A Day Aboard the Super-carrier USS Ronald Reagan

By Melvin Ah ChingJuly 14, 2010

The following article was originally published on HawaiiReporter.com.

Story and Photos by Melvin Ah Ching

The USS Ronald Reagan is a nuclear powered super aircraft carrier that stretches 1,092 feet in length, displaces 97,000 tons with a full load and towers 20 stories high when measured from the waterline. Bearing the name of our 40th president, the USS Ronald Reagan cost $4.5 billion to build, and $1 million a day to operate.

Over 4,500 men and women serve on the USS Ronald Reagan and call it “home” while they are deployed. These people, volunteers to our U.S. Navy, hail from all 50 U.S. States and 40 different countries. They work in unison on their specialized tasks with precision, dedication, enthusiasm and professionalism to make this “city on the sea” work in helping preserve freedom for the United States of America and the world.

This month the USS Ronald Reagan is plying nearby Hawaii waters as the centerpiece of the bi-annual Rim of the Pacific Exercises (known as RIMPAC) commanding a task force consisting of 32 ships, 5 submarines, more than 170 aircraft and 20,000 Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Soldiers, and Coast Guardsmen from 14 Pacific Rim countries.

On Tuesday July 6, I was part of a media contingent of reporters and photographers that were invited to the USS Ronald Reagan to cover their first day at sea for RIMPAC.

Our tour started shortly before noon at a Pearl Harbor pier where the super-carrier was tied up. We boarded through one of the main hangar doors going up a 4-floor gantry-like stairway. We entered a beehive of activity in the hangar area where people were working on various aircraft spread throughout the facility. We spent a few minutes in the cavernous hangar before we were taken up to the officer’s mess hall by Capt. Ron Flanders of the USS Ronald Reagan’s public relations office and our driver, Lt. Terrell for lunch.

My cafeteria-style buffet lunch consisted of Spanish rice, fried chicken, stir-fried beef, broccoli and a nice, cold glass of ice filled water. All of the invited media sat at a long table toward the front wall of the mess hall that was flanked by a flat screen TV and a trophy case filled with some football memorabilia. Long before he became President, Ronald Reagan played the role of George “The Gipper” Gipp in the 1940 film, Knute Rockne, All American. The USS Ronald Reagan’s nickname is “Gipper”.

Shortly after lunch our group was led up several stairways until we emerged on the 4.5-acre flight deck on top of the ship. The USS Ronald Reagan was just about ready to depart Pearl Harbor at 1315 (1:15 pm). Before we got under way, the ship’s whistle blew and a very short change of the colors ceremony was held. Slowly, but surely, the super-carrier maneuvered away from the pier and made its way out of Pearl Harbor, passing the USS Arizona Memorial and the battleship USS Missouri museum.

Hawaii does not have a carrier based at Pearl Harbor. Spectators at the nearby landmarks, as well as on Ford Island, were treated to a spectacular sight. Hundreds of tourists aboard the Missouri lined to wave at us and take photographs. Our vantage point high up on the flight deck of the moving carrier offered us stunning views of the famous monuments and the rest of Oahu. The weather was clear and the skies were blue. It was the perfect day for a sail.

As the Reagan slowly steamed out of Pearl Harbor, a high-tech laden, civilian helicopter buzzed it. The blue chopper had been flying in the area all morning and followed us out to sea. It was obvious that its crew were shooting motion picture footage of the USS. Ronald Reagan. A nearby surface ship speeding along, around and ahead of the carrier turned out to be a very fancy boat that held a giant boom and another camera attached to it. I later found out they were shooting footage for the upcoming movie “Battleship“.

We were allowed great access to nearly all points on the flight deck at this early part of the tour. I stayed fairly close to “the island”, the tall structure on the starboard side that houses the bridge, flight control center, navigation center, communications tower, mast, flags and more. It is one of the few places on the flight deck that provides some shade.

If there is a center of activity on the ship, the flight deck is it. This is where most of the aircraft assigned to the super-carrier are stored, positioned, land and take-off.

As the USS Ronald Reagan was departing, flight deck personnel were preparing for flight operations that were set to begin later that afternoon at 1700 hours (5 pm). The level of activity was ramped up as deck personnel prepared for a busy afternoon.

