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Daily Express Editor-in-Chief James Sarda and this writer became “part of an extremely small group of 300 Malaysians” who have ever experienced being flown into an American aircraft carrier before being catapulted abruptly out of Super Carrier USS John C. Stennis in a C21 utility aircraft, Saturday, along with a small group of VIPs and Malaysian military top brass, said Lee McClenny, Deputy Chief of Mission from the United States Embassy.
The abrupt landing and abrupt take-off, which packs a 4 G-force, jolted and shocked the senses out of the novices in what was described as a “never thought of” experience, noted Major General Datuk Mohd Zaki B Mokhtar, Commander of First Division Infantry, East Malaysia, who was also onboard, besides Datuk Salleh Said Keruak, Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly, and Rahman Dhalan, MP for Kota Belud.
It took the C21 more than an hour to fly to the 97,000-ton and 1,092-foot Stennis where Rear Admiral Charles M Gaouette, Commander of Carrier Strike Group Three and Captain Ronald Reis, Commanding Officer of Super Carrier welcomed the privileged small Sabah group, who saw off-deck and up close on deck a slew of fighter-jet takeoffs and landings.
“The typical day is we start flying at noon and stop at midnight,” Admiral Gaouette said.
Asked if the fighter jets ever missed the catapults, Gaouette said: “Yes, every day!”
“This is why they land in full throttle because you don’t know it catches the catapult or not so that if they miss, they just go back up again,” he said “The real heroes are the sailors on deck, aged between 18 and 20, Admiral Gaouette said.
“We make sure they concentrate on what they are doing, not distracted and not complacent because there are many ways to get hurt.
The Planning Officers are always watching the winds, watching the pilots whether they are landing good or bad.”
Gaouette said the Stennis arrived in the South China Sea two days ago mainly to do training for its air wings.
“The water here is very favourable because of its low traffic and wide space,” he said.
USS Stennis, the centrepiece of a flotilla of warships under the command of Admiral Gaouette, carries a cargo of 100 pilots and 70 planes which include the F/A-18F Super Hornet, F/A-18C Hornet, the E-2C Hawkeye, C-2A Greyhound, EA-6B Prowler and helicopters such as the MH-60S Knighthawk and MH-60R Seahawak, and 5,500 sailors.
Powered by two nuclear reactors which generate 550MW each, the Stennis alone produces more electricity than the whole of Sabah combined (about 800MW)!
Given a top speed of 30 knots, it is given to rapid deployment.
Meanwhile, excitement is reaching a crescendo to welcome the first aircraft carrier to make a port of call on October in Kota Kinabalu where a big reception has been planned.
“This is very special and a bid deal because it marks the first time any aircraft carrier has visited Kota Kinabalu,” said Lee McClenny.
“Fundamentally, we are grateful to the Malaysian Government and the State Government for the invitation for the USS Stennis to come out to help build relationship between Malaysia and the United States, which is already strong but is getting stronger every day,” McClenny said.
“Borneo is a by-word for the exotics and the unusual and we expect a lot of economic injections into the local economy because the Stennis will be buying provisions here and sailors go on shore for a few days to shop and see the country,” McClenny said.