A Slice of Life on Board an Aircraft Carrier

The most impressive thing about a Navy aircraft carrier is just how massive it is. When it’s fully crewed, a carrier can house way over 5,000 men. So, if you think about it, that’s literally the size of a small city at sea.

aircraft take off from carrier
Source: Shutterstock

Once you realize that the carrier is more or less like a small city, it puts things in perspective when trying to understand how such a large operational and organizational system works. Have you ever wondered what each crew member does aboard such a large carrier?

Commanding Officer aka The ‘Mayor’

At the very top, and what is the equivalent to a city’s mayor, is the ship’s Commanding Officer. The Commander is responsible for the entire carrier and the achievements of its assigned missions.

overseeing the ships air wing on an aircraft carrier
Source: Imgur

Did you know that a Navy aircraft carrier must be qualified as either a naval flight officer in the rank of a captain or a naval aviator? Yeah, neither did I.

The Executive Officer

Next in line and acting as a city’s manager would be the Executive Officer. The executive officer has a lot of responsibilities on their hands.

Looking out through ships window on an aircraft carrier
Source: Pinterest

He is responsible for organizing the combat training, the ship’s defenses, interactions between various combat units, and much more.

The Backbone

The Administrative team is responsible for the paperwork necessary for the carrier to function accurately. These functions include recreational and regular data processing, police, and postal services.

Reading over documents on an aircraft carrier
Source: wikimedia.org

The team handles a few other services such as the ship’s Public Affairs Office, television, radio stations, handling of personal records, and visiting Naval Reserve personnel.

Air Department

This Department provides direct support to the embarked air wing. They oversee the launching and landing of the aircraft, fuel, and maintaining variable wings.

Wearing color-coded clothes on an aircraft carrier
Source: wikimedia.org

This team is also responsible for the everyday handling of the aircraft on the flight deck and in the hangar bays.

Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD)

AIMD’s mission is to provide maintenance repair, restoration, and support services to all Shipboard and Strike Force asset customers while incorporating Airspeed principles in support of Cost-Wise Readiness and Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) initiatives.

Fixing a weapon on an aircraft carrier
Source: Pinterest

Their daily jobs include repairs on aircraft engines, the assembling of propellers, hydraulic components, metal, and composite aircraft structures, aviation life support systems, and personal survival equipment. And that’s only a fraction of their daily tasks.

Chaplains at Sea

The Chaplain Religious Ministry Department are sailors aboard aircraft carriers who provide the place and resources for the spiritual needs of the crew.

Frank Foley, command chaplain aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, begins communion during a Roman Catholic Mass.
Source: wikimedia.org

There are several Chaplains aboard the carrier to facilitate spiritual support for all Sailors of all faiths; Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, or any other religion.

Communications Department

This team sends and receives messages to and from other ships, aircraft, and shore facilities via various sophisticated electronic equipment.

Dealing with electronic equipment on an aircraft carrier
Source: breakingdefense.com

The apparatus includes satellites, computers, cryptographic devices, and high-power transmitters and receivers.

Deck Department

The Deck Department has the most traditional maritime responsibilities. Enlisted ‘Boatswain’s Mates,’ preserve the exterior of the ship’s surfaces, anchor and secure it, man lifeboats and rescue boats, and monitor ongoing replenishment.

Tightening ropes on an aircraft carrier deck
Source: Pinterest

Their most frequent duty is the ‘piping away’ of different events over the ship’s intercom. The ship’s First Lieutenant leads this department. (This happens to be a job title that’s not to be confused with the Army, Air Force or Marine Corps rank of O-2).

Dental Department

The Dental Department provides comprehensive dental care, including simple preventative care through emergency services for all embarked crew members.

Grabbing a dental tool on an aircraft carrier
Source: nara.getarchive.net

However, only large ships like carriers and amphibious warfare ships have supplied Dental Departments. Along with Medical and Supply, these departments are known as support departments.

Maintenance Management Department

The Maintenance Management Department oversees the scheduling and coordinating of all the off-ship maintenance.

Supervising a ship docking on an aircraft carrier
Source: news.usni.org

For example, they maintain repairs at the shipyards or dry docks and propose organic maintenance ship-wide.

Medical Department

The Medical Unit is responsible for preserving the health of the embarked crew. The head of this unit must be an officer of the Navy Medical Corps. Also, the Medical Officer Counsels with the ship’s CO regarding hygiene and sanitation conditions.

Standing in a medical care room on an aircraft carrier
Source: wikimedia.org

Smaller vessels might not have an embarked Medical Officer, in which case Hospital Corps employees maintain the unit under the administrative auspices of the Operations Department.

