San Diego, California - Aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) earned her flight deck certification while underway in the Pacific Ocean, Thursday.

The certification proves Nimitz's flight deck and the Sailors who conduct flight operations are capable of safely launching and recovering aircraft.

Nimitz recently completed a 20-month extended planned incremental availability (EPIA). The certification is the carrier's second major milestone on her way to a upcoming 2017 deployment.

To certify in flight operations, the Nimitz Air Department was required to catch 50 aircraft on the first day of flight operations, 70 the following day, and 40 by the end of the second night. Nimitz had 399 catches total by the fifth day.

"The credit is all on the junior Sailors," said Petty Officer 1st Class William Dail, the arresting gear work center's leading petty officer. "Without them we would not be able to catch the aircraft."

The flight deck certification is a culmination of countless hours of work, and would not have been possible without the renovations and certifications achieved during Nimitz's recent EPIA.

While in the yards, Air Department re-certified four aircraft elevators and overhauled much of the equipment that supports flight operations including the catapults, arresting gear, safety nets, and jet blast deflectors.

During the almost two years spent pierside, Nimitz gained many new Sailors who had never seen or participated in flight operations.

"About 30-40 percent of the Sailors have never seen the flight deck doing flight operations," said Master Chief Petty Officer Raul Ramos, Air Department's leading chief petty officer.

Sailors welcomed the chance to put all of their training and studying to the test once the ship began launching and recovering aircraft.

"All the long days, hard work, maintenance, and training in the yards finally paid off 21 months later," said Ramos. "It was a reward having the first aircraft land."

With the flight deck certified, Nimitz, her crew, and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11 and can now look forward to continuing routine operations at sea.