Geology professor flies to aircraft carrier
Posted: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 1:00 pm
The Messenger 12.07.11
On an average day in the classroom, Dr. Stan Dunagan, associate professor of geology at the University of Tennessee at Martin, passionately lectures on water resource issues, volcanic hazards and earthquakes.
He discusses tectonic plate motion, climate change issues and fossil fuel reserves, among other scientific topics.
Last summer, however, he was catapulted off of an aircraft carrier flight deck, accelerating from zero to 130 mph in two seconds. That day was not average.
As part of the U.S. Navy’s Distinguished Visitors program, Dunagan was invited to spend roughly 30 hours on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, where he witnessed first-hand the life of Navy servicemen.
He and 14 others toured most of the carrier, including the flag bridge, combat direction center, public affairs offices, meteorology department, medical and dental facilities, chapel, library and educational areas.
“The ship was amazing, the aircraft exhilarating, the flight in and out thrilling beyond words, and the sailors were admirable and deserving of my gratitude and praise for their service to our country,” Dunagan said.
In the Distinguished Visitors program, individuals in influential positions — including legislative representatives, corporate executives and educators — are invited to experience the unique, first-hand look at serviceman life aboard aircraft carriers. Dunagan received his invitation by email about three weeks prior to the trip and he said it was quite a surprise.
“One could argue that you have to have certain leadership skills and/or potential in your field of expertise in order to literally be on the Navy’s radar for the DV program,” Dunagan said. “But, honestly, at first I thought the email was a phishing scam.”
After flying to San Diego, Dunagan and his Distinguished Visitors group were flown to the USS Lincoln, situated off the coast of Mexico, aboard a C-2A Greyhound aircraft. To fly to the USS Lincoln, the DV group wore flotation vests, helmets and flight visors during the 45-minute flight from Colorado Bay to the USS Lincoln.
“The Navy was running maneuvers, recertification for F/A-18 pilots, so they can take off and land in carriers,” Dunagan said. “We were cleared to land in between runs of F/A-18s.”
Once aboard, the group got to observe the day operations, which consist of takeoffs and landings from the USS Lincoln flight deck.
“The day ops are so hard to describe. You’re standing 20 to 25 feet away from one of these F/A-18 jet fighters during the daytime and that thing powers up and shoots off. I was afraid it was going to blow the camera out of my hands. You could feel the heat from their jet engines. That tremendous heat wave washes over you as the jet shoots down the flight deck and it is just so indescribably loud. You smell and can almost taste the jet fuel burning off. It gave me chills every time,” Dunagan said. “I could have stood there all day long just watching them take off.”
The tour schedule prevented him from staying in one place too long as the group explored deep into the vessel and met the inspiring personnel.
“It was interesting, the person whom ran the operation center was an enlisted person,” Dunagan recalled. “They said that was unusual, but it showed that with proper training and work ethic, anybody can excel. I met people from all over the United States.”
The USS Abraham Lincoln has 5,000 service men and women on board during flight training, most of them around the age of 23, he said.
“Think of a city of 5,000 — all the medical and dental issues coming up, these places were packed, especially the dental place,” Dunagan said. “My kids asked if I went up and down the elevator. There are none; you have to go up and down ladders. I am not very tall and I would have to bend over to keep from bumping my head.”
Dunagan said he was impressed with the responsibilities those working on the carrier manage on a daily basis, but he also gained a new respect for the Navy, as it is the first to respond to many of the major natural disasters, about which he often teaches in the classroom.
“One thing I teach a lot about are natural hazards and so whenever you have a major earthquake or tsunami, the Navy is the first response before the Red Cross gets there. They really try to get the carrier there, because they have the manpower and the ability to make a difference through their medical facilities,” he said.
The Navy is also intertwined with much of the geological knowledge that Dunagan regularly passes on to students.
“Our understanding of tectonics was largely built upon our understanding of the geography and geology of earth’s ocean basins which were extensively mapped by the U.S. Navy during the Cold War era,” he explained.
The icing on the cake was departing the USS Abraham Lincoln aboard another C-2A Greyhound aircraft that catapulted off the flight deck, accelerating from zero to 130 mph in two seconds.
The flight home from California was uneventful, but the memory remains for Dunagan.
“I would do an embark to any naval ship or submarine in the future and I have told the Navy so,” he said.
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