Fleet Replacement Squadron Carrier Qualifications Aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln CVN-72

Story and Photos by Peter Boschert

USS Abraham Lincoln CVN-72 is the fifth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Like most current U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, it was named after a United States president. The vessel was ordered on December 27, 1982, keel laid on November 11, 1989, built by Newport News Shipbuilding Company in Newport News, Virginia. The ship was commissioned on November 11, 1989. Aircraft carriers are usually planned for a service life of 50 years.

Additionally, besides some short shipyard layovers, each of the carriers must return to the shipyard once during its service for a much more extensive overhaul, the so-called Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH), according to Newport News. As a half-time overhaul, it takes place after about 23 years of use. The RCOH takes about four years complete. During this overhaul, the nuclear fuel of the reactors is renewed so that there is enough fissile material for the operation of the reactors in the second “half of life”. Many rooms are modernized, and external work on the ship also takes place. In addition, the entire hull will be repainted, and the propellers and rudders will be refurbished. The aircraft carrier will relocate at Newport News Shipbuilding, where the RCOH work is carried out, costing about two billion dollars per ship for over 20 million man-hours. More than half of the Nimitz carriers have undergone the overhaul.

After being handed over to the US Navy, the USS Abraham Lincoln came to her new home port in Everett/Washington and remained there until August 2012. The USS Abraham Lincoln took the lead in the Iraq war in 2003 with the Carrier Air Wing 14. While the ship was already on its way back to the United States, U.S. President George W. Bush landed on it on May 1, 2003, aboard an S-3B Viking. In connection with this visit of the President, there was a call sign of “Navy One” for the first time. 

In August 2012 she arrived at the East Coast/Norfolk/Virginia. In March 2013 she arrived at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding for Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH). The Abraham Lincoln was returned to the US Navy on August 15, 2017, CVW-7 came on board and the ship was part of the Atlantic Fleet until January 20, 2020. From August 19-30, 2018, filming of mega hit TOP GUN: Maverick was shot on board, in addition came F-35C of the VFA-101 “Grim Reapers”, the first visit of F-35 on the Abraham Lincoln (Operational Test 1).

In January 2020, CVN-72 returned to the West Coast and San Diego/California is the new home port. In the course of this, a CVW of the Pacific fleet came on board, Carrier Air Wing 9 is now part of the Abraham Lincoln.

This list of CVW-9 is up to date, F-35C Lightning II and also CMV-22B Osprey fly on board. Note: the assigned F-35C squadron is a Marine Corps squadron (VMFA)

CVW-9 (NG)

VFA-41 “Black Acers” F/A-18F Modex 100

VFA-14 “Tophatters” F/A-18E Modex 200

VMFA-314 “Black Knights” F-35C Modex 300

VFA-151 “Vigilantes” F/A-18E Modex 400

VAQ-133 “Wizards” EA-18G Modex 500

VAW-117 “Wallbangers” E-2D Modex 600

HSC-14 “Chargers” MH-60S Modex 610

HSM-71 “Raptors” MH-60R Modex 700

VRM-30 DET.2 “Titans” CMV-22B

Training Mission:

VFA-122 Flying Eagles F/A-18F Modex 100

VFA-125 Rough Raiders F-35C Modex 400

VAQ-129 Vikings EA-18G Modex 500

On August 19, 2021, Captain Amy Bauernschmidt took command of the carrier. She is the first woman to become commander of a U.S. aircraft carrier. Amy Bauernschmidt holds the rank of captain in the U.S. Navy. She previously worked for many years as a helicopter pilot with over 3000 flight hours. From 2016 to 2019, she served as the officer on the USS Abraham Lincoln.

When on deployment overseas, each aircraft carrier is a part Carrier Strike Group, the USS Abraham Lincoln is assigned to Carrier Strike Group 3 (CSG-3), also known as the ABE CSG. The Strike Group includes aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln CVN 72, Carrier Air Wing 9, Destroyer Squadron 21, the Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) and Chosin (CG 55), and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald DDG 62, USS Gridley DDG 101, USS Sampson DDG 102, USS Spruance DDG 111, USS Preble DDG 88, USS Momsen DDG 92.

The aircraft carriers of the Nimitz class have a crew of 3000 people for the carrier and about 2000 crewmembers for the carrier air wing. Currently, the CVW-9 has about 32 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and 12c F-35C Lightning II fighters on board, 5 EA-18G Growler and 4 E-2D Hawkeye, plus 8 MH60R and MH-60S helicopters. 

