I thought the question was similar to enough to the question that Matthew Lee answered to justify a merge but Quora disagreed. I still think that:
Is applicable to this question and pretty d*mn good. Link above and reproduced below for those that prefer not to click.
This is called an ‘Alpha Strike’.
And tl;dr: Somewhere between 20–40 minutes depends on the crew. An average would be 30 minutes.
When a Carrier conducts an ‘Alpha Strike’, it would muster all of the air-worthy assets on deck (Not below deck), prep them all for launch, and kick them off of the catapults as quick as possible to raise hell. Anything that can be brought up deck, from any squadrons would be mobilised.
But in an atypical situation, an Alpha Strike only consists of roughly half of the active aircraft sitting on the Carrier. The other half will be on-station for when the first batch returns, they will be ready for launch immediately in a fluent cycle.
For this scenario, though, since everything is launched … it’s, I don’t know, Alpha Strike Times Two?
The coordination would be unbelievable, and in order to conduct one of these, the entire Carrier must be working in such an orderly and quick fashion that it’ll make the Chinese parade looks like a joke.
Okay, it won’t be that coordinated: There are going to be a lot of swearing and yelling involved, but I don’t think marching in an orderly fashion would get your army anywhere but being mowed.
I’d talk through the entire scenario as if it’s a complete surprise i.e. a surprise attack that demands an Alpha Strike. So no schedule, no reviews,… just pure actions trying to get all the multi-ton jets into the air.
From the Island (Control Tower), the helmsman would steer the Carrier into the wind. The lee helmsman (Think co-pilot) would direct engine so that the Carrier maintains a healthy 20–25 knots upwind.
This is done so that air speed of launching aircraft is increased.
Landing jets would benefit from the speed the Carrier is moving at, as well. While landing, these jets would be very near to its stall speed, so having the Carrier moving to catch up would ensure safe operation.
In a real Alpha Strike scenario, you wouldn’t want you Carrier to sit duck anyway.
Next, whoever that’s rated to fly would be called upon for a brief of the situation, doctors cleared their health for flying (They’ll probably just wing it if it’s an emergency), get themselves suited up, and they also have to do a brief assessment of their designated jet before they can be launched.
Aviators and pilots have scramble exercises all the time, so you can expect at most 10 minutes before everyone is suited up and ready. Including the people who was not on-station.
If the bad guys were unlucky enough to catch a Carrier while it’s on duty, there’d already be a portion of aviators who are already suited up. These guys would make the first batch to be readied for launch, followed by those who weren’t prepped.
Next, to check, refuel, arm, move the jet deckside through the elevators from the hangar deck. For those who don’t know, the hangar deck is right below the top deck where ordnances, jets, and all sorts are stored.
Maintenance crews keep a very close look on aircraft from the moment they’re landed, to when they’re launched to keep them battle-ready. When the time arises, there won’t be a lot of time to check and recheck records. It’ll be quite a breeze.
If the Carrier was conducting flight ops, a portion of these jets would already be prepped in various configurations.
And of course, these would be prioritised for launch first after a quick check. The ones who were yet to be readied would stay behind, and depends on their status, would be queue up accordingly.
This is the most tricky part, because the hangar crews will need to communicate closely with the deck, so that once the first group is launched, there will be another batch of jets coming up right away for launch.
And these two crews will have to connect closely with Pri-Fly (Primary Flight Control) on the Island so that the Air Boss and the mini Air Boss would know how to organise the deck for a fluent traffic.
Even though a Carrier’s deck is large, it’s quite small when you consider the size of these jets.
The jets are organised through a model table like this, called the ‘Ouija Board’.
Without coordination, an Alpha Strike would turn into a cluster-f*** very quickly for the amount of jets on-deck and queuing. One wrong move or miscommunication and there would be a traffic jam, bringing down the operational tempo drastically.
Blue jerseys (Handlers) would move the jets through the hangar by tractor trailers onto these giant elevators and bring them up deck.
From there, they would be armed by sailors in red jerseys (Red shirts — yeah, Star Trek, I know). These guys handle the weapons.
Through a small elevator, bombs and missiles of all sorts would be brought up deck and stored in a small section next to the Island. This place is called: “the Bomb Farm”.
They’d check the integrity of the weapons and proceed to load them up.
Then the purple jerseys (Grapes) would plug them up to fill their bellies with jet fuel.
After that, they’re linked up with their respective pilots.
A new Gerald R. Ford’s carrier can carry 75+ aircraft of multiple types. The time it would take to bring six air-worthy jets deckside would be around 5 minutes, utilising two elevators starboard side, and another port side elevator.
At one point, and with good organisation, you can have 20 jets on-deck at the same time — so 75% of an average Alpha Strike that would compose of half the air wing.
Let’s say that you have no jets on-deck by the time of the scramble, it would only take roughly 10 minutes before the deck is filled. And speedy enough, you can plug up fuel and everything else in another 5.
This is only for the first batch, later batches will be far quicker as they’ll also have to wait for the first to be armed and readied for launch. In that time waiting, everything will be prepped for the later batches downstairs.
So for later groups, you can reasonably expect groups of jets to be brought up, fitted, and lined up for launch to be in around 5 or so minutes as the activities kick in.
There are four catapults on a modern Nimitz-class and the newer Gerard R. Ford. While the older Nimitz uses steam catapult, the newer GRF uses electromagnetic catapult, which is quicker and more powerful.
Yellow jerseys (Aircraft directors) would herald the jets to their respective catapults, and green jerseys (Catapult operators) would make sure that the jet is locked properly onto the catapult’s shuttle, and that the catapult is set to the weight of the aircraft.
White shirts would ensure that everything is safe for launch. These guys are inspectors and safety observers.
The ‘Shooter’ — or the Catapult Officer in yellow jersey would see whether everything is fitted where it’s supposed to be by voting.
The Jet Blast Deflector (JBD) are raised. These would ensure that the hot jet wash wouldn’t kill anyone standing behind it.
When the green jerseys give a thumb up, saying that the catapult is hot, the white jerseys give a thumb up verifying everything is good, he would do this cool pose that had earned this position the nickname ‘Shooter’:
…and they’d be off.
Only three can be launched at once. The fourth catapult intersected with the third, so it will have to wait until the jet on the third catapult is a safe distance away before launching.
The first and second catapults are the black tracks at the foremost bow of the Carrier.
While the third and fourth catapults run through the port side of the Carrier on to the landing track, you can see that they closely intersect each others and if two jets were launched at the same time from these two catapults, they’d headbutt at the end of the track.
And while the first batch was being criticised and the catapults heating up, the second batch of the jets will be parked right behind the JBDs. The moment the first group is away, they’d be immediately moved into place fluently.
You can expect to see four launches per minute after the deck is filled with active aircraft and all hands are on-board … and everyone is really pumped with adrenaline.
An atypical air wing will also have a helicopter squadron of about 6–8 Sea Hawks. They can be sent away quicker, and all 8 would be off deck in 10 mins or so.
Good scenario is after the first batch is away in about 15 mins, you can expect a cyclic operation and 75 aircraft will be away in another 15 as everything is lined up.
So over half an hour for all, more or less.
After that, the deck will be prepared for landing with the arrestors strung out, and the Meatball (Optical Landing System) to prepare for recovery.
General Consensus: Deck Party.
If you like this answer you may also like some of my other answers below.
Alastair Majury resides locally in the historic Scottish city of Dunblane, and is a Principal Consultant and a Senior Regulatory Business Analyst working across the country. Alastair Majury also serves on the local council (Stirling Council) as Councillor Alastair Majury where he represents the ward of Dunblane and Bridge of Allan, topping the poll.
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