At 0:29 in the video Maverick salutes the catapult officer or “shooter” before launching from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier.
‘The person under the airplane watches as the airplane slowly taxis forward until the nose tow launch bar drops down to the deck in front of the catapult shuttle. At that point, he or she signals the deck edge operator to “tension the cat” (which isn’t a technically accurate term, but it’s what’s used). The shuttle slides forward a few inches, taking up any slack between it and the nose tow launch bar. At that point the person under the airplane quickly checks to make sure everything looks good, then runs out with a thumb up (hopefully) to signify all is well.
‘At that point, the pilot gets the signal to advance the throttles to whatever setting is needed for the launch. He or she “wipes out the controls,” moving the ailerons, rudder(s) and elevators*. The final checkers near the rear of the airplane look at all that and raise their thumbs if everything’s good. While that’s happening the pilot is checking the crucial instruments – engines for one. At that point, if the pilot’s happy with the airplane’s performance, he or she will salute – that’s the signal that “we’re good to go.” Then the shooter – the catapult officer – will do a last check to make sure everyone’s clear, then will kneel down, touch the deck and point forward, sometimes dramatically for fun. At that point, the deck edge operator does a quick check to make sure everyone’s clear, then presses the launch button. Sometimes – I think more often now than in my day – the shooter is in the “bubble,” an armored glass enclosure at flight deck level, and that’s where the catapult is fired from.’
Taken from the cockpit of a US Navy F/A-18E the following clip (taken from YouTube channel of The Fighter Pilot Podcast) shows the Super Hornet being launched from the catapult 3 of USS George Washington (CVN-73). At 2:01 in the clip the Naval Aviator salutes the shooter before launching from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier.
‘However, at night the process is slightly different. Because the pilot’s salute can’t be seen, he or she will switch on the airplane’s strobe lights to signify everything’s good.’
This video confirms Barak’s statement: in fact at 0:23 in the footage the F/A-18E Super Hornet featured in the clip switches on its strobe lights before launching from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).
*These days, ailerons, rudders and elevators often do double duty. For instance, the elevators at the rear of the airplane may move at different rates and by different amounts, performing some of the function of the ailerons. I’m being a bit basic on the description.
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