Cruising at a speed of about 15 to 20 knots, the USS Ronald Reagan was out to sea on a heading due south. The island of Oahu was a spectacular sight to behold. From the flight deck and later the bridge, the ride on this roving air base presented me with some spectacular and usually unseen views of our island. It was a privilege to be on board.

There are at least two bridges on the carrier, one for ship navigation (which I visited) and the other for air traffic control. Our group was split between the two. The navigation bridge is used to steer and navigate the ship. It is a room filled with computers, electronics and not surprisingly, someone actually steering the ship. You’d almost think everything is automatic, but that is far from the truth. There are many hands on tasks that require a human to do.

Below the two bridge decks, we got to observe the flight deck control room where the status of every aircraft is played out on a big drafting table utilizing tokens that represent each aircraft on board.

After the bridge tour, officers Flanders and Terrell took us back down to the hangar deck for a press conference with Rear Admiral Thomas Rowden and Brigadier General Thomas P. Harwood III. They entertained the journalists with answers to questions on RIMPAC, fleet size, objectives, economic impact to the State of Hawaii, military readiness and cultural considerations.

After the press conference, we were led to the Admiral’s quarters where we got a refreshing drink of water and where some took a break to visit “the head”. The Admiral’s quarters is finely appointed and decorated to resemble the red room in the White House. The carrier’s sponsor, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, donated original furnishings and memorabilia. They include books and photographs of President Reagan, his desk from the time when he was Governor of California and other mementos. The Admiral also has a real bedroom and a bathroom that could adorn any decent home.

We were then led to another part of the ship where everyone who wanted to shoot flight operations had to suit up in protective gear. We donned our flack vests and “cranials”, – helmets with goggles and earmuffs built in to protect our head, eyes and ears. We were instructed on various aspects of flight deck safety (stay together, no roaming around, obey the officers in charge, do not cross certain lines, remove all loose objects, no flash pictures) and that a violation of any of the safety rules would result in the immediate removal of the person from the flight deck.

Under flight operation conditions, the flight deck became an intense, loud, dangerous and fast moving environment where jet aircraft engines scream way above tolerable hearing levels and where there is no room for error or careless photographers trying to get their best shot. The smell of jet fuel and exhaust also wafted through the windy air. Everyone on the flight deck had a job to do. From what I observed, they did their jobs well with professionalism, intensity and enthusiasm. This is a place where no one can let down his or her guard. Safety is always top of mind.

Flight deck operations included fueling, moving planes into and out of position, guiding them in for landing and prepping them for take-off. It was awesome to be standing just a few feet away from rushing F/A 18 fighter jets, EA 6B Prowlers and E2 Hawkeye airbourne early warning (AEW) planes coming and going. While all of this was going on, many other aircraft were flying around and above the USS Ronald Reagan. The skies were just as busy as the flight deck. It’s a good thing they have air traffic control on board the ship. Everyone in the media group had some kind of camera snapping photos away or taking video. This was truly “the rush” of the day.

After nearly a half hour on the flight deck, we were instructed to go down below and prepare for the trip back to Honolulu. We met in a ready room below deck, removed our flight deck gear and donned new gear to prepare us for our helicopter ride back to base.

We were required to put on another “cranial” and donned a life vest. The safety officer briefed us on what to do in case the helicopter had a problem and was forced to make a water landing. He told us to quickly unfasten the safety harness and try to get out of the sinking chopper as fast as possible to swim back up to the surface before it sank too deeply.

Huh? Most military personnel go through weeks of practical training for this kind of emergency and they expect us lowly civilians to get this all with a 5-minute briefing? If the worst happened, I surely expected to just drown and die.

Shortly afterwards, our group was split into two. We headed back up to the flight deck and hurriedly made our way in the windy noise to the two Sikorsky SH60 Seahawk helicopters. The Seahawk is the naval services equivalent of the Blackhawk.

