2013 Year in Review
By Dale J. Gordon, Christopher J. Martin, Nicole Michur and Josh Phillips
The budget sequestration and a continuing resolution challenged DoD throughout 2013 and forced all services to make necessary cuts to meet fiscal demands. In February, the Navy requested to delay the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG) to the Arabian Gulf, reducing U.S. naval presence there for the first time in two years. The fiscal constraints also grounded Naval Aviation’s well-known recruitment and demonstration team, the Blue Angels, in April for more than six months. Additional tactics to reduce the Navy’s budget included cutting flying hours to more than half of normal monthly levels for several air wings. In May, East Coast-based CVW-7 was the first to feel these effects when flying hours were cut from 25 to 11 hours per month.
Despite budget challenges, it was a banner year for aviation milestones. In May, the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) launched from USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) off the coast of Virginia and landed at NAS Patuxent River, Md., marking the first sea-to-land unmanned flight. The P-8A Poseidon reached initial operational capability in November, and left for Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, marking its first operational deployment. The Navy celebrated the F/A-18 Hornet’s 35th anniversary; the Hornet first took flight 18 November 1978 followed by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet 29 November 1995.
The Navy also proved its operational readiness in November when Super Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Eastern Samar province of the Philippines. It brought with it historic devastation with more than 6,000 casualties reported. In response, the George Washington CSG arrived to boost emergency relief operations and provide humanitarian assistance to the storm-ravaged island nation.
The following information captures some of Naval Aviation’s milestones, highlights and events in 2013.
7: Three Marines with the VMM-266 Fighting Griffins were awarded the Air Medal with Combat Distinguishing Devices for their part in the rescue of a downed U.S. Air Force pilot during Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011. Capt. Erik Kolle, Staff Sgt. David Potter and Sgt. Daniel Howington flew their MV-22B Osprey, attached to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), off the Libyan coast to rescue the crew of a downed U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle that crashed outside of Benghazi.
9: A Marine CH-46E Sea Knight sustained damage during a confined area landing in Twentynine Palms, Calif. No fatalities were reported.
12: The HMM-764 Moonlight transitioned into the first reserve medium tilt-rotor squadron (VMM-764) at Edwards AFB, Calif. The unit then completed its move to MCAS Miramar, Calif., 18 January 2013.
23: An F/A-18E Super Hornet from NAS Lemoore, Calif., suffered an in-flight engine fire. The aircraft was recovered and no injuries were reported.
31: Boeing delivered the sixth production P-8A Poseidon aircraft to the U.S. Navy, completing the first group of low-rate initial production aircraft.
2: The VAQ-132 Scorpions completed a six-month deployment to NAF Misawa, Japan, and returned to NAS Whidbey Island, Wash. This was the first expeditionary deployment of the EA-18G Growler to the U.S. Pacific Command theater of operations.
6: SECDEF Leon Panetta canceled the 8 February 2013 deployment of the Harry S. Truman CSG because of budgetary restrictions caused by sequestration and the continuing resolution.
20: A Marine CH-46E sustained a hard landing and subsequent fire in Thailand. No fatalities were reported.
1: DoD lifted the 21 February 2013 grounding of the F-35 Lightning II after analysis concluded a cracked turbine blade in an engine on a single plane resulted from overuse in test operations.
7: The HSL-51 Warlords were redesignated as HSM-51 at NAF Atsugi, Japan.
11: A Navy EA-6B, assigned to the VAQ-129 Vikings at NAS Whidbey Island, crashed during a routine training flight in an unpopulated area about 50 miles east of Spokane, Wash., killing all three crew members.
12: The VAQ-136 Gauntlets were certified safe for flight after completing an 11-month transition from the EA-6B Prowler to the EA-18G Growler.
21: An F-35B Lightning II, attached to the VMFA-121 Green Knights, made its first vertical landing outside of testing at MCAS Yuma, Ariz.
31: The VAW-77 Nightwolves were decommissioned at NAS Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, La. The Nightwolves were formed in 1995 as the only Navy squadron dedicated to stemming the flow of illegal narcotics into the United States.
8: An F/A-18F Super Hornet, assigned to the VFA-103 Jolly Rogers aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), crashed in the North Arabian Sea. The two crewmembers were rescued shortly after the crash.
16: A Marine CH-53E Super Stallion suffered a hard landing near the North Korean border in Cherwon, South Korea. All 21 crew members were treated for non-serious injuries at a local hospital.
16: Aircraft aboard Dwight D. Eisenhower flew two stranded Afghan mariners from the North Arabian Sea to Kandahar, Afghanistan. The two men were rescued at sea after USS Hué City (CG 66) found them adrift in the Gulf of Oman, 7 April.
9: The Navy announced the cancellation of the Blue Angels’ remaining 2013 flying schedule. This included at least 32 shows through the beginning of November.
27: Six MV-22B Ospreys and two KC-130J Super Hercules aircraft flew from MCAS New River, N.C., to Moron De La Frontera, Spain, completing the longest and largest transatlantic flight of an Osprey squadron to date.
