The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is perhaps the most dangerous place on earth to work. The Navy ratings who work there risk death in any number of ways – propeller strikes, engine intake ingestion, ordnance explosion, fuel fire, arrestor cables removing limbs, aircraft losing control and on and on. Every few minutes a 35,000 pound airplane literally crashes to the deck, airplanes are moving, propeller discs are threatening decapitation or de-limbing. People are everywhere. Flame, heat, deafening noise, fumes, toxins and danger are omnipresent. On top of all this are layered high winds, driving rain, a heaving deck and even the dark of night. It’s not the place to be if you are preoccupied by something other than the one part you have in this choreographed mayhem. It’s not the place to be if you are not aware of your surroundings.
So why, then, is it that the aircraft carrier’s flight deck can also become a thousand foot long, thousand sailor-strong, sentimental Hallmark greeting card? How can the most dangerous working environment also be the same place that a crew can send a message to a little boy dying of cancer, or birthday greetings to a Queen, or even just letting their mothers know they are thinking of them. I am speaking of the long-entrenched and truly weird practice of the aircraft carrier spell-out. Tim Dubé, military historian and former Navy cadet explains the history of the spell-out: “ This is an evolution of the custom of „manning the rails”, itself an evolution of „manning the yards” when sailors would climb the masts and position themselves along the spars or yards to render honours. It’s also done as a form of honour when entering a harbour to show no hostile intent — if you are manning the rails, you can’t be manning the guns. With aircraft carriers not really having rails, it would make sense to „say it with sailors” particularly if there was a bridge to pass under, like the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco.”
Source: Vintage Wings of Canada
Photo: Vintage Wings of Canada
Author: Vintage Wings of Canada / Dave O’Malley