My counterpart, Bob Hogue, was whisked with most of the group to the first Seahawk, I into the second with the photographer from Reuters and Lt. Terrell. We were placed in our seats, strapped in, doors slammed shut and waited. The steady whirr of the rotor blades could be easily heard through the protective headgear we were wearing. It was late afternoon at around 1830 hours (6:30 pm). A hazy view of the carrier’s deck and island could be seen through the double layered plastic window on the chopper’s closed door.

After a few minutes of waiting the sound of the engines revved up and suddenly we lifted off deck and made a sharp banking turn to the left. Away from the Ronald Reagan we went. The chopper rapidly climbed to an altitude of about 500 to 600 feet and for the next 30 minutes, skimmed over the Pacific Ocean at about 150 mph as we made our way back to Oahu. The engine sound was constant, and I knew this $28 million flying machine was performing at peak efficiency. The afternoon helicopter ride was a surprisingly pleasant experience. At this low flight level, the ocean was always near, the weather was clear and there was no turbulence at all. Slowly, on the right side of chopper the sight of approaching land was beautiful.

In a few minutes we landed at Hickam just outside the main runway at Honolulu International Airport and spent another 15 minutes or so taxiing to the VIP terminal where important dignitaries like the President of the United States are dropped off.

Upon disembarking from the Seahawk, we found out that our helicopter was the only one that made it back from the USS Ronald Reagan. The first chopper with Bob Hogue and the rest of the journalists experienced a mechanical emergency and had to return to the carrier for repair. They did not return that day.

It was not until late the next day that the rest of the media contingent returned, not by helicopter but on a freight plane known as the “COD” or C2 “Greyhound”. The reason for that was because the carrier had sailed further away from Hawaii and the only way back was to use a plane that had a greater range and flew faster than the chopper.

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Mel’s Flickr Photos taken onboard the USS Ronald Reagan.

The Quadritek

The Quadritek

Originally published to Mel’s Internet Universe website.

I learned how to use the Quadritek 1200 series back in 1977 while attending college at BYU-Hawaii Campus.

In 1985 I applied for the position of typesetter at Paradise Printers. The firm had just gotten a then new Quadritek 2100 series which saved documents to 5 inch floppy drives instead of magnetic tape as mentioned in the original article below. At the time of my hire, Paradise Printers had no one who knew how to program the computerized machine to do advance tasks such as making mulitiple columns, adjusting leading and designing forms.

I did all of that at Paradise Printers until 1988 when I changed my employment to an ad agency that had the same machine.

At the AdCorp International advertising agency, I was one of two people who used the Quadritek 2100 machine. The years between 1988 and 1992 were a transitional time, as typesetting tasks were being moved to the Macintosh platform, which I also used there.

The original article posted below is aimed at computer geeks and anyone who worked as a typesetter and graphic arts before everything was totally computerized.

The Quadritek 1200 Page (original title)

Itek’s Quadritek 1200 was a cutting edge, state of
the art computerized phototypesetting machine in 1977.

Back to the Future: 1977

The Quadritek photo typesetting system was an early solution to “affordable” typesetting. Built by the Itek Corporation (which no longer exists), the machine was marketed to small businesses, educational institutions and other organizations who needed to do in-house publishing.

The Quadritek was the first of several machines built by Itek that was supposed to make typesetting affordable. Starting at $17,000 the 1200 found its niche in markets where the cost of an even more expensive machine like the Compugraphic could not be justified. The Quadritek was the ideal step up from setting type on archaic machines like the IBM Composer, which was similar to the IBM selectric typewriter.

The Quadritek 1200 was the first in a series to come to market. From 1977 to the mid 1980s, Itek built and sold several models of these machines, each with upgraded operating systems, font and memory storage systems to a point where the last model, called the “Digitek” featured a what you see is what you get graphical interface.

What made this machine so neat?

If you were setting type by hand or on an IBM composer, the benefits of having a Quadritek were immense. The IBM composer could only set type up to 12 or 14 points. Anything else larger required you to use press on lettering or a headlining machine.

The Quadritek allowed users to have 4 fonts online at the same time. Compared to having only one font online with the old IBM composer, this was a huge step forward. Type sizes ranged from 5 1/2 points to 36 points. Later models offered point sizes of up to 72 and later 128.

