Question: I really enjoy the cruise videos from the Navy guys. There’s just something about the teamwork and precision required by everyone on deck that I find both fascinating and thrilling. I have noticed that different pilots use different hand signals to the deck crew right on takeoff. Sometimes it’s a simple salute and thumbs up, sometimes they seem to slam the canopy with a fist…I’ve even seen the Hawaiian Shaka. Do these have any significant meaning, or are the differences just the personal expressions for each pilot? ~Jeff S. from Atlanta, GA

Good evening, Fightersweep Fans! Today we have a great question about flight deck operations aboard an Aircraft Carrier! The question brings up a lot of good points about what it’s like to operate on the flight deck; it definitely does require “teamwork and precision” and is certainly “fascinating and thrilling.” Flight deck operations are carefully orchestrated and inherently very dangerous, therefore clear and concise communication is absolutely essential. It’s commonly known as “controlled chaos.”

While many squadrons’ cruise videos are exciting, a lot of the footage is dramatized to boost the videos’ appeal. Knowing I have a GoPro on me, I may add an extra fist pump going down the catapult to boost the cool-factor on camera.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy.

In reality, the hand signals for all of the launches and recoveries are nearly identical. If a pilot invents a move on the fly, it may be misunderstood to be something else leading to a potentially devastating outcome. This is not to say that Naval Aviators don’t have a “pregame” ritual, just like superstitious Major League Baseball players, but it is usually not in the form of something that could confuse the crew on the Flight Deck.