed $1,700,000. The Hasbro Children’s Hospital is the air show's largest benefactor and has received over $1,500,000 since inception. A $10 donation per vehicle is optional upon entering the air show. Food and beverages are available at the show at reasonable prices too.

The 2013 show was canceled just two months before it was scheduled to take place, because of federal budget cuts known as sequestrationThe sequestration cuts in 2013 led to the cancellation of a significant number of military outreach events nationwide. The Pentagon has decided to resume its military community-outreach programs but has pared down the number of events significantly due to budget cutbacks.

Rhode Island Air Show 2010 - © Philip Giordano -

What To Bring?

A list of approved items that you can bring includes:
Small purses or fanny packs
Cameras and/or camcorders with "small" camera bags
Diaper bags
Baby strollers
Small lawn chairs or camp chairs (no lounge chairs)
Wheelchairs, canes, guide/working dogs to assist disabled individuals
Water in unopened clear plastic bottles only (all other liquids are prohibited)

You will be standing on a hot tarmac all day and there are very few places to find shade. Remember to bring headgear, suntan lotion and water in a clear bottle, and money to buy food, drinks and perhaps some souvenirs while you are there.

The gates open at 9AM. The show begins at 10AM and the show goes on until 4.30 pm Saturday and Sunday.

For more information, check out the Air Show FAQ

This Is A Great Opportunity For Photographers

20120615_5186_Rhode_Island_Airshow20120615_5186_Rhode_Island_Airshow© 2012 Philip Giordano

There are plenty of challenges for photographing aircraft in flight. For the jets, you need a high speed shutter setting on your camera to catch the action and make sharp images. Shutter speeds of 1/2000 sec or higher should be used for the fastest moving jets. Propeller-driven aircraft are more of a challenge. Although they fly slower, try to use shutter speed settings of 1/250 sec or less to capture some prop motion blur, otherwise, the prop driven aircraft will appear unnaturally frozen and look as if they are about to fall out of the sky! For helicopters, try using shutter speed settings of 1/60 sec or less to blur the slower rotors. These slower shutter speeds will make it challenging to keep the moving aircraft sharp in the frame, while allowing for the capture of motion blur in the props and rotors, so good hand-holding and panning technique is a must! You can also try shooting in burst mode to capture at least one sharp frame out of a burst.

Tripods are NOT a good idea on this occasion - too many people, and the action is too fast except for hand-held shots. Air show security may not let you in with them, so do yourself a favor and leave them at home. 

A zoom lens that can handle wide and telephoto shots is a bonus on these occasions. Otherwise, bring a wide angle for those "big picture" shots, or shots of aircraft on the ground, and a long zoom lens for the aerobatic displays. I generally use a 400mm lens for aerial shots and 24mm for the static aircraft displays on the ground.


Rhode Island Air Show 2010 - © Philip Giordano -

© 2012 Philip Giordano© 2012 Philip GiordanoP-51 Mustang and F4U Corsair

20120615_4790_Rhode_Island_Airshow20120615_4790_Rhode_Island_Airshow© 2012 Philip Giordano

Rhode Island Air Show 2010 - © Philip Giordano -


Rhode Island Air Show 2010 - © Philip Giordano -


Airshows are fun! Don’t get so engrossed in shooting that you forget to have a good time. Even after many airshows over the years and seeing hundreds of aircraft in flight, I still get goose bumps every time a Mustang screams past.

20120615_4441_Rhode_Island_Airshow20120615_4441_Rhode_Island_Airshow© 2012 Philip Giordano



(Phil Giordano Photography) Airshow Aviation Military Sun, 11 May 2014 19:37:43 GMT
How the US Navy Had Me Arrested and Shot © 2014 Philip GiordanoF/A-18 Hornet on board the USS Carl Vinson (CVN70)F/A-18 Hornet on board the USS Carl Vinson (CVN70)

24 Hours Aboard the USS Carl Vinson

Life Aboard A Warship From A Civilian's Perspective

This is a long post, though it is mostly pictures, however, if you read nothing else, please read this...

What Did I learn From This Experience?


If you just want to look at pretty pictures, scroll down and also check out 300 images posted in my CVN70 gallery.


For those not familiar with Navy terms, My group landed on the carrier and this is called an arrested landing via the arresting wires used to stop the aircraft on the deck, also called a trap landing. The assisted catapult launch off the carrier is also called a cat shot. Hence the terms in my blog title, arrested and shot by the navy. At no time did I ever get detained by law enforcement, enter the brig, or have any weapons pointed in my direction.


Now for the story... Please take 10-15 minutes to join me in my 24 hour adventure...

So How Did I Get On An Aircraft Carrier?

I was invited to participate in the U.S. Navy’s Distinguished Visitor Program and embark on the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, while it was deployed in the Pacific conducting Tailored Ship's Training Availability (TSTA). This included conducting carrier take-off and landing training for fleet replacement aviators and facilitating squadron carrier qualifications.


The Navy states the following regarding the Distinguished Visitor (DV) Program:

Dear Guest,
I am very pleased that you will be joining us for a Distinguished Visitor (DV) embark aboard an aircraft carrier, hosted by Commander, Naval Air Forces (COMNAVAIRFOR). As a DV, you will get a rare first-hand look at life aboard an aircraft carrier and witness the pride and professionalism of our young men and women who serve our country at sea. I am confident it will be a memorable and enjoyable experience for you.