The Navigation Department

The enlisted navigation Quarter Masters, QMs, and the vessels assigned navigators to update the CO and the Officer-of-the Deck on the direction of travel and the safest sea routes.

Overseeing screen on an aircraft carrier
Source: wikimedia.org

Calculations are made using celestial navigation, visual reports, and electronic machinery. The Navigation Department is also liable for implementing all military traditions, customs, and honors on board.

Operations Department

The Operations Department is responsible for gathering, documenting, analyzing, and distributing combat information vital to the achievement of the ship’s offensive and defensive missions.

Analyzing maps on an aircraft carrier
Source: doncio.navy.mil

The head of this vital unit is the ship’s Operations Officer. This person is one of the busiest people aboard. Intelligence, photographic intelligence, air traffic command, and missile system maintenance are forms of services delivered by this unit.

Safety Department

The Safety unit oversees ongoing education and training programs, equipment dangers, procedural risks, and accident prevention. It is found only on aircraft carriers.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Samantha Finstad acts as the aircraft elevator safety during ordnance transport operations in the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf, Oct. 27, 2016.
Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew J. Sneeringer / dod.defense.gov.

As mentioned before, a ship can be a dangerous place of work. While aboard, they need to be constantly aware of maintaining posted safety regulations and procedures.

Supply Department

This department is the vessels ‘supply system’ if you will. This team is directed by a member of the Navy Supply Corps. The Supply Department oversees the feeding and expenses of the ship’s crew.

Organizing supplies on an aircraft carrier
Source: navylive.dodlive.mil

They also handle the running of ship’s wardrooms and messing spaces. This team handles the barbershops, laundry and dry-cleaning amenities, stores, and recreation services.

Training Department

This department oversees the continued advancement exams, reenlistments, and coordination of individual schools.

Comrades being addressed by a commander
Source: wikimedia.org

They also handle general damage control and 3M training (Maintenance Material Management).

Weapons Department

And finally, we have the weapons unit. This team operates and maintains the various weapon systems onboard.

Testing weapons on an aircraft carrier
Source: dvidshub.net

The unit assembles, test and maintain bombs, torpedoes, missiles, and small weapons ammunition. However, on smaller vessels, this department could fall under the Deck Department.

Air Wing Organization

If someone has been assigned to a unit with an embarked aircraft, it would be beneficial to familiarize yourself with their organization skills. It’s kind of like understanding how a city would run if you were an alien.

A French rafale fighter prepares to launch from an aircraft carrier in the ocean
Source: Shutterstock

However, coming back to the ‘organization topic.’ The embarked aircraft units retain their primary organization and corporate identity.

Air Wing Commander

The (CAG) is responsible for the readiness and tactical performance of the air wing. However, he isn’t directly under the carrier’s commanding officer. Instead, he is a co-commanding officer.

Posing in front of an aircraft
Source: MyCentralJersey.com

The commander oversees the coordination and observation of all activities, and for the material readiness, communications, and intelligence functions of the air wing.

Operations Officer

An Operations Officer supervises training, readiness, and the operations of all air wing squadrons.

Overlooking the air wing on an aircraft carrier
Source: Pinterest

The officer also standardizes operational procedures among units, coordinates and creates operational contingency strategies, and supervises the execution of those plans.

The Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command

They are responsible for the command and management of the Naval Oceanography Program, which utilizes meteorology and oceanography, GI&S, and precise time and astrometry.

Soldiers holding a torpedo underwater
Source: militarynews.com

They do this to leverage the environment to enable effective strategic, tactical, and operational battlespace utilization across the continuum of campaigning and at all levels of war – strategic, operational, and tactical.

The Air Intelligence Officer

The air wing Intelligence Officer is responsible for the gathering, preparation, and communication of intelligence material.

Aircrafts taking off the carrier
Source: defense.gov

All this work is to assist CAG in planning and executing operations with air assets. He also directs and supervises the Mission Planning (MP) work center.

Maintenance Officer

The maintenance individual oversees the monitoring and coordinating the air wing assets maintenance.

Assisting on the aircraft wing
Source: wikimedia.org

They also ensure that all necessary equipment and spare parts which are required by the units are available.

Weapons Officer

The officer advises the CAG on handling, loading, and expenditure of weapons, which is employed by the air wing.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Ashley Wilson, from Macon, Mo., pushes a GBU31 bomb onto an aircraft elevator aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower
Source: news.usni.org

He will also assist the units in all matters which relate to the weapons handling as well as employment.

Landing Signal Officers

For this small team, there happens to be two (LSOs) who are usually assigned to the air wing.

Aiding pilots to land
Source: wikimedia.org

They regularly coordinate with pilots to improve recoveries, such as landing, safety awareness, and operations.

