Having wrapped up more than eight years of missions in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn in the final weeks of 2011, U.S. Naval Aviation began 2012 engaged in one major conflict, the war in Afghanistan. Nearly every carrier and amphibious strike group that deployed during the year spent part of their deployment in the Arabian Sea or the Arabian Gulf, contributing support to Operation Enduring Freedom. That presence, however, also provided needed naval power in a region beset with a host of other conflicts and potential flashpoints, from the ongoing issues of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Syria’s expanding civil war, to continued instability in a host of governments from Egypt to Bahrain still reeling from the consequences of the Arab Spring. More U.S. Naval Aviation assets also began moving to the Pacific Command area of responsibility as part of the strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region.
The long-term retooling of the fleet and force’s aircraft continued apace as new systems such as the P-8A Poseidon and F-35B engaged in their first exercises or joined their first operational units. Unmanned aviation also continued to make strides with significant deployments by the MQ-8B Fire Scout and the first ship taxiing tests of the X-47B unmanned combat air system.
The Navy also said goodbye to one of its most storied and iconic ships, the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), on 1 December when it was deactivated after completing more than 50 years of service to the nation. At that same ceremony, however, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that CVN 80, the third Gerald R. Ford-class carrier, would be titled Enterprise—ensuring that the Navy’s most famous name would continue into a new century.
The following chronology and data tables highlight the important events of Navy and Marine Corps Aviation in 2012.
15 An air crew with the VP-47 Golden Swordsmen, operating from NAS Sigonella, aided in the rescue of 68 people adrift on a powerless raft in the Mediterranean Sea, more than 80 miles southwest of Malta.
19 USS Halsey (DDG 97) and a det. from HSL-49 responded to a call of distress from M/V Albrouj, a Yemeni dhow en route to Somalia from Yemen.
3 The P-8A Poseidon made its first appearance in an operational fleet exercise when it began flying sorties in support of Exercise Bold Alligator.
16 The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group (CSG) launched its first combat sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
22 Seven Marines were killed when two helicopters collided near Yuma, Ariz. The Marines, six from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and one from Yuma, were training for deployment to Afghanistan when their AH-1W Cobra and UH-1Y Huey crashed in a remote section of the Yuma Training Range Complex.
23 Military personnel of VMFA(AW)-242, VMA-115, MACS-4 Det. B, and MALS-12 departed Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, after supporting Exercise Cobra Gold 2012.
24 The Marine Corps’ designated fleet replacement squadron for the Joint Strike Fighter, the VMFAT-501 Warlords, accepted its first F-35B Lightning II at a ceremony at Eglin AFB, Fla.
26 VAW-112, the last U.S. naval squadron to leave Iraqi airspace, returned to NB Ventura County, Point Mugu.
2 USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) returned to its home port in Bremerton, Wash., after completing a seven-month deployment in which the carrier launched the last Navy air mission over Iraq and more than 1,000 flights over Afghanistan.
4 Boeing delivered the first production P-8A Poseidon aircraft to the Navy in Seattle. The aircraft (BuNo 168428) was accepted by VP-30, the Navy’s maritime patrol fleet replacement squadron.
6 A civilian contractor pilot was killed when his F-21 Kfir jet crashed near the west gate of NAS Fallon.
7 USS Simpson (FFG 56) and HSL-60 embarked the MQ-8B Fire Scout for solo missions, a U.S. Navy first during a full deployment.
11 USS Enterprise (CVN 65) deployed for the final time.
13 Sailors aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) celebrated the carrier’s 30th year of service.
HMLA-267 began its transition to the AH-1Z Viper in early April. The Camp Pendleton-based unit was the first Marine squadron to transition entirely to the new generation of Cobra and Huey, the AH-1Z and the UH-1Y.
6 An F/A-18D Hornet from VFA-106 (BuNo 163452), based at NAS Oceana, crashed into the Mayfair Mews apartment complex in Virginia Beach, Va. Both pilots were treated for minor injuries, and no further injuries were reported.
10 The Navy grounded its fleet of Fire Scout unmanned helicopters after two of the aircraft crashed overseas within a week.
11 A Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey (BuNo 165844) crashed in Morocco killing two U.S. military personnel.
14 USS Somerset (LPD 25) launched from Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Avondale Shipyard in New Orleans, La. The ship—named for Somerset County in southern Pennsylvania, the crash site of United Flight 93—is the third San Antonio-class ship built to honor the victims of 9/11.
17 Vice Adm. David H. Buss was nominated by President Barack Obama for the dual job of commander of Naval Air Forces and commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Naval Air Forces.
19 The T-34C Turbo Mentor made its final student training flight at NAS Whiting Field, Fla.
2 A T-34 made an emergency landing after striking a bird in the air. The pilots landed at Victoria Regional Airport, Victoria, Texas, after the large bird struck the left wing of the plane.
10 Two Lockheed Martin F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing production aircraft were ferried to Eglin AFB, marking the 24th and 25th F-35 deliveries to the Department of Defense. An F-35B Lightning II made its first flight at Eglin AFB on 22 May.
19 USS San Diego (LPD 22) was commissioned at the Navy Pier in San Diego.
30 Rescue personnel from NAS Kingsville, Texas, recovered two pilots who ejected safely from a T-45 Goshawk 45 miles southwest of the base.