While we would like to invite every American citizen to join us at sea for a day to see their Navy in action,  that simply isn’t possible.  Instead, we invite people like you who are active leaders in your local, civic, education or business community to embark and share your experience with others.  Some of the people we invite to participate in the embark program include legislative representatives, city council members, corporate executives, educators, and other leaders of broad-based organizations who have not previously experienced the excitement of aircraft carrier operations.


As an aside, each member of the DV group paid their own way to and from the carrier. In fact, we were also required to pay $50 in cash to get on board in order to cover food and other expenses. Neither the Navy nor taxpayers subsidized our trip.


My DV Program invitation did not pop up overnight. I believe the process started back in 2010 when a good friend of mine, Robert DeRobertis, was selected to participate in the DV Program and visited the USS Abraham Lincoln (check out Rob's amazing pictures here). Rob later recommended me for nomination. The nomination process can take from a few days to three years starting from the time of nomination to vetting by the Navy and finally selection and embarkation to a ship at sea.  Dennis Hall, founder of Avere Group LLC, made my embark possible via his nomination of me.  Dennis Hall initially submitted my nomination to the Deputy Public Affairs Officer for the Commander, Naval Air Forces – Pacific, US Pacific Fleet for the Distinguished Visitors  Program. It took just over 3 years for my opportunity to materialize, partly due to sequestration budget cuts. As for the nomination process, anyone can contact the various Navy organizations that have embark programs to apply and be considered.

To visit the Vinson, I flew from Boston to San Diego and then made a short drive to my hotel in Coronado Island. I arrived on Monday and my embark to the USS Carl Vinson was not scheduled until Wednesday, so I had some time to adjust to the time zone change, explore the area and enjoy the lovely 75 degree sunny SoCal weather (it was snowing in Boston!).  I made a side trip to visit the USS Midway aircraft carrier museum in San Diego on Tuesday, which was well worth visiting and highly recommended to you if you are ever in San Diego, However, I would like to thank Midway Docents, Beth Lyons (retired teacher), Tom Finley (retired Navy Helicopter pilot) and Bob Ryan (retired naval aviator) for their invaluable information and patience with my questions while aboard the Midway. But that is another story...

The morning of the embark, our group of 15 writers, bloggers, and media executives reported to Naval Air Station North Island (NAS) at 0715, an hour earlier than we were originally scheduled in order to get us on the USS Carl Vinson sooner so they could arrange for more time for daytime flight operations. When I first heard about the schedule change, all I could say was, "Sweeeeeeeeeeet! More time on the ship!". Needless to say, no one complained about getting more time on the carrier.

I woke up to the scene shown below just outside my hotel on Coronado Island, indicating good weather for the day ahead. I wanted more shots of the front gate of NAS but was advised (by large men with guns) not to photograph the security gate, so of course I complied. My camera shoots fast, but I'm sure they shoot faster. We were greeted at NAS by Steve Fiebing, Deputy Public Affairs Officer and Distinguished Visitor Embark Coordinator (pictured below). As participants in the Distinguished Visitor (DV) Program, we were guests of the Commander Naval Air Forces Pacific (CNAP). 

NASNIThe Morning of the Embark at NASNI

Steve gave us a brief tour and introduced us to Commander Fitz "Dud" Lee (pictured below), 20 year veteran and naval aviator, who presented a briefing which described the following:

  • Naval Air Force Mission
  • Navy’s Aviation Assets
  • Employing Naval Aviation
  • Future of Naval Aviation
  • Your Carrier Embark

A few key points from the briefing that stood out to me were the Navy Core Capabilities:

  • Forward presence
  • Deterrence
  • Sea Control
  • Power Projection
  • Maritime Security
  • Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Response

Steve then took us outside to show us the features of the C-2 Greyhound Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) aircraft that would fly us from NAS and land on the USS Carl Vinson somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A good portion of this discussion was to reassure us of just how safe this aircraft is and to emphasize the skill and experience of our pilots who perform these flights many, many times. To be honest, I was more wary of my JetBlue flight than the Navy flight.

NASNI BriefingNASNI Briefing

We met our pilots and crew of the VRC-30 Providers who would be flying us out to the Vinson on the C-2 Greyhound (COD) and they soon had us geared up with our cranials (helmet, goggles and earcups), foam earplugs, and collars (floatation vest). Most of us looked like dorks in this gear, but my bunkmate Rocky (Below: top right corner) looked really badass :-) 

DV MembersDV Members (top row l-r: Steve Bustin, Rocky Barbanica; middle row l-r: Brett Murray, Bill Wohl, Ian Sobiesky, Analisa Farias, Peg Fitzpatrick; bottom row l-r: Don Levy, Diana Weynard, Christian Rahl, Jeremy Epstein; Not Pictured - Mr. Kim Merrill and yours truly; MIA: Susan Katz Keating due to snowstorm in DC grounding her plane :-(

COD Trap Landing On The Carrier At Sea

The COD aircraft are used to transport mail, critical supplies and personnel to and from the carrier while it is out to sea. There are enough seats for about 2 dozen passengers but don't expect an in-flight movie or drink service. The plane is pretty bare-bones. There is little or no insulation, the seats are steel with a couple inches of padding and they face backwards! You enter the aircraft through a ramp that opens in the back of the plane under the tail and there are only 2 small windows the size of teacup saucers so you are basically sitting backwards, in the dark, with only the very loud drone of the twin turbo props filtering through your double-ear protection (foam earplugs and earcups) with no way to talk to each other for a mind-numbing 30-40 minutes without any idea where you are going or when you will arrive. It is probably a good thing there are no windows, because I don't think that the sight of the carrier landing deck floating in the middle of the ocean would inspire confidence in any civilians knowing they were about to land on it. I tried not to think about it and instead placed my confidence in the skill and experience of our pilots and crew.

