The U.S. Navy is nearing the end of a first-of-its-kind training mission. For more than a week, about 300 French Navy members have been living and training on an American aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, off the East Coast. It marks the first time U.S. and French pilots, mechanics and sailors all lived side-by-side on a carrier, and CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford and her team were there to see how the mission all came together.
We reached the USS George H.W. Bush like the Navy does – from the sky, going from 150 mph to a dead stop in less than two seconds on another busy day of flight operations.
The mission? Joint training exercises with a key ally, France.
Holding upwards of 5,000 people, the carrier has everything you'd need – cafeterias, a store, gyms, a post office and a chapel.
Rear Adm. Stephen Evans commands the Bush and all the ship personnel in its carrier strike group.
"Every day I'm in awe of this. I mean, you think about what goes into this. This is a city… a city with an airfield on top of it," Evans said. "The life blood that runs through it are these young men and women."
For the French visitors, it's a chance to sharpen their skills with the best, while working on a runway moving through the ocean at more than 30 mph.
"This experience is awesome, right?" French commander Stephane said. "It's a kind of brotherhood. … We do the same job. We did many operations together."
Everyone is performing key roles in the ships tower, with the air officer – or air boss – controlling the airspace. On the flight deck, the landing signal officers communicate with pilots as they come in for landing, touching down at the right moment, so a hook on the tail of the plane snags a wire across the flight deck.
The engineering marvel is programmed below deck where the ship's hydraulic system slows the plane down. With takeoffs and landings happening at the same time day and night, it feels like organized chaos and keeping it all organized is the aircraft handling officer, Lt. Cmdr. Winston Cotterell. He used what he called a "ouiji board" to depict what is going on on the flight deck.
"There are computers that do this too," Crawford said.
"This one doesn't freeze up. That one will freeze up from time to time, and sometime the electronic will go down and shut off, and I don't have time to mess with that," Cotterell said.
Overseeing all these operations is the ship's Capt. Sean Bailey.
"It's important from the perspective of demonstrating support for our allies. At the same time, it sends a signal to the world that we're strong partners, hand-in-hand," Bailey said.
The U.S. has 11 carriers more than any other nation. The French have only one, the Charles de Gaulle. That ship is undergoing extensive maintenance. While that's taking place, training exercises like this one help our allies stay prepared for anything in an increasingly chaotic world.