Story by MC2 Heather Seelbach
Photo by MC3 Benjamin Crossley

Looking down from a lofty vantage point on the 0-10 level, a Sailor in a white jersey tracks an F/A-18E Hornet as it departs the flight deck. Another Sailor peers through binoculars to identify a plane as it comes in for landing.

These Sailors and their co-workers are hand-picked from Air Department to assist the Air Boss and the Mini Boss with tracking and identifying aircraft. They work in primary flight control, known as “pri-fly” or “the tower.”

When aircraft are embarked on the ship, pri-fly must be manned 24 hours a day, and during fixed and rotary wing aircraft operations, the Air Boss and Mini Boss occupy front row seats.

“It’s a very professional atmosphere,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class Jennifer Terry. “We get to work closely with two commanders [Air Boss and
Mini Boss] as well as representatives from each squadron.”

The squadron representatives are pilots who troubleshoot any unforeseen problems for each other and occupy pri-fly during case one (better than 5,000 feet of visibility) or case two recoveries (down to 1,000 feet of visibility).

Pri-fly Sailors are responsible for more than seven watch stations which they must qualify for by completing personnel qualification standards (PQS).

These watches include the tower supervisors, tower operator, ISIS operator, landing signal officer (LSO) platform spotter, record keeper and forward and aft spotters.

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Chris Nollinger, the newest member of pri-fly, is currently working on his forward spotter qualification. He was recently recruited to V5 by his division officer.

“One day, my Divo came to me and said, ‘you’d be a good fit for V5,’ said Nollinger. “I interviewed with the Air Boss and Mini Boss, and they decided to bring me aboard.”

Proper training is essential due to the critical nature of the positions they occupy, said Terry.

“If the aft spotter miscalls an aircraft type and has the arresting gear set to the wrong weight, it can damage an aircraft, destroy the arresting gear wire or injure people on the flight deck,” said Terry.

In addition to the Air and Mini Bosses, pri-fly Sailors and squadron representatives, two watchstanders from V-2 also occupy positions in pri-fly during flight ops.

The abundance of personnel, tight quarters and fast-paced environment can get demanding at times, said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) Airman Quiana Bailey.

“The most challenging thing about working up here is multi-tasking,” said Bailey. “It’s crowded, and there’s a lot going on.”

Despite the hectic environment, many who work in pri-fly enjoy the air-conditioned, bird’s eye view of the flight deck.