It had been 10 years since I had photographed flight deck operations abroad a US Navy aircraft carrier. My last adventure was aboard the USS Independence back during Operation Desert Shield in 1991. I was shuttled back and forth daily on ship’s mail plane as the Pool Photographer for the wire services.
This tour of duty however required me to live aboard something I had not done since I was a US Navy Photojournalist back in 1979.
The World Trade Center twin towers in New York city had been attacked by Muslim highjackers who had flown commercial airliners into the buildings. By late October I was hanging out in Bharain at a luxury hotel waiting for clearance from the US Navy Second Fleet to come aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which was operating in the Arabian Sea. This was by no means a cruise ship but a warship complete with attack and bomber aircraft and enough missile and bombs on board to wipe out most of the middle east.
Living onboard meant living with 20 US sailors in a sleeping compartment well below decks. Eventually I found myself sleeping in my clothes in the office space the US Navy had allowed. I was working long hours and napping in the office worked better for me. The one perk allowed, I dined daily with the ship’s Chief Petty Officers, a great bunch of men and women.
The navy was running bombing mission twice daily into Afghanistan. The best time for me to photograph the landings and takeoffs was at dawn. Night time flight operations were mostly out of the questions simply because it was too dark for the sensor in my digital cameras, an early version with a low mega pixel count.
I filed my report daily from the ship’s public affairs office via email. It was slow and I had to wait to hear from the AP through email if they had gotten the images ok. It took hours to get an “OK”. Working on the flight deck during flight operations is perhaps one of the most dangerous affairs in the world. One wrong move and you could find yourself blown overboard, sucked into a jet intake or roasted by exhaust. The other dangerous part is plane crash and you are usually standing very close to where it all happens. But I loved it, I managed to do some nice work. Eventually I was returned to Baharain and back to Bangkok.