30: The DoD Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office announced that a Navy pilot missing from the Vietnam War had been accounted for and will be buried with full military honors along side his crew. Navy Lt. Dennis W. Peterson was the pilot of an SH-3A Sea King helicopter that crashed in Ha Nam Province, Vietnam, in 1967.
3: The HSM-35 Magicians became the first composite expeditionary helicopter squadron to include both the MH-60R Seahawk and the MQ-8B Fire Scout at NAS North Island, Calif.
4: HMX-1 hosted an MV-22B introduction ceremony marking the beginning of HMX-1’s transition from CH-46E Sea Knights to MV-22B Ospreys for green-side and presidential support flights.
14: The X-47B UCAS became the first aircraft to be launched from a carrier at sea without a human at the controls. After months of preliminary catapult tests ashore and taxiing tests at sea, the X-47B launched from George H. W. Bush off the coast of Virginia and landed at NAS Patuxent River after a flight of just over an hour.
22: The MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System completed its first flight from Palmdale, Calif., marking the start of tests to validate the system for future fleet operations.
1: The VT-4 Warbucks were reactivated at NAS Pensacola, Fla., joining the VT-10 Wildcats in providing training to undergraduate naval flight officers.
3: Five Marines were awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for their actions after one of the 24th MEU’s aircraft crashed during a bilateral training event in Morocco 11 April 2012.
14: Four MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft from the VMM-263 Thunder Eagles boarded USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) for a naval forces deployment.
14: The VMAQ-1 Banshees were redesignated VMAQT-1, marking the transition of training duties of the EA-6B Prowler from the Navy to the Marine Corps.
Four MQ-8B Fire Scouts attached to HSM-46 Det. 9, operated from USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) and flew 333 flight hours in June, exceeding the unmanned helicopter’s previous operational flight time by more than 110 hours.
1: The P-8A Poseidon was declared operationally suitable and ready for fleet introduction.
10: An AV-8B Harrier attached to the VMA-311 Tomcats was damaged after it veered off the runway and caught fire at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. The pilot safely exited the aircraft.
12: After nearly seven decades, the VMA-513 Flying Nightmares were decommissioned.
8: The X-47B returned to NAS Patuxent River from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia after completing testing aboard George H.W. Bush.
22: An MH-60S Seahawk assigned to the HSC-6 Indians crashed in the central Red Sea while operating aboard USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110).
25: USS George Washington (CVN 73) and CVW-5 completed a joint services exercise including air-to-air combat training with the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Wing located at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
30: CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters assigned to the VMM-262 Flying Tigers made their final flight from MCAS Futenma, Japan, to await their disposition at Camp Kinser in Okinawa, Japan. The flight followed the redesignation of HMM-262 to VMM-262 on 20 August 2013 at Futenma, signifying the squadron’s transition to the MV-22B Osprey.
1: The VFA-101 Grim Reapers hosted a rollout ceremony for their new F-35C Lightning II aircraft at Eglin AFB, Fla. VFA-101 received the Navy’s first F-35C from Lockheed Martin 22 June 2013, and completed its first check-flight 14 August 2013. As the F-35C Fleet Replacement Squadron, the Grim Reapers train Navy aircrew and maintenance personnel to fly and repair the F-35C.
1: The Naval Safety Center Detachment was established at the Naval School of Aviation Safety stationed at NAS Pensacola, Fla.
6: Sailors from the HSC-25 Island Knights aided in the rescue of four people whose plane went missing on a flight from Tinian Island to Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
7: The VMAQT-1 Banshees began training their first class of seven replacement pilots at MCAS Cherry Point, N.C. The squadron was redesignated from VMAQ-1 to VMAQT-1 on 14 June 2013.
18: The Navy’s Blue Angels flying team resumed community and public outreach duties after budget cuts caused by sequestration grounded a majority of its 2013 shows.
31: The U.S. Navy completed the first flight of the next-generation MQ-8C Fire Scout at NB Ventura County, Point Mugu, Calif.
4: The Navy began E-2 Hawkeye and C-2 Greyhound field carrier landing practice operations at Wallops Flight Facility.
4: A Navy T-45C Goshawk from the VT-86 Sabrehawks crashed at NAS Pensacola. Both pilots were taken to a local hospital and released.
5: USS America (LHA 6) took to the sea for the first time during five days of sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico.
10: The X-47B conducted flight operations aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). The Navy concluded another round of carrier testing – including deck handling, carrier approaches and landings in off-nominal wind conditions, and digitized ship system interfaces 19 November 2013 to further demonstrate and evaluate the X-47B’s integration within the aircraft carrier environment.
13: George Washington arrived in the Philippines to boost emergency relief operations in the typhoon-devastated Leyte and Samar provinces.
17: USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) was launched into the James River in Virginia for the first time.
29: The VP-16 War Eagles became the Navy’s first operational P-8A Poseidon squadron to deploy overseas when the first two of its six aircraft took off from NAS Jacksonville for Kadena Air Base.
4: The VP-62 Broadarrows returned to NAS Jacksonville following a six-month deployment to Kadena Air Base with Commander, Task Group 72.2, as part of the Navy’s first mobilization of a Reserve P-3C Orion squadron.
During December, the Navy’s unmanned RQ-4A Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator surpassed 10,000 flight hours in support of operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.