USS Anchorage (LPD 23) successfully completed its builder’s trials in late May.
1 USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15), refitted as a floating base for helicopters and patrol craft, deployed to the Middle East after being redesignated as an afloat forward staging base (interim).
11 A Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) demonstrator unmanned aircraft being tested by the Navy at NAS Patuxent River crashed in a remote area of Dorchester County, Md. There were no injuries to civilians and no property damage.
14 Northrop Grumman rolled out the U.S. Navy’s first MQ-4C Triton BAMS unmanned aircraft system during a ceremony in Palmdale, Calif.
16 USS Nimitz (CVN 68) coordinated efforts with USS Princeton (CG 59), HSC-6, HSM-75, and the Mexican navy to retrieve 186 bales of marijuana destined for the United States.
2 While conducting coalition training in the Mediterranean Sea, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) received a call of a downed French aircraft operating from the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R 91). A helicopter from HS-5 retrieved and transported the pilot to the French carrier for medical treatment.
9 Aircraft assigned to CVW-2 aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) completed their final combat flight operations in support of OEF.
10 The newest training facility for the Navy’s Fire Scout unmanned helicopter operators opened at NAS Jacksonville.
18 The Navy’s “Great Green Fleet” made its operational debut. Nimitz took on more than 900,000 gallons of 50-50 biofuel in preparation for the Navy’s Great Green Fleet demonstration.
18 The VAQ-130 Zappers landed their first operational EA-18G Growler aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).
23 Twelve MV-22 Osprey aircraft were off-loaded from a civilian cargo ship at MCAS Iwakuni, marking the first deployment of the MV-22 to Japan. The aircraft were stationed aboard MCAS Futenma in Okinawa as part of the HMM-265 Dragons.
26 An AV-8B Harrier carrying live ordnance crashed near Imperial Valley, Calif. The pilot ejected safely.
29 An MH-53E Sea Dragon with the HM-15 Blackhawks crashed 58 miles southwest of Muscat, Oman, while conducting heavy-lift support operations. Two of the helicopter’s five crew members died, the others were recovered safely.
29 The X-47B unmanned combat air system demonstrator completed its first flight from NAS Patuxent River.
The P-8A Poseidon made its Rim of the Pacific debut in late July while flown by two air crews from VX-1 at MCB Hawaii.
8 An F-35B dropped its first bomb, an inert 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct-Attack Munition, over an Atlantic test range.
19 The VAW-77 Nightwolves returned from their final Central American deployment. The squadron was disestablished in March 2013.
20 USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) and HSL-42 Det. 8 rendered medical assistance to crewmembers on the Panamanian-flagged bulk carrier M/V Belde, about 110 miles north of Socotra Island, Yemen.
1 A Marine pilot from the VMFA-323 Death Rattlers safely ejected from an F/A-18C Hornet before it crashed at NAS Fallon.
14 Lt. Col. Chris Raible, commanding officer of the VMA-211 Avengers, and Sgt. Bradley Atwell, an instrument and flight control systems technician with MALS-16, were killed and six AV-8B Harriers were destroyed during an insurgent attack at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.
18 The VRC-30 Providers took the final flight of the last four-bladed propeller version of the C-2A Greyhound at NAS North Island, Calif.
1 The Navy’s first unmanned helicopter reconnaissance squadron, the HUQ-1 Hydras, was established at NAS North Island.
30 USS Underwood (FFG 36) and HSL-48 Det. 3 arrived at NS Mayport, Fla., after a six-month deployment at sea. Underwood was decommissioned in March 2013.
4 More than 5,500 Sailors and Marines with the Enterprise CSG arrived in Norfolk, Va., following the carrier’s 25th and final deployment in the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas. CVW-1 returned to its home ports of NAS Oceana and NS Norfolk Chambers Field on 3 November following eight-months aboard Enterprise.
9 Fleet Readiness Center East (FRC) sent off the last HH-46 “Phrog” helicopter it will service from Cherry Point to VMR-1.
20 The 3rd MAW introduced its first F-35B squadron at MCAS Yuma. During the ceremony the VMFA(AW)-121 Green Knights, which formerly operated F/A-18D Hornets, were re-designated as VMFA-121.
26 A CH-46E Sea Knight made its last flight over MCAS Futenma. The last of the Sea Knights with the VMM-265 Dragons flew to Camp Kinser, Okinawa, Japan, on 26 November to await final disposition.
29 P-3C Orions from the VP-8 Fighting Tigers and VP-10 Red Lancers, in concert with the Canadian frigate HMCS Ottawa (FFH 341), helped recover more than a ton of cocaine valued at more than $75 million during an interdiction in the 4th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR).
1 The Navy’s fourth Fire Scout det. returned to Mayport after achieving several milestones during its five-month deployment aboard USS Klakring (FFG 42). The det. logged more than 500 flight hours in the U.S. Africa Command AOR.
10 FRC Southwest held a ground breaking ceremony for its new helicopter maintenance, overhaul, and repair facility at NAS North Island. The new facility replaced three existing buildings where Navy and Marine Corps H-60 Seahawks and CH-53 Super Stallions are serviced.
14 The last P-3C Orions from the VP-5 Mad Foxes returned to NAS Jacksonville. This deployment was their last as a P-3C squadron as they transitioned to the P-8A Poseidon in February 2013.