Unlike today’s digital fonts, Quadritek fonts came on a glass wafer for each weight which contained the entire alphabet, numbers and special symbols and punctuation. Digital bar codes on each wafer was read on the fly into the typesetters microprocessor, which in turn lined up the imaging mechanism to set the type at the selected size and style onto a photo sensitive paper. The output was run through a chemical process, dried and later pasted up to a layout board.

Whatever was typed into the Quadritek could be saved to a cassette data tape. Later Quadritek models saved files to 8 and 5.25 inch floppy discs. Files could be saved, edited and played back later without having to be rekeyed from scratch. This was cutting edge technology in 1977 and saved users a lot of keyboarding time.

Drawbacks of the Quadritek 1200

The biggest drawback in using the Quadritek or any other computerized phototypesetting unit of the time was mastering the complex, command line interface. This was not a “What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG)” system common to today’s computers.

Setting type on the Quadritek required users to memorize common mnemonic code and key combinations in order to get the type set at the right size, style, length, width, etc. Every action along the way had to be coded using commands to tell the machine to turn type attributes such as bold, regular or italic on or off.

Needless to say, beginning users made many mistakes by not entering the end codes to each transaction. This usually resulted in an entire paragraph or possibly job could being set in all bold. To make matters worse, most users never knew it until after the job was printed!

Users had to review the job to see where the mistake first occurred, and fix it. With the tape system, this meant playing back the cassette one line at the time to find where the mistake was made and then key in the correct command sequence. Users had to also transfer the tape from the playback drive to the record drive. Very tedious stuff.

The display on the Quadritek consisted of a 13 inch amber or green on black text monitor. The 1200 displayed 4 lines of type on the input field and 4 lines of type on the output field which occupied the screen at the same time. Later models offered a “what you see is what you get” second monitor option.

As mentioned earlier, type was set to photosensitive paper which had to be processed chemically and then be set to dry before being pasted up. Text output to photopaper was around 900 to 1200 dpi. This set the Quadritek apart from early laser printers which managed only a 300 dpi image. Technology for computers (Macs and PC) eventaully passed that of the dedicated typesetting machines and hastened the path to obsolescence.

The Macintosh killed the Quadritek

In 1984 Apple introduced the Macintosh computer and revolutionized the entire publishing industry. The Macintosh offered a very easy to use interface, which eventually made the art of typesetting and computer graphic design available to all. Coupled with the highly successful laser printer, the Macintosh brought publishing within the realm of the everyday user.

Hard core typesetters who cut their chops on machines like the Quadritek and the more popular Compugraphic systems, along with their pen and ink graphic artist counterparts, quickly adopted the Macintosh as a tool to learn and master.

There probably isn’t a soul on Earth who uses a Quadritek or similar typesetting equipment today.


I was going through some of my old Macintosh floppy discs when I found an instruction sheet that I wrote on how to use the Quadritek 2100. This sheet was written as a quick and dirty basic guide to help people at my workplace on how to use the machine in the event that I was gone or something. The actual documentation that came with these machines were in many booklets that were several pages long.

Quadritek Instructions

June 29, 2003

Hey Mel,
Stumbled across your Quadritek page tonight. What a blast from the past! Mahalo nui. I had fun reading about the old Itek.
Aloha, Blaine

Blaine used to work for the company that sold and serviced these machines in the Hawaii market. He also owned one when he ran his old graphics business in the 1980s.

Photo credit: Itek Corporation, 1977, 1987

Every Blog Has Its First Post

Stock image

You have to start somewhere. So today I start. It is May 24, 2019. The post link erroneously says November 9, 2018. I guess this is when the current template that I am using was last updated and this page previously said “Hello World”. It is the standard first post for all WordPress installations. That is what it is.

What I plan to do with this new blog is to archive older articles that I wrote for other publications and organizations, as well as present new content exclusively to the website. Archived articles when possible, will also include a link to the original published source.

Subjects that I plan to cover will include everything from photography and technology (computers, the internet, etc.) to desktop publishing, features about Hawaii, history and whatever else. The blog will probably lack central focus, but using the category and tag links may be of some help.

Enjoy and thanks for stopping by.