My confidence was not misplaced. Our trap landing was surprisingly smooth and quick. Being seated backwards, you simply sink back into your seat during the abrupt stop when the tailhook catches the arresting wire on the deck and your plane slows from 105 mph to 0 mph in 2 seconds! The COD then taxis off the runway while it's wings fold up to clear the path for the next aircraft. While this is happening, the plane's tail ramp hatch begins to open and your senses are assaulted by a flood of bright white light, the roar of jet engines and the smell of jet fuel and exhaust. Once your eyes adjust, you see men and women in an array of rainbow colored shirts, helmets, goggles and vests working the flight deck as well as huge fighter jets both parked and moving about and you suddenly realize... we are not in Kansas anymore.

Watch the video I shot of the COD ramp opening up immediately after landing...

COD ramp opening up on Vinson deck after landingWe're Not In Kansas Anymore...


Welcome Aboard!

Coming off the flight deck, you could see the water rushing by the side of the ship and it was pretty clear we were moving fairly fast through the water. We were told that the ship can do 30+ knots. I think we were doing "+" ;-). We were greeted by LCDR Kyle Raines (Below: top left photo), Executive Officer Captain Walt "Sarge" Slaughter (I'm not making this up!) (Below: top right photo), ENS Rob Bell, MC2 Brent Pyfrom (Below: bottom left) and shortly afterwards visited by Captain Kent "Torch" Whalen, Commanding Officer of the USS Carl Vinson (Below: bottom right photo).

006_WelcomeAboardReadyRoom006_WelcomeAboardReadyRoomWelcome Aboard! LCDR Raines, XO CAPT Slaughter, PAOs ENS Rob Bell and MC2 Brent Pyfrom, and CO CAPT Whalen

I want to give a big shout out to ENS Rob Bell and Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (MC2) Brent Pyfrom along with my sincere thanks. They were given the daunting task of herding cats escorting our group. They made our entire visit run smoothly, answered all of our questions patiently and accommodated our requests, making for a truly outstanding visit. I only wish I captured some better pictures of them both.

Ens. Rob Bell (soon to be Lieutenant!) is the Navy Public Affairs Support Element (NPASE) West Detachment Officer-In-Charge to Carrier Strike Group One (CSG-1). That is a really long break it down, the Navy assigns a certain number of public affairs officers (PAOs) and enlisted Mass Communication Specialists (MCs) to the aircraft carrier.

When USS Carl Vinson deploys, it deploys as part of a strike group under the command of Carrier Strike Group One (CSG-1). The strike group includes a cruiser, some destroyers, the aircraft carrier...etc.

NPASE supports the strike group by sending out PAOs and MCs to the ships to tell the ENTIRE strike group story...whereas the MCs on board Carl Vinson are here to tell the ship and air wing's story.

Ens. Bell is the PAO whose job it will be to manage the MCs on the various smaller ships who are telling the larger strike group story. He will live aboard Carl Vinson and work for Lt. Cmdr. Kyle Raines, who is overall responsible as the Public Affairs Officer for the Carl Vinson AND for CSG-1. Lt. Cmdr. Raines wears two hats, and he does this well.

Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (MC2) Brent Pyfrom is assigned to the Carl Vinson. He oversees the production of stories for the ship's newspaper and is the lead Distinguished Visitor escort.


The CO and XO welcomed us aboard and provided us with some background on the USS Carl Vinson and her namesake.

So how do you get an aircraft carrier named after you? Here's how Carl Vinson did it...

Carl Vinson was a distinguished member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia for more than 50 consecutive years. Beginning in 1914, Vinson served under nine Presidents, from Wilson to Johnson.

During his distinguished career, Vinson was responsible for the expansion of the U.S. military, particularly the Navy--he was referred to as the "Father of the Two Ocean Navy." He also helped to ensure the continued existence of the United States Marine Corps, and kept funding for the Department of Defense intact despite legislative efforts to reduce it.  He is credited for advocating military preparedness, and his efforts to expand the Air Force, Marines and the Navy pre-dated the attack on Pearl Harbor and the American entrance into World War II.  After the end of the war Vinson continued to work for a strong military.

The CO and XO also imparted some thoughts on what we could expect to see while aboard. I was impressed with the fact we were encouraged to form our own opinions and conclusions regarding everything we would observe during the next 24 hours without any influence or censorship by the Navy. This was emphasized by Captain Whalen who told us he would reserve his own comments for when we were ready to depart. The Captain was soft spoken and his words were eloquent and well considered. His demeanor was unpretentious and he did not appear rushed while entertaining our questions. I was thankful for the generous amount of time he afforded us.

