On the Scene: Amid the Fighter Jets of the USS Enterprise - Atlas Obscura
Free iron-on Atlas Obscura badge when you preorder our new kids’ book. Shop now.

On the Scene: Amid the Fighter Jets of the USS Enterprise

A photographer’s experience ducking jet exhaust on board the aircraft carrier.

article-image

(Photo: Christopher Michel)

Christopher Michel has photographed all around the world but the circumstances of this photo are particularly remarkable: he took it while spending the night on board the USS Enterprise.

The image, captured in 2006, shows a catapult officer, or “shooter,” at work on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. A shooter’s job is to ensure the smooth launch of the aircraft from the flight deck, which involves using catapults to propel the jet off the shortened runway. 

The aircraft on deck included F/A-18 Hornets, a type of supersonic combat jet that was once believed to have been photographed breaking the sound barrier. Michel wanted to position himself as close to the launching aircraft as possible, which was a challenge, given the risks involved. 

“My first thought was, ‘Duck!’” says Michel. His second thought: “I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of that F/A-18’s jet exhaust anywhere near the edge of the deck. The deck of an aircraft carrier is one of the most hazardous working locations in the world.”

When Michel saw the photo, he says, “Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’ was running through my head.”

After 51 years of active service, the USS Enterprise was inactivated in December 2012. The vessel is scheduled for decommissioning this year, after all the onboard nuclear fuel has been removed.