View Full Version : Sandstorm moves to sea, causes Kitty Hawk to scrub flight operations

03-14-03, 06:21 AM
March 13, 2003

Sandstorm moves to sea, causes Kitty Hawk to scrub flight operations

By Mark D. Faram
Times staff writer

ABOARD THE CARRIER KITTY HAWK IN THE PERSIAN GULF — Sandstorms that have swept over the desert in Kuwait and made life miserable for soldiers and Marines living in tents now have blown out to sea and complicated the lives of American sailors as well.
Sandstorms aren't usually associated with the open sea, but in the early morning hours of March 13, "Shamal" winds blanketed the flight deck and aircraft with a gritty, brown dust, reducing visibility to almost zero and ending flight operations for the day.

The storm wasn't a complete surprise to the weather-forecasting sailors on the ship. According to Aerographer's Mate 2nd Class (AW) Jeremy Chitwood, from Ft. Payne, Ala., "We've seen this one coming for about two or three days now, but what caught us off guard was the intensity."

For those on the flight deck, that intensity caused a disruption in preparing for the next day's operations.

"We'd had a small storm a few days ago, but it was nothing like this," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate 1st Class (AW) Kenyatto Mayes, a flight deck aircraft director who hails from Atlanta. "At one point, you couldn't see from the arresting wire to the front of the island," a distance of 50 yards.

Mayes had planned to have his sailors move planes around in what flight deck workers call a "respot" and then use fire hoses and heavy brooms to scrub the flight deck. Flight operations had ended just before midnight, Mayes said. Just over an hour later, just as his sailors were starting to move aircraft, he said it got bad.

"It didn't really look like sand," he said. "It was more like a mist. Guys from the squadrons were scrambling out to cover intakes and any moveable points on the aircraft, such as joints on landing gear. Anything where the sand can get inside, it can cause problems."

Once everything was covered and all the aircraft had been tied down, everyone came inside, Mayes said, and it was quite a sight. "They were covered with this light brown powder. It was in their hair, making guys with dark hair look almost blond. It caked on their eyelashes. I've been in the Gulf three times and never saw anything like this."

Experienced weather sailors out here say that sandstorms are normal this time of year. But they normally taper off with the coming of spring, said Aerographer's Mate 1st Class Chris Martin, a weather forecaster in the Kitty Hawk meteorological office.

"The sand storm is caused by the winds that come behind a weather front," he said.

“All the military weather offices in the theater talk to one another using Internet relay chat so they can compare notes,” Martin said. This particular storm hit not only the Kitty Hawk, but also the other two aircraft carriers in the Gulf, the Constellation and the Abraham Lincoln.

As dawn broke on the Kitty Hawk, the ship's island and flight deck, as well as the aircraft, were covered with a fine brown dust. Fire hoses were broken out and sailors worked to wash down the flight deck and remove grit from the wings and canopies of their aircraft.

"These aircraft don't look so good after a storm like that," said Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class (AW) Duane Switalski, one of the squadron maintenance supervisors. His uniform was covered with dust as he crawled over an F/A-18 with rags in hand, cleaning every surface he could reach while two junior sailors assigned as plane captains helped.

So much cleanup was required that the ship's captain and the air wing commander decided to cancel flight operations scheduled for the afternoon. "It wasn't just the dust, but when you combine it with the visibility and the low ceiling, it was decided cancel flight operations for the day," said Lt. (j.g.) Nicole Kratzer, public affairs officer for Carrier Airwing 5.

But as with many things, this dark brown cloud had a silver lining.

"One nice thing about it, the sand did us a favor by soaking up a lot of the dirt and oils on the deck, making it easier for us to clean," Mayes said.

The effect, he said, was similar to what happens when a mechanic puts kitty litter on an oil spill. The oil is soaked in by the sand and then can be easily brushed or washed away.