It’s a bizarre sight, watching a man walking as if on land but with the vast ocean on all sides of him. He walks against the waves, nature subtly reminding humanity of their insignificant size.

He’s on the USS Carl Vinson, one of three Navy Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers stationed at Naval Air Station North Island, but now is navigating through the Pacific Ocean.

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Video created by Madeline Yang.

Aircraft carriers are the largest warships in the world, and they are used as a seagoing airbase, or a floating airport. Planes land with a cable system to hold them back and take off with a catapult system that helps propel them to the air. 

The Carl Vinson is also more famously known for being used in the original Top Gun movie that premiered in 1986. 

The man walking is only one of 5,000 aboard the ship. 

Navy personnel walking on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier. Staff photo by Madeline Yang.

But the ship is really just a drifting city. 

He seems to be making progress in his strides, but the deep blue creases of the water churning with teal foam below him reveal that he is limited by this sailing city he lives on. 

The USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) mainly operates in the Indo-Pacific region, one of 11 operational aircraft carriers in the Navy. 

Used for responding to piracy, terrorism and drug trafficking, among other threats, the carriers and their embarked air wings aim to counter the threats far from the nation’s shores, according to an informational packet given to the journalists. 

And The Coronado News had the special opportunity to experience a day and a night of life aboard one of these carriers. 

A F-18 flies overhead, preparing to land on the carrier. Staff photo by Madeline Yang.

Joining five other journalists from the San Diego Union Tribune, Univision, French aerospace magazine Air&Cosmos and two freelance journalists, The Coronado News boarded the ship to embark on its very first “deployment.”

See more photos from the USS Carl Vinson here.

Like an ant hill system, Public Affairs Officer Devin Arneson led the journalists up and down narrow stairs and hallways, through small doors and around hundreds of enlisted soldiers and officers. 

Although strategically compact below the flight deck, these carriers are at approximately the height of a 24-story building with the capabilities of holding more than 60 aircrafts at a time, according to Arneson.

And the United States is leading in their maritime technologies with the Carl Vinson and their 10 other aircraft carriers.  

China and the United Kingdom follow behind with two aircraft carriers each, and France is the only other nation with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. 

The United States’ aircraft carriers have a service life of 50 years, with new carriers currently being built, serving until a planned date of 2110. 

What the crew calls “the ouija board”, it is the map of every plane that lands or is held on the carrier, and where exactly it should be. It shows what that specific plane may need in terms of maintenance, fuel etc. Staff photo by Madeline Yang.

Commissioned since 1982, the Carl Vinson has been serving for just over 40 years, and it’s seen its fair share of history. 

The flight deck operator for CVN-70 led The Coronado News down the flight deck to reveal one of its most notable roles in history.  

He did not want to be named or officially interviewed. 

Spanning roughly three football fields long, he walked to about half of the way down the flight deck, slowly stopping at a group of padeyes, dark gray metal circles in the ground with cross sections meant as an attachment point for jets or helicopters.

One of them was different. It was painted red. 

He told The Coronado News that it was painted red in order to remember the night Osama bin Laden’s body was delivered to the Carl Vinson to be transported. 

The flight deck operator said that was where his body was when it arrived.

More than a decade later, the padeye remains continuously painted red.

The red padeye, signifying Osama bin Laden’s body on the USS Carl Vinson. Staff photo by Madeline Yang.

After exploring below deck for the rest of the day, the journalists made their way back up to the flight deck for flight operations. 

The sun was slowly meeting the sweeping horizon, and the sky was turning deep hues of pink and orange, resembling a scene straight from Top Gun. 

Planes started to appear around the carrier, flying in formation and circling it like birds, waiting for their turn to land. 

And suddenly, the grumble of an engine got louder and louder as an F-18 Advanced Strike-Fighter jet had its nose pointed straight towards the Carl Vinson. 

Posed against a pink and purple sky, the orange glow of the sun reflecting off the shine on its exterior, the F-18 came into focus. 

A F-18 preparing to land on the USS Carl Vinson. Staff photo by Madeline Yang.

A tailhook is attached to the plane, ready to grab a hold of one of four arresting wires, the cables that help stop the aircraft on the flight deck. 

Intimidating and beautiful, it descended, the size of the jet bringing with it violent winds splitting from the plane. 

It hooks the third cable and in under five seconds rolls to a stop. 

Flight deck personnel run after the jet to unhook it from the cable as it slowly moves to the side, ready for the next F-18 to make its descent onto the Carl Vinson. 

A Naval Aviator and Shooter, an officer that oversees the catapult system on the carrier who wanted to remain nameless, told The Coronado News that “this never gets old.” 

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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.