After we caught our breath from the excitement of the trap landing and had our fill of cold water, coffee, and fresh cookies, while listening to the opening comments from the CO and XO, we were ready to begin our tour with ... wait for it ... the FLIGHT DECK!


The Flight Deck

Here is some eye-candy from the Flight Deck...


Below: Hornet landing as seen from Vulture's Row outside Primary Flight Control, a.k.a. Pri-Fly, above the flight deck.

007_Hornet_Landing_MAH00429F/A-18 Hornet Landing Below: Hornet Catapult Launch video. Final Checkers are observing the exterior of the aircraft for proper flight control movement, engine response, panel security and leaks at the rear of the aircraft prior to giving thumbs-up. The raised panel behind the jet is called a jet blast deflector. It is a safety device that redirects the high energy exhaust from a jet engine to prevent damage and injury. The roar of the jet engines is unbelievably loud - even if you can turn your speakers/headphones up to 11, it does not do this scene justice. Your internal organs literally vibrate from the sound. It is a visceral experience and flight deck crew endure this for hours while working. 008_FA18CatLaunch_MAH00426F/A-18 Hornet Catapult Launch

Below: This action sequence blow was composited together from multiple photos of a Hornet catapult launch observed from Vulture's Row - an observation area outside the Bridge above the flight deck from later in the day.  Hornet Launch SequenceHornet Launch SequenceF/A-18 Hornet Catapult Launch Sequence Below: Yes - I really was THAT close! This F/A-18 Hornet landed just 30 feet in front of our group standing on the Flight Deck. F/A-18 Hornet LandingF/A-18 Hornet LandingF/A-18 Hornet Landing Below: Detail shot of the tailhook catching one of the 4 arresting wires which bring the jet to a full stop in about 300 feet. © 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip Giordano © 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip Giordano Below: One of the 4 arresting wires on the flight deck. This one was only about 15 feet in front of me and that wire is 5 cm thick. © 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip Giordano © 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip Giordano Above and Below: Notice the folded wings on this F/A-18 Hornet - all aircraft on the carrier have foldable wings to maximize available space and allow them to utilize the hangar deck elevators. © 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip Giordano © 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip Giordano Below: F/A-18 Hornet ready for takeoff! © 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip Giordano Below: Sailors were constantly running on the flight deck to do their jobs in a chaotic ballet that enabled aircraft to land and takeoff at 45 second intervals mainly communicating only with hand signals while carrying heavy gear. © 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip Giordano The flight deck is unbelievably loud, even with double-hearing protection (foam earplugs and earcups). The smell of jet fuel and exhaust washes over you, stings your eyes and permeates your clothes. It is one of the most dangerous places to work in the world.

Everyone is told to "keep their head on a swivel". Our group was told not to stray outside of a very specific area and we were advised not to struggle if someone grabbed the back of your vest to pull you out of harm's way because they were probably saving your life. I did my best to comply while grabbing every photo op before me. It was a target rich environment and I was in my glory. When I did receive a tug on my shoulder, I stopped what I was doing and moved where I was instructed. I later thanked MC2 Pyfrom for his assistance because I truly did not see how close I was to one of the jets that was moving along the deck when he moved me out of the way.


Flight Deck Rainbow Wardrobe - Color Defines Job

Everyone on the flight deck has a job and their job function is indicated by the colors they wear. This Navy Briefing slide provides a key.

US Navy Briefing excerptFlight Deck Rainbow Wardrobe (US Navy Briefing)Flight Deck Rainbow Wardrobe (US Navy Briefing)

During our visit, there were roughly 5000 people aboard the Vinson, 2800 crew and 2000 assigned to the air wing. They were not putting on a show for our group. They were performing their normal duties while undergoing critical training to make them ready for their next deployment.

I was impressed with the level of professionalism, precision, dedication and commitment that I observed from every sailor regardless of rank or rating. I've never been more proud or more grateful for the service and sacrifice of every man and woman in our Navy than I was after seeing them perform their duty first hand.

© 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip Giordano

© 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip Giordano

Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC)

Like a land-based air traffic control center, the CATCC is filled with more screens than your local sports bar, as well as radio and radar equipment which the controllers use to keep track of aircraft in the area (in this case, mainly the aircraft outside the Air Boss's supervision).

I got my first indication of approximately where we were by looking at these screens. I noticed that the divert air field at NAS North Island was 119 miles away and Miramar was 130 miles away. They use the divert air fields in case an aircraft cannot land on the Vinson for any reason.

CATCCCarrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC)

Distinguished Visitor's Dinner

I learned that this is NOT how the Navy typically eats every night. This was a special dinner for our DV group. Our meal consisted of the same ingredients that were used for the crew's meals, but our Culinary Specialists were only cooking for 20 people and had some latitude to get creative with the menu. I was quite thankful because the meal, the service and the company were all excellent.

Distinguished Visitor's DinnerSpecial Dinner for Distinguished Visitors on the Evening of the First Day

Night Time Flight Operations

After dinner, we were escorted to the Flag Bridge (or was this Pri-Fly? Not certain but it was wicked cool!). At night, the hallway illumination becomes a bit surreal. Red lights fill the interior of the ship in order to preserve the crew's night vision and mitigate light spill outside the ship to reduce its visibility.

