All posts by dave.bradford

Art Director for Naval Aviation News

Grampaw Pettibone

Grampaw Pettibone

Illustration by Ted Wilbur

Fire-Roasted Hawkeye

GrampsAn E-2 Hawkeye crew was conducting field carrier landing practice at an outlying field (OLF). At the abeam position, they called for a full stop to make a crew change. As they were passing through the “90” position, the landing signal officer (LSO) noticed what appeared to be white smoke emanating from the aircraft. The LSO called on the radio, “At the 90, check your dumps,” but then immediately called, “You are on fire.” The pilots noticed the “oil low” light followed by a fire light on the port engine. The pilot in the left seat began the “engine fire” in the flight memory items. He secured the engine and at the memory procedure “landing gear as required,” opted to raise the gear and initiate a waveoff. Both the crew and the LSO began coordinating with the tower for the aircraft to return to the nearby naval air station (NAS).

Noting that the engine was still on fire, the aircraft commander, sitting in the right seat, decided to land at the OLF. The crew executed a teardrop maneuver to set up landing on the downwind runway, lowering the gear and hook (there was no arresting gear at the OLF). The aircraft touched down and it was immediately apparent to the pilots that the nose wheel steering and normal brakes were inoperative. The crew tried both the auxiliary brakes and the emergency brake with no effect.

The aircraft then travelled the length of the runway, and noting they were still travelling at considerable speed, the crew shut down the starboard engine as they departed the runway. The aircraft came to a stop in the soft sand, the crew egressed and the fire was extinguished by the OLF crash and salvage crew.

The post-flight inspection revealed the regulator solenoid in the air turbine start control valve backed out of its housing, allowing uncontained bleed-air to enter the start assembly. This caused the starter to engage, overspeed and fail. The bleed-air continued to flow into the engine nacelle undetected by the fire detection system and caused the oil pump housing to fail. This released pressurized oil into the nacelle, which was ignited by the bleed-air, causing an uncontained fire that burned through hydraulic lines and electrical wires, including the wiring for the fire suppression system. The fire eventually burned holes in the nacelle and began to melt away the landing gear doors.

The OLF arresting gear had been permanently disestablished in an effort to save money.

GramPaw Pettibone saysGrampaw Pettibone says:

Well, that went from routine to ugly in the blink of an eye! Kids, these guys had a lot of snakes show up in the cockpit in a short period of time, and I don’t like to play Monday morning quarterback, but you know ol’ Gramps’ job is to take these events apart and see what we could have done better. Now, there is always a period where the boys and girls in the game don’t have all of the info and have to rely on training and instinct, but this one got so squirrelly so fast, it seems to this old timer like the best course of action would have been to get that flying machine on terra firma and sort out everything else with the steed tied down and an adult beverage in hand.

 Seems to me that both the pilots and the skivvie-waving LSOs had a bit of “let’s get the machine back to the maintainers” attitude. Don’t get me wrong, that is often a great call and better for the squadron. When you are already set up for a full stop, however, and the fire lights are on and engines are shutting themselves down, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say, let’s land that gnarly beast! If you landed and you didn’t need to, well shoot, you can take right back off, right? In this case, it may be that an immediate landing without raising and lowering the gear would have left some pressure for brakes.

So gather ‘round kids and let’s make sure we get this lesson: If the airworthiness of your machine is in question, your priority needs to be your own skin. It’s good to think of the organization and the troops, but don’t let getting the bird fixed take precedence over looking after your own self.

And as an aside, I got a burr under my saddle that our leaders made the decision to remove arresting gear for budgetary reasons. The whole purpose for an outlying field is to be a mini full-up NAS. We got crash crews (thank the almighty!) and in this geezer’s opinion, we should have had some spaghetti on that runway when it was needed. This event cost over a million dollars of mama Navy’s money! How much did we save pulling the gear out of that OLF?

Now you kids get on back to work, Gramps is gonna go take a spin around the patch in my own flyin’ machine.


Gramps from Yesteryear

Hot Stick, Hot Switch

Gramps_YY_Oct94_illustAn SH-2F Seasprite pilot returned to sea duty after an instructor tour in the Fleet Readiness Squadron (FRS). He described himself, albeit facetiously, as “Joe Hot-Stick Aviator” because he had become extremely proficient in the SH-2F during his instructor tour. He looked forward with great confidence to his assignments as his ship’s det. officer in charge. Moreover, his three junior pilots and two air crew members had been his students at the FRS. He felt bulletproof.

At sea, he was tasked to perform a vertical replenishment (VERTREP) of a canned torpedo from a supply ship without a landing area to his home plate. Although he had not executed a VERTREP in two years, he had no reservations nonetheless.

Approaching the ship, the air crew conducted the Hoist/Helicopter-In-Flight Refueling (HIFR)/VERTREP checklist, emphasizing hoisting. The hoist-cable cut switch was set in the armed position. The hoist was then lowered to deliver the cargo pendant for the torpedo can. The supply ship crew had attached an H-46 helicopter pendant to the load, which was too large for the SH-2F’s cargo hook, but the evolution began nonetheless.

The air crew member in the Seasprite lay flat on his stomach with his head out the door to observe the cargo hookup. The deck crew tried to jam the oversized pendant onto the small hook. Observing this, the air crew member called for “load release” to prevent the pendant from jamming the helo’s hook.

The pilot quickly punched the sling-drop button to release the VERTREP load. He had forgotten that he had left it in the hoist-cable cut position. The hoist hook and a small amount of cable narrowly missed striking the prone air crew member on the head as they separated from the hoist boom. The pilot then released the VERTREP load from the cargo hook using the manual release.

GramPaw Pettibone saysGrampaw Pettibone says:

Another near miss!