In addition, the Carrier Wing 3 operates with the CMV-22B Osprey. The Ospreys supply the carrier daily with smaller spare parts, personnel or mail; they never linger on deck, but fly back to land again and again. The CMV-22B is used for search and rescue operations as well as to support the ship’s supplies and are quite new to the fleets. Currently only 3 CVWs are equipped with it. The C-2A Greyhound will continue be used, but it is the oldest aircraft in the US Navy and has to take off with a catapult. The Osprey can start off vertically due to its tilt rotors and thus you are not dependent on the catapult systems. The CMV-22B has, in contrast to the MV-22’s 860 nautical mile range, a range of 1150 nautical miles, due to larger fuel tank. There are 44 units planned for the US Navy.

Each carrier is its own city, shops, churches, dental laboratories, hospital, police, fire brigade, prison, television and news channels; you will find everything one finds in a city. Basically, you are able to organize and execute everything yourself. Whether it be the crew operations, or the maintenance of aircraft, the ships are prepared for all eventualities. The daily shipboard tasks are clearly distributed, each department has a commander, who then reports to the captain.

The chefs carry a large share of “good mood” on board, as the carrier can be away from home for months. With little free time and with no privacy, the food must be good! Some 20,000 meals are served daily, 280 kg of hamburger meat and over 2,000 eggs are fried per day, up to 800 loaves of bread are baked and around 350 kg of vegetables are cooked. In addition, 400 kg of fruit are consumed. Food can be stored on board for up to 90 days. There are several canteens, but the officers have their own quarters for themselves. On a combat cruise, the carriers are regularly filled by supply ships, where tons of fresh food, spare parts and up to 7 million liters of fuel arrive.

During my visit, the CVN-72 was on a training mission, pilots of the training squadrons were learning how to take off and land day and night on the aircraft carrier. Aircraft took off and then landed back aboard the ship until their pilots got their carrier qualification. Later, they’d complete their training, and were transferred to the active units. 

For this purpose, aircraft of the training squadron VFA-122 “Flying Eagles” (F/A-18E/F Super Hornet) and VFA-125 “Rough Raiders” (F-35C Lightning II) from Naval Air Station Lemoore and VAQ-129 “Vikings” (EA-18G Growler) from NAS Whidbey Island were on board. In addition to the aircraft and crews, the maintenance crews of the respective squadrons also come on board.

The -72 returned to North Island in August 2022 after a 7-month deployment in support of maritime security operations in the U.S. Navy 3rd and 7th Fleets operational areas. The more than 8,500 seafarers assigned to CSG-3 ships and units supported maritime security, upholding freedom of the seas in accordance with international law and customs and promoted regional stability in the Indo-Pacific.

Operations of the CVN-72

1990: Desert Shield (Iraq/Kuwait/Saudi Arabia)

Desert Storm (1991)

1991: Rescue operations during the Pinatubo eruption

Operation Southern Watch (1992)

1993: Eastern Exit (Somalia): USS Abraham Lincoln

Southern Watch (2002)

Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003)

Unified Assistance (2004)

2006: Western Pacific (including Valiant Shield and RIMPAC)

2008: Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom

2010–11: Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn

2012: Operation Enduring Freedom

The colors on board:

-Purple: Aviation Fuel

-Blue: Plane Handlers, Aircraft Elevator Operators, Tractor Drivers, Messengers, and Phone Talkers

-Green: Catapult and Arresting Gear Crews, Air Wing Maintenance Personnel, Air Wing Quality Control Personnel, Cargo-Handling Personnel, Ground Support Equipment (GSE) Troubleshooters, Hook Runners, Mass Communication Specialist (Photographers an Video), Helicopter Landing Signal Enlisted, Personnel (LSE)

-Yellow: Aircraft Handling Officers, Catapult Officers, Arresting Gear Officers, and Plane Directors

-Red: Aviation Ordnancemen, Crash and Salvage Crews, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)

-Brown: Air Wing Plane Captains and Air Wing Leading Petty Officers

-White: Squadron Plane Inspectors, Landing Signal Officers (LSO), Air Transfer Officers (ATO), Liquid Oxygen (LOX) Crews, Safety Observers, and Medical Personnel

An aircraft carrier is one of the most dangerous workplaces in the world. If you look at the operation on board, it is remarkable how, with precision, competence and respect, the work on board is carried out – flawlessly.

A big thank you to the Public Affairs Office (PAO) at Commander Naval Air forces, PAO of Abraham Lincoln, the USS Abraham Lincoln Executive officer (XO) and the shooter who took time for us.