I was surprised how dark the flight deck appeared at night. My camera struggled to attain focus on anything on the deck and I can only imagine how difficult it is to perform your job during flight operations at night on the deck let alone how hard it must be for the pilots to land a plane on the pitching and rolling deck in that darkness. I have no doubt that there are no better pilots anywhere in the world than the pilots in our U.S. Navy.

Flight operations typically begin in the morning around 10-12 and go until midnight. As Distinguished Visitors, we stayed in officers quarters and our rooms were located on the gallery deck 03 (immediately below the flight deck). Yes, they were landing planes on the deck right above my cabin while I was trying to sleep. The flight training they were conducting was important to get them mission-ready so needless to say, I didn't mind. I actually got about 6 hours sleep after hitting the rack around 10-10:30pm because I was so exhausted!

022_NightOpsFlagBridge022_NightOpsFlagBridgeNight Time Flight Operations From The Flag Bridge

Day 2 - The Next Morning

We gathered for breakfast in the Chief Petty Officer's (CPO) Mess at 7 AM. Once again I was pleasantly surprised. The food was better than I expected (omelets made to order, pancakes, OJ). At meal times, we were seated with members of the crew so we could find out about life in the Navy directly from the sailors. I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of Aldrin Ledwidge AECS Senior Chief Aviation Electrician's Mate (Below: bottom center photo) who had been serving in the Navy for 16 years. He was born in Jamaica and moved to Long Island, NY with his family when he was 12 years old. I asked him why he joined the Navy and he told me he joined to get away from home, a common response that I had heard from other sailors too. He described the Navy as very competitive. He was constantly learning in order to advance, while also training the next sailor in line for his role. Aldrin was easy to talk to and very personable. He was enthusiastic and proud to be in the Navy and aboard the Vinson. Another common theme I saw while talking with sailors aboard.

023_BreakfastCPOMess023_BreakfastCPOMessBreakfast CPO Mess

Around The Ship

We had the honor of being escorted around the ship after breakfast by the highest ranking enlisted man aboard the USS Carl Vinson, Command Master Chief Jeffrey Pickering (pictured above in the bottom left corner photo and in the photos below). The interior environment of the ship is very industrial. The corridors have exposed pipes, conduits and equipment. The hatches are called knee-knockers as they are all raised off the floor so you have to high-step it to get through them. As our group moved throughout the ship, sailors would all get out of our way and press flat against the walls in order to let us pass regardless of where they were going or what they were doing. Our group usually moved quickly because there was so much to see and they Navy had us on a tight schedule. I found every sailor to be courteous, polite and friendly. I tried to meet every sailor's eye and thank them or say hello to them. Every sailor greeted me with a "hello sir" or "welcome aboard". I can only recall a couple sailors who remained silent and no one was rude or impatient to get by our group, though a few pilots in fight gear did continue to move in the hallway instead of standing flat up against the bulkhead, but I couldn't fault them. I felt like I was in the way or delaying crewmen from their tasks so I tried to move as quickly as I could. I doubt any of the sailors realized that I wasn't just thanking them for letting me pass, but rather I was thanking them for all that they do in service to our country. Mere words fall short of the gratitude I have for each and every one of them.

We went up and down about 10 flights of stairs (ladders is a better description) twice each day as we toured the ship. LCDR Raines gave me a great piece of advice the first day and that was to lean in to the ladder as I went up and watch my hands on the railings. I was able to go up the ladders without using my hands and this was really helpful, especially while trying to keep my camera gear from banging against everything.

We toured some of the crew's berths. The bunks were stacked 3 high. A small shelf under each bunk provided storage for all the worldly belongings for each sailor - about 5 cubic feet of space. There were blue curtains on the bunks to provide some 'privacy'. I asked one of the Chiefs during breakfast what he did for privacy and he said that if he wasn't in his bunk, he would sometimes walk the hangar deck or go up to the flight deck if there were no flight operations just to get some time to himself. In other words, there just isn't much privacy on the ship and with 5000 people aboard, you better figure out how to get along with everyone else.

024_AroundTheShip024_AroundTheShipAround The Ship

The Hangar Deck

Jay Leno's garage cannot compare to the ship's hangar deck. Definitely the coolest 'garage' I've ever seen.

The hangar deck is HUGE! There are huge doors that can close off sections of the hangar deck in cases of emergency for damage control and to stop the spread of fire. We saw all the doors open and the vast expanse of the deck was impressive.

025_20140123_4880_DV_Embark_CVN70025_20140123_4880_DV_Embark_CVN70The Hangar Deck Below: Huge doors behind the crewmen in yellow can be closed to prevent the spread of fire. Another set of doors is back to the far left - look for the dark line crossing the frame on the ceiling. 026_20140123_4633_DV_Embark_CVN70026_20140123_4633_DV_Embark_CVN70Me On The Hangar Deck Below: Crewmen moving a plane onto one of the elevators in order to bring it up to the flight deck. 027_20140123_4684_DV_Embark_CVN70027_20140123_4684_DV_Embark_CVN70Hangar Deck Elevator This elevator can hold two planes each weighing approximately 70,000 pounds.

