Watching jets land and planes take off from the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier under the brightest stars I’ve ever seen was a sight I never want to forget. 

I was a part of seven other journalists from San Diego, Orange County, Belgium and France that had the opportunity to spend a night on the USS Carl Vinson and see what life was like on board. 

To be honest, it was hard to be focused on the night operations when I was standing under the Milky Way, fully able to see the light variations and striations of our galaxy in the sky. 

But the roaring of the aircraft brought my gaze down to the E-2D Hawkeye preparing to be catapulted into the shimmering sky. 

The propellers turned near the front of the plane as personnel ran around it, ensuring all the takeoff gear was ready to go. 

Night operations on the USS Carl Vinson. Staff photo by Madeline Yang.

And as soon as I saw the plane, it was gone. There didn’t seem to be much runway, but the E-2D lifted into the air and disappeared among the sky.

Leaving behind trails of wind and cloud, the next plane pulled up, shrouded in fog. It swirled around, but for the most part stayed in thick streaks, streamlining past the E-2D. 

This was the second flight operation we had watched today, so after about half an hour, we made our way back under the flight deck.

The best way I could describe the inside of the ship is like a human body. Hallways and corridors like veins and arteries systematically connect every room to another. 

Hundreds of enlisted and officers flowed through the hallways like blood vessels, splitting into different paths like the blue veins in our hands. 

In this analogy, the journalists and I were like cholesterol building in the body, little bundles of plaque blocking personnel from moving as they needed, but we were met with nothing but patience and helpfulness as we stumbled through the raised doors. 

And at night, the ship played into the analogy as the white lights turned a deep hue of red and illuminated the entire space below deck, simulating night time. 

Below deck on the USS Carl Vinson at night. The lights turn red to simulate night time. Staff photo by Madeline Yang.

We were woken at 6 a.m. to eat breakfast with the rest of the crew in their ward room, or cafeteria. 

Groups of enlisted and officers in different colored jumpsuits sat in a large room, sounds of conversation and cutlery coming together in an orchestra of people’s days either beginning or ending. 

Our Public Affairs Officer led us to a balcony, for lack of a better word, off the side of the boat.

There was something special about to happen that not even most of the people on board had seen before. 

We stepped out onto the balcony and almost immediately saw a large cruiser trailing behind the Carl Vinson. 

It was the USS Princeton, a missile cruiser that was about to use the Carl Vinson as a gas station. 

This was called a replenishment at sea (RAS). 

The USS Princeton missile cruiser slowly sailing up next to the USS Carl Vinson to receive fuel. Staff photo by Madeline Yang.

Long thick black tubes resembling tentacles hung from an opening on the side of the aircraft carrier. Like anything large that moves, the tubes swung heavily in the wind.

As the Princeton pulled parallel to the carrier, a loud bang was heard as the cruiser shot over a long wire that would eventually be used to pull the black tubes over to their side, siphoning the fuel over. 

This process would take around an hour, and the Princeton would pull out filled with fuel, and slowly disappear into the horizon. 

The USS Princeton. Staff photo by Madeline Yang.

Our day was coming to an end and we were getting ready to hop on a V-22 Osprey, a helicopter that would fly us back to land and complete the experience. 

As we walked onto the flight deck, the rotors blew air violently towards us, the engine thundering through our headgear. 

We took our seats and strapped ourselves tightly to the helicopter, and someone came around to double check we were all secure.


The door to the aircraft would stay open during our flight. 

The Osprey took off and before we knew it, the entirety of the Carl Vinson came into view. 

Pulling away from the aircraft carrier like that was an incredible sight. 

The USS Carl Vinson from the Osprey. Staff photo by Madeline Yang.

I kept my eyes glued to the opening of the Osprey for as long as I could, wanting to take in the sheer power of the floating city we just spent 24 hours on. 

I don’t know if this makes sense, but the carrier seemed so much bigger when I saw it smaller from above. I could see everything, every part of it at once, and I could see the force that was the USS Carl Vinson. 

If I couldn’t explain my experience on the carrier well enough, just think about this: 

If there was one thing that I learned from my experience on the USS Carl Vinson, it would be that “Top Gun: Maverick” is very accurate to real life and how it is on the ship, according to most of the personnel on the boat, anyway.

So, for an added visual, just picture all the scenes from that movie, and you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of what being on the carrier felt like.

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Madeline Yang is a reporter for The Coronado News, covering the City of Coronado, the U.S Navy and investigating the Tijuana/Coronado sewage issue. She graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University with her Bachelors in Journalism with an emphasis in Visual Storytelling. She loves writing, photography and videography and one day hopes to be a filmmaker. She can be reached by phone at 916-835-5843.