BRISTLING with military fighters jets and helicopters, the flight deck of USS George H.W. Bush makes for an impressive sight.
Up until last week, she was America’s newest warship – and the largest vessel of her kind in the world.
Even from the shoreline at Stokes Bay – hundreds of metres away – she appears colossal, dwarfing passenger ferries as they circle to get a glimpse of the supercarrier.
Up close, she is even larger. Commissioned in 2009, she has been on three deployments, her most recent in the Middle East and Mediterranean.
And the signs of a life at sea are clear to see, with rust dotting the grey hull of the 100,000-tonne superstructure.
The choppy water and blustery conditions rocked the ferries transporting the ship’s company to shore. But they hardly move the carrier.
Inside she is a maze of corridors and metal staircases, with large white pipes running along the roof.
Deep in the centre of the carrier lies her aircraft hangar with four enormous lifts that are used to raise F-18 Super Hornet fighter jets.
Their wings are folded up and they are strapped down to the black metal floor.
Lining the walls in neat rows are spare parts – engines for the jets, as well as cardboard boxes of food and other vital supplies used to feed the ship’s 5,000-odd sailors.
One of the warship’s key roles is to provide air support for friendly forces fighting across the world.
And those behind the jets are the men and women of the Strike Fighter Squadron 87 – nicknamed the Golden Warriors.
They ran scores of missions over 99 days.
And the room where they plan the bombing runs is tiny.
Packed with a few broad leather chairs, with camouflage netting draped from the roof, the hub has a couple of TVs strapped to the wall.
It was here that the pilots and the leadership team planned a ground defence operation over Raqqa, in Syria, which led to an international incident last month.
Lieutenant Commander Michael Tremel was forced to destroy a Syrian Air Force jet after the warplane dropped bombs near the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighting Islamic State.
It was the first time in the conflict the US shot down a Syrian jet and one of the first times an air-to-air kill had been wracked up by the US in decades.
Speaking in front of reporters yesterday, the quietly spoken pilot told them how the whole incident lasted about eight minutes.
Recalling the moment he blasted the jet, he said: ‘When you think about the shoot down in the grand scheme of things... we flew over 400 missions in support of friendly forces on the ground.
‘And that is all it really came down to – one more mission in support and defence of the guys on the ground.
‘So yeah, we released ordnance and yeah it hit a target that was in the air, but it really just came back to defending those guys that were doing the hard job on the ground and taking that ground back from Isis.’
But the ship isn’t just about jets and helicopters.
Simply feeding the crew is a day-to-day battle.
The vessel has enough food and supplies to be able to operate for 90 days – with a staggering 18,150 meals served every day.
And distillation plants provide about 400,000 gallons of fresh water from the sea daily – enough for 2,000 homes.
The ship is powered by two nuclear reactors and has a lifespan of 50 years – similar to the UK’s new carriers.