I watched this elevator ascend to the flight deck in just a few seconds! 028_20140123_4718_DV_Embark_CVN70028_20140123_4718_DV_Embark_CVN70Hangar Deck Elevator Below: Every pilot gets a call sign. Typically the name comes from some embarrassing event in your past, or some other derogatory connotation or it simply rhymes with your name in a funny way. In any event, you don't get to choose your call sign and it isn't always sexy like the pilot names in the Hollywood films.  029_20140123_4868_DV_Embark_CVN70029_20140123_4868_DV_Embark_CVN70Helluva Call Sign Below: The Navy has its own police. These were the only crewman that I saw with sidearms. They were moving fast and I got out of their way. 030_20140123_4873_DV_Embark_CVN70030_20140123_4873_DV_Embark_CVN70Navy Po Po!

Anchors Aweigh!

The Vinson displaces almost 100,000 tons. Big ships require big anchors (and big chains). The anchors weigh 30 tons. Each link weighed in excess of 350 pounds. I did not try to move any links.

The Vinson is over 30 years old with an expected service life of 50 years. Constant maintenance keeps the ship clean and running smoothly. Having your favorite tunes on hand while you work makes the task a little easier to handle too (notice the earbuds below)

031a_AnchorsAweigh031a_AnchorsAweighAnchors Aweigh!

My Favorite Gym - With A View!

Vinson Media Center leader, Senior Chief Monica Hopper (pictured below) took us to her favorite gym on the ship. This gym had one helluva view and looked out directly over the water from the hangar deck.

© 2014 Philip GiordanoMy Favorite Gym With A View!Hangar Deck Gym © 2014 Philip GiordanoMy Favorite Gym With A View!Hangar Deck Gym © 2014 Philip GiordanoMy Favorite Gym With A View!Hangar Deck Gym

Dolphins swimming near the VinsonDolphins putting on a show for us

I want to give a big shout out to Senior Chief Monica Hopper for all of her help both during the embark and after. She has patiently answered my questions via email to help me verify facts and I want to extend my sincere thanks to her for her time and efforts. Monica, you rock!

© 2014 Philip GiordanoSenior Chief Monica HopperSenior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Hopper, Monica R. MCCS


We visited the Ready Room of one of the Helicopter squadrons, The Battlecats. Helo pilots LT Tyler "Beastmode" Sargent and CDR Peter "Repete" Riebe provided us with a briefing on the mission and capabilities of the Helos.

HSM-73 Battlecats Briefing (Helicopter pilots)CDR Pete "Repete" Riebe and LT Tyler "Beastmode" Sargent of HSM-73 Battlecats

Flight Deck Control

Flight Deck Control is where Aircraft Handling Officer LCDR Kyle Caldwell, A.K.A. "The Handler" works with his staff to keep track of the location and status of every aircraft on the flight deck and in the hangar deck. Only 9 other people in the world have a similar job. Surprisingly, there were no complicated electronic systems employed for these tasks. Instead, they use a "Oija Board" and something they call "Pinology".

The handler's primary tracking tool is the "Ouija Board," a two-level transparent plastic table with etched outlines of the flight deck and hangar deck. Each aircraft is represented by a scale aircraft cut-out on the table. When a real plane changes location, the handler moves the model plane accordingly. A tackle box full of pushpins, nuts, bolts, washers and wingnuts are placed on the aircraft cut-outs and serve as markers indicating various states of the aircraft (i.e., needs repair, needs fuel, ready to fly, etc), hence the term "Pinology".

Flight Deck ControlAircraft Handling Officer LCDR Kyle Caldwell "The Handler" in Flight Deck Control

Back To The Flight Deck - The Most Dangerous Place To Work

034_20140123_4785_DV_Embark_CVN70034_20140123_4785_DV_Embark_CVN70Beware of Jet Blast 034a_20140123_4802_DV_Embark_CVN70_HDR034a_20140123_4802_DV_Embark_CVN70_HDRFlight Deck 034b_20140123_4790_DV_Embark_CVN70_HDR034b_20140123_4790_DV_Embark_CVN70_HDRFlight Deck HDR 035_20140123_4829_DV_Embark_CVN70_HDR-2035_20140123_4829_DV_Embark_CVN70_HDR-2Flight Deck HDR

The Bridge

Throughout the entire time I was a guest aboard the Vinson, I was told, "This is your Navy. This is YOUR Navy". So when we finally arrived on The Bridge, I decided to ask if MY Navy wouldn't mind taking out a few people that have been aggravating me greatly. I requested a small air strike to take them out for me. After all, this is MY Navy, so why shouldn't I put them to work directly?

Below: Captain Jack Olive, Navigator of the Vinson attempted to explain why my request just "wouldn't fly". I failed to see his point and decided to take my request up to the next level and talk with the CO, Captain Whalen.

CAPT Jack Olive Navigator USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70)

Below: Captain Whalen listened intently to my request and then patiently explained why he thought this was not such a good idea to me.

Captain On Deck!CAPT Kent "Torch" Whalen Commanding Officer USS Carl Vinson

We Meet The Commander Of Carrier Strike Group One (CSG-1)

There was only one thing to do after my conversation with the CO - go over his head and take my request directly to the Admiral. Rear Admiral David F. Steindl, is the Commander of Carrier Strike Group One (CSG-1) of which the Vinson is the flagship. So I called a conference with the Admiral and invited the whole DV Group to discuss the matter...