Flight Surgeon

I know we have already discussed the medical center. However, this flight surgeon provides medical assistance to the men as well as officers of the air wing.

Helping an injured person in on an aircraft carrier
Source: defense.gov

The surgeon is responsible for updating the CAG with particular health or medical problems that could affect the air wing.

Air Wing Intelligence Team

This unit consists of the squadron intelligence officers and intelligence specialists who were assigned to the units in the air wing.

U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Sara Everett a Combat Direction Center watch officer reviews intelligence slides aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan
Source: wikimedia.org

The Air wing Intelligence Officer is the leader of this unit and as such, is the Mission Planning Coordinator.

Engineering Department

This department, known as the Engineering Department, maintains the ship’s power plants providing steam for propulsion and aircraft launch catapults.

Engineers below deck
Source: wikimedia.org

The department also maintains the life support systems such as freshwater, telephone service, air conditioning, ventilation, heating, hot water, electrical power, and keeps the ship’s sewage system. The ship’s Chief Engineer heads this department.

Deputy Air Wing Commander

The essential duty of the Deputy CAG is to be of assistance to the CAG, acting in effect as his executive officer.

Commanders shaking pilots hand
Source: US National Archives

The Chief of Staff will ensure the activities and functions of the CAG staff adhere to the desires of the CAG.

Small Boat Operations

Depending on the vessel, small boat operations in naval combat refers to operations in and around the littoral zone.

Navy comrades on small boats
Source: wikipedia.org

They usually operate within a certain distance of shore, carried out by small but fast and highly maneuverable boats.

Ammunition Cleanup

Some men were assigned to jobs like picking up fired shells after practicing in a live-fire exercise.

Picking up shells of the floor on an aircraft carrier
Source: Pinterest

Do you know why this is so crucial? If the enemy had to attack, they wouldn’t be able to use their ammunition or shells against them.

Manning the Rail

Sailors manning the rail is a technique for saluting or rendering honors used by naval vessels. Isn’t that cool?

Men standing around the rails of the ship
Source: Pinterest

They usually man the rails when entering or leaving ports. The tradition evolved from ‘manning the yards,’ which comes from the days of sailing.


Welcome to the board of inspections and surveys. This department inspects our Navy ships providing feedback on the vessel’s readiness.

Officer checking the vessels readiness
Source: wikipedia.org

This happens to be a detailed inspection that investigates if the ship holds navy standards and determines readiness in myriad areas.

The Lookout

The ‘lookout person’ is a comrade who was appointed to monitor everything within an assigned section.

Viewing the deck on an aircraft carrier
Source: Pinterest

They are required to report everything they see happening inside or hear from that section. They need to keep the Deck Officer, and the Combat Information Center watch officer updated on everything.

Weapon Certification Course

This course provides training, instructions, and basic knowledge of non-lethal weapons’ characteristics, employment, policy, and their applications in a wide variety of military operations.

Practicing fighting with non-lethal weapons
Source: Pinterest

The course can be taken online. The interactive multimedia instruction is intended to acquaint Service members with non-lethal weapons.

OW Division

OW Division analyzes data collected from the electromagnetic spectrum. If that was hard to understand, I’m with you.

Sitting by computers on an aircraft carrier
Source: navylive.dodlive.mil

The unit’s mission is to detect, identify, and classify air, surface, and subsurface contacts via passive detection. Meaning, aided using electronic support measures (ESM) equipment.

Biomedical Scientist

These scientists help care for survivors at the scene of a natural disaster. Conducting blood transfusions in conflict zones where trauma patients need lifesaving treatment.

A scientists assisting a survivor
Source: Pinterest

Wherever they are, and whatever they’re up against, as a Royal Navy Biomedical Scientist, they’ll support our medical teams with an essential clinical laboratory service.

Environmental Protection Specialist

The purpose of the position is to plan and carry out a variety of established project or program activities to ensure compliance with environmental laws and regulations or to improve the administration of environmental protection programs.

Navy cleaning garbage
Source: newswire.com

This department oversees and responds to spillage, perform regularity visits and inspections, administer environmental protection programs, determine if and how much the navy impacts the environment, implement corrective actions, and so on.

Underwater Construction Team

The Underwater Construction Team provides a capability for construction, inspection, repair, and maintenance of ocean facilities in support of Naval and Marine Corps operations, to include repair of battle damage.

Fixing the ship’s propeller
Source: wikimedia.org

Maintain capability to support a Fleet Marine Force (FMF) amphibious assault, subsequent combat service support ashore, and self-defense for their camp and facilities under construction. In the time of emergency or disaster, conduct disaster control and recovery operations.