By lex, on March 24th, 2006
Successful completion of carrier qualifications, or CQ, marks a critically important milestone in the career of a student naval aviator. Landing safely and expeditiously aboard the ship is what distinguishes the Navy pilot from his more pedestrian, prosaic, even rustic, counterparts in the Air Force.
My first CQ was aboard the USS LEXINGTON (AVT-16) in 1984. The Lex was ancient, even then: First launched in 1942, and weighing in at a mere 42,000 tons (as opposed to over 100k on a NIMITZ class) she seemed impossibly small, almost fragile to the fleet experienced pilots that would take us out for our first CQ. She was only 910 feet long, with just more than half of that length on her angled deck landing area.
But she was also a living piece of naval aviation history, the “Grey Ghost,” thrice claimed as sunk by the Japanese during World War II, and thrice returned to the fight. During her long and illustrious career, she fought at Tarawa, Truk, Kwajalein, the battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf and elsewhere through the Pacific, earning 11 battle stars. Her final strike into Japan was ordered to return and jettison their bombs after word was received of the Japanese surrender.
To generations of students bound for her overhead marshall stack, she represented an implacable and unavoidable obstacle on their professional journeys; the path to the Navy Wings of Gold led through the Lady Lex