Conference with Rear Admiral David F. Steindl, Commander of Carrier Strike Group OneIn the Admiral's Conference Room

The Admiral ushered us in to his command center and introduced us to his staff. Commander Gateau (pictured below) gave us an overview of the operation and kindly assisted me with acquiring coordinates for the air strike I was planning.

039_20140123_4865_DV_Embark_CVN70039_20140123_4865_DV_Embark_CVN70Admiral's Command Center. Commander Gateau explains operations

At this point, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I saw an opportunity and took advantage of the empty Big Chair on the Bridge and put my plans into effect. Ready the strike fighters!

I also have to say that I really liked the view from that office window - what do you think?

My Plans for World DominationFerb, I know what we're going to do today!

(cue ominous music) My plan was finally in motion and the Vinson crew was executing my orders like a well oiled machine. That is... until the admiral got wind of what I was doing...

Just before I could launch the fighters, Rear Admiral David F. Steindl put the brakes on the whole operation. However, as a consolation, I did get to pose with the Admiral for this sweet photo op!

Me and Rear Admiral Steindl

All Good Things...

If you've actually read this far...kudos to you and you are my new best friend!

Now I'll let you in on a little secret...that last bit about my little plan for an air strike was in jest.

However, the photos don't lie and I really did get to meet the fine officers in those pictures and I did get to sit in the Big Chair and enjoy the view onto the flight deck.

All good things must eventually come to an end and so it was with my trip of a lifetime aboard the Vinson. Our C-2 Greyhound soon arrived back on the deck ready to take us back to NAS in Coronado.

Our Ride HomeC-2 Greyhound Arrives On Deck

Just before we left the Bridge, I was very fortunate to witness a live fire exercise from several F/A-18 Hornets which had launched earlier. The Hornets were conducting target practice by strafing the ship's wake with their 20 mm cannons. I completely missed the first strafing run as I never saw or heard the aircraft. However, I was ready for the second run and caught this shot - dead on target! I never saw or heard this Hornet either, but those are real bullets hitting the water!

F/A-18 Hornet Strafes The WakeLive Fire Exercise - 20 mm cannon rounds hit the water

After some parting words from Captain Whalen and XO Captain Slaughter, we donned our cranials and collars and boarded the C-2 on the flight deck for the final highlight of our adventure...a catapult assisted launch off the deck of the Vinson!

045_20140122_0412_DV_Embark_CVN70045_20140122_0412_DV_Embark_CVN70Selfie On The Ride Home Aboard The C-2 Greyhound (COD) 046_20140122_0414_DV_Embark_CVN70046_20140122_0414_DV_Embark_CVN70The Ride Home Aboard The C-2 Greyhound (COD) 047_20140122_0416_DV_Embark_CVN70047_20140122_0416_DV_Embark_CVN70Selfie On The Ride Home Aboard The C-2 Greyhound (COD)

I told you I looked like a dork in that gear ;-)

Once again, we boarded the C-2 facing backwards in our seats. However, this time the backwards facing seats would not work in our favor. 3 to 4 times my full body weight would be on the four-point harness straps when the catapult launched us off the deck instead of sinking back into the padding of my seat. We were about to accelerate from 0 to 128 mph in about 3 seconds as we are flung off the deck and [hopefully] into flight. The worst part is that you have no idea exactly when the catapult will launch the plane. I tightened my straps almost to the point where I couldn't breath and leaned forward into the straps so that I wouldn't be slammed into the little bit of slack I had left. I bent my head down and crossed my arms over my chest. (I would have kissed my ass goodbye, but I couldn't reach). The crewmen inside with us indicated we were ready to go by raising their hands in the air and saying, "Here we go. Here we go. Here we go." You still have to wait a few seconds for the actual launch and this anticipation is the worst part, worse than the cat shot itself. The engines are at full power. When the catapult finally engages, you feel 3-4Gs press you into the straps for about 3 seconds. Even when you are ready for it, you still grunt against the force on the straps with 3 to 4 times your own body weight pressing you down.

And then it is over.

You feel light as the plane dips a bit and takes flight. You can't help but cheer after the cat shot and that's just what we all did - just like the coolest roller coaster ride you could ever imagine, except you share that ride with only about 0.01% of all the people in the world and that puts you in a very small, select group called the "Tailhookers".

The plane flies straight and low for about 5 miles because there are other aircraft above you in flight in the vicinity of the carrier. As soon as the C-2 clears the 5 mile mark, it banked and ascended quickly. To be honest, this kicked my ass more than the cat shot because my stomach dropped when we quickly ascended without any notice - no windows, no in-cabin announcement, just the drone of the engines in your ears while you sit backwards... in the dark. I got over it quickly, but have to laugh at the irony because I thought the cat shot would be harder to deal with, but in reality, it wasn't bad at all. The IDEA of it is both cool and scary, but it was actually pretty fun! 

30 minutes later, we arrived at NAS on Coronado Island safe and sound with a deeper appreciation for all those who serve and one helluva story to tell.


What Did I learn From This Experience?


It takes every member of the crew and air wing to carry out the mission and support operations aboard ship. The planes and technology are impressive, but ships don't sail and planes don't fly without the men and women to repair, maintain, equip, fuel, and operate them. It takes every one of them pulling together in order to succeed.

