Nothing I’ve ever done, or probably will do, compares to the challenge, thrill and sheer adrenaline rush of landing a Navy jet on an aircraft carrier at sea.


S-3 Viking at the ramp


A carrier landing is perhaps the most demanding, precise and complex of pilot evolutions. It is terribly unforgiving of any shortcomings or inattention to detail.From a pilot’s “stick and throttle” perspective, landing on the pitching deck of
a carrier at sea has been shown to induce more stress than actual combat missions.

Seen from a broader perspective, the entire evolution is a shining example of a Team at its best and the epitome of employee engagement.

The flight deck of an aircraft carrier underway is one of the busiest and most dangerous airports in the world.

There is a constant cycle of catapult-assisted takeoffs (launches), arrested landings (recoveries) and flight deck evolutions (fueling, taxi, arming, etc). Aircraft landings, referred to as “traps”, happen every 30 to 45 seconds, often in “zip lip”, meaning no radio communications between ship and aircraft!

But the team doesn’t end there. The bridge crew must maintain the 92,000 ton ship on a steady course and speed to keep the “wind over the deck”. The engineering crew, using the ship’s nuclear power plant, must provide safe, reliable propulsion. Flight deck personnel must navigate a deadly, deafening maze of propellers, rotors, engine intakes and jet blast to catapult and land 25-ton aircraft on the postage-stamp-sized airfield. Specialized teams service aircraft, load ordnance, and perform complex maintenance tasks on everything from flight controls to weapons systems

To make this happen, the personnel of the carrier Team must operate with a collective understanding of the details of the mission, be thoroughly trained and capable of taking independent correct action. They must collaborate and act with split-second precision in the most demanding of environments. Certainly the Captain, from his position on the bridge, leads the entire enterprise with full authority, but if he were to attempt to micromanage the details he would jeopardize the success of the very operation for which he bears the ultimate responsibility.

The leadership lesson was clear.

A thoroughly trained and engaged Team, trusted and empowered to make decisions at their level, is critical to organizational success.

It is a lesson that I have carried with me from the flight deck to every leadership assignment.

Is your Team capable of independent decision-making and correct action in pursuit of Mission completion?

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