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An aircraft launch and recovery specialist is in charge of making sure that jets take off and land smoothly and safely. Currently, in the U.S. military this job is open only to men. Working for the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, or Marine Corps, aircraft launch and recovery specialists are stationed on aircraft carriers all around the world. They operate the catapults that launch the twenty-ton jets into the air at more than 150 miles per hour. They direct the planes on the flight deck with hand or light signals during takeoff and landing. They run the elevators that bring the planes up from the storage deck. They constantly test and check all the equipment involved to make sure it is working well. The safety of the pilots and everyone else on the flight deck is in their hands.

Strict rules are necessary on the flight deck because of the danger involved in takeoffs and landings. Everyone memorizes hand signals so that they can communicate over the roar of the jet engines. Each crewmember has a specific job to do. For a launch, one crewmember hooks the front wheel of the jet to the catapult. An engineer gives the plane a final check and then gives the pilot the signal to power up the engine. The launch officer gives a signal to the catapult officer. He pushes a button and the jet goes speeding into the air. Everyone is careful to stay out of the way of the jet and the jet's exhaust.

Most aircraft launch and recovery specialists work on aircraft carriers, but some work at landing sites near combat zones. If they are working on land, they install crash barriers and special equipment that helps planes to land and take off on short runways.

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