I saw men and women running with heavy gear and equipment the entire time I was on the fight deck or observing from above on Vulture's Row or from one of the Bridges. They do this for hours during flight operations. Flight operations usually begin between 10am-noon and may continue until midnight during training. Operations in a combat theater can go longer. Sailors do this every day while ensuring everyone's safety in a complex and chaotic ballet where hand signals are the main form of communication due to the unbelievably loud environment. Jet fuel and exhaust washes over you and stings your eyes. The roar of the jet engines is unbelievably loud even with double-hearing protection. Flight operations go on day and night. Pilots have told me that flying during the day is fun and challenging. At night it is downright terrifying. There is no frame of reference and when landing on the carrier, the edge of the deck is not lit so you only have some runway lights and the meatball to guide you. You rely on a plane captain (brown shirt) who is 20 years old to help you taxi and guide you to park the jet and not go off the edge of the deck into the ocean in pitch blackness. Every crewman on board the ship is doing his or her job to sustain flight operations and the operations of the ship.

There can be no success without teamwork.

© 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip GiordanoTeamwork


Every Man And Woman In Military Service Is A Hero

There is no doubt in my mind about the truth of this statement above. I have seen it first hand. They all volunteer to put themselves in harm's way so that every one of us may enjoy our freedoms. Freedoms many of us take for granted each day.

© 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip GiordanoHero


Freedom Is NOT Free

I sleep very well at night knowing that the men and women of our armed forces have the watch. I've seen first hand the sacrifice being made by those serving in our Navy (and their families). The training they undergo in order to be ready for deployments for months at a time, involve long hours under harsh and dangerous conditions. An air craft carrier flight deck is one of the most dangerous places to work. There are numerous ways to be injured or die during routine training while never even seeing combat. There are no weekends off. There is very little privacy and nowhere to go on the ship to 'get away' even when off duty. This is 24/7. Every one of them is a volunteer.

Read that again...



© 2014 Philip Giordano© 2014 Philip GiordanoLand of the Free Because of the Brave

Thank you to the U.S. Navy and the crew of the USS Carl Vinson for hosting me. You have my deepest gratitude for your service and sacrifice.

"Integrity, Honor, and Commitment to Excellence"


To all the men and women who serve our country - Thank You For Your Service!

Take a moment and thank a soldier the next time you see one - they all deserve our gratitude and our respect.


If you have questions or comments, please leave a comment on this post or post them to me via twitter: @GiordanoPhilip, or Google+: +PhilipGiordanoPhoto


If you are part of the extended CVN70 Vinson family, please leave a comment, or drop me a note via the contact page to let me know and accept my gratitude for your service or your support.


Please visit my CVN70 gallery for all 300 images from this amazing adventure.

Prints are available from this gallery at cost. No profit comes to me when fulfilled by the pro photo lab via my site orders.


To learn more:

USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70)

Wikipedia USS Carl Vinson CVN-70


USS Carl Vinson Facebook post:

Over the last underway, Carl Vinson hosted 189 distinguished visitors. We recently had the opportunity to view some of the photos one of our visitors took and thought you would enjoy them as well. This is life aboard a warship from a civilian's perspective:


Commander Naval Air Forces Distinguished Visitor Program

The VRC-30 Providers




My embarking to and from the USS Carl Vinson (CVN70) aircraft carrier was made possible via my nomination by Dennis Hall, founder of Avere Group LLC (, through collaborative referral to him by Guy Kawasaki ( and through recommendation for nomination by my good friend, Robert DeRobertis ( Dennis Hall initially submitted my nomination to the Public Affairs Officer of the US Navy’s Third Fleet. The Public Affairs Officer then referred my nomination to the Office of Public Affairs, Commander, US Pacific Fleet. The US Pacific Fleet selected me for the Distinguished Visitors Program, inviting me to embark.

Thanks to Andy Sernovitz. Robert DeRobertis came to his embark through Andy and Dennis working collaboratively.  They put together the embark to the USS Lincoln during April 2010, and Andy nominated Robert.  Afterward, Dennis followed up with Robert about ensuing embarks and Robert recommended me.

Andy Sernovitz is a 20-year veteran of the interactive marketing business. Andy writes an amazing newsletter and blog called Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That, and is author of the book Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking.

I would also like to thank Steve Fiebing, Deputy Public Affairs Officer for the Commander, Naval Air Forces – Pacific, US Pacific Fleet and his staff for his invitation and their coordination of my embark.

I would also like to acknowledge Captain Chuck Henry, USN (retired) who during 1998 while on active duty began mentoring Dennis Hall regarding Naval Air Forces opportunities for Distinguished Visitor embarks to aircraft carriers.

My thanks to my very good friend and wingman Robert DeRobertis for recommending me for nomination.

My thanks to Denise Duhamel for the loan of her Nikon D800 camera body. There is an old Italian saying (OK, its a joke) that states, "Friends help you move. Real friends help you move bodies." I'd like to amend this to add, "Real good friends loan you expensive camera bodies." Denise is a real good friend and talented photographer. Please check out her amazing photography:

I also want to thank my wife and daughter for their amazing support and encouragement. Pam and Jessie, you are my inspiration.


(Phil Giordano Photography) Aviation DV Distinguished Visitor Embark Military Navy USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier carrier Sat, 15 Mar 2014 17:01:00 GMT