This “ace” pilot failed to complete the Hoist/HIFR/VERTREP checklist the second time after completing the first evolution: hoisting. Prior to VERTREP — the second evolution — he failed to change the position of the cable cut/sling-drop power switch.

Had the hook and cable whacked the air crew member on the noggin, they mighta had a very serious customer in the nearest sick bay. Or worse. Checklists are the roots to success for Naval Aviation. They can also be the roots of disaster if you don’t use ‘em properly.

(Lt Cmdr. Ken Taylor contributed this article.)


Open-Air Flight Testing Evolves at Atlantic Test Ranges

By Theresa Hopkins
The Atlantic Test Ranges supply the personnel and resources that allow  NAVAIR to provide research, development, test, evaluation  and training support to the U.S. Navy and DoD.
The Atlantic Test Ranges supply the personnel and resources that allow
NAVAIR to provide research, development, test, evaluation
and training support to the U.S. Navy and DoD.


Modern naval aircraft and weapons systems require state-of-the-art technology and instrumentation for test and evaluation (T&E). These assessments start years in advance of an aircraft’s delivery to the fleet and often require technological innovation.

The Atlantic Test Ranges (ATR) at NAS Patuxent River, Md., offer T&E capabilities and open-air range assets to provide decision-quality data for naval aircraft acquisition programs. ATR is one of three Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) open-air ranges — along with the Sea Range and the China Lake Ranges on the West Coast — which enable NAVAIR to deliver capable, affordable and sustainable warfighting capabilities to Sailors and Marines.

Naval Air Test Center engineers at work in the control room in 1988.
Naval Air Test Center engineers at work in the control room in 1988.

“Today’s flight testing monitors a wide range of parameters to gather accurate engineering data for flight test teams to make informed decisions,” said Rob Vargo, ATR director. “Not only are the aircraft we test today more sophisticated than those tested in the early days of naval flight testing, but the range assets used to test those systems have also evolved to meet the T&E needs of current Naval Aviation programs.”

While today’s aircraft and the tools for testing them have all undergone change over the years, the exceptional support that the NAS Patuxent River range professionals have provided to the Navy is unwavering.

The first Martin JRM Mars four-engine cargo transport seaplane, or “flying boat,” is delivered to VR-8  at NAS Patuxent River, Md., 27 November 1943 for crew training.
The first Martin JRM Mars four-engine cargo transport seaplane, or “flying boat,” is delivered to VR-8 at NAS Patuxent River, Md., 27 November 1943 for crew training.

In November 1942, Navy officials designated NAS Patuxent River as the site for testing experimental aircraft, equipment and material. The station would also become the East Coast base for the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS).

During the 1 April 1943 commissioning ceremony, Rear Adm. John S. McCain — then chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics — called Patuxent River “the most needed station in the Navy.”

From June through August 1943, flight test and development squadrons from NAS Anacostia, Washington, D.C., and the Aircraft Armament Unit from Norfolk, Va., transferred operations to Patuxent River. This consolidation initiated the station’s role as an aircraft test organization.

In July 1943, the Navy’s first air transport squadron, VQ-4, arrived at its new home at Patuxent River from Norfolk. Naval Air Transport Squadron (VR) 8 was established at NAS Patuxent River in October 1943. By June 1944, VR-9 was formed to function as the headquarters and maintenance squadron for NATS Atlantic. Radio, armament, catapult and arresting gear testing, as well as tactical equipment and service testing, were being conducted by this time.

On 16 June 1945, the Navy established the Naval Air Test Center (NATC) at Patuxent River. The NATC was responsible for the functional areas of flying qualities and performance, service suitability and electronics and armament testing. The center was split into five branches: Flight Test, Tactical Test, Armament Test, Electronic Test and Service Test. Flight testing duties fell under the Armament Test Division.

Lt. Gordon L. Gray, a Naval Air Test Center test pilot, travels to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., 15 October 1955 to fly the first Navy Preliminary Evaluations on the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. Gray set the world 500 kilometer, closed-course speed record of 695.163 mph. The first YA-4D was delivered to Patuxent River in mid-1955 for further evaluation.  (Photo courtesy of Douglas Aircraft)
Lt. Gordon L. Gray, a Naval Air Test Center test pilot, travels to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., 15 October 1955 to fly the first Navy Preliminary Evaluations on the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. Gray set the world 500 kilometer, closed-course speed record of 695.163 mph. The first YA-4D was delivered to Patuxent River in mid-1955 for further evaluation.
(Photo courtesy of Douglas Aircraft)

The development of jet aircraft and improvements to conventional weapons took place at NATC beginning in the 1950s. From the 1950s through the 1970s, a number of patrol squadrons including VP-8, VP-44, VP-49, VP-24, VP-30 and VP-68 operated from Patuxent River. By August 1955, Aviation Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VW) 11, the first of three such squadrons, was commissioned at NAS Patuxent River. VW-13 and VW-15 were commissioned by October 1955.

The ground-level ejection seat is demonstrated at the Naval Air Test Center at NAS Patuxent River, Md., 28 August 1956.  A successful ejection was made by Lt. Sydney Hughes,  British Royal Air Force, from an F9F-8T Cougar flying  just above the ground at 120 mph.
The ground-level ejection seat is demonstrated at the Naval Air Test Center at NAS Patuxent River, Md., 28 August 1956. A successful ejection was made by Lt. Sydney Hughes,
British Royal Air Force, from an F9F-8T Cougar flying
just above the ground at 120 mph.

A 1967 reorganization combined elements from the Flight Test, Service Test and Weapons System Test branches to form the Technical Support Division: the genesis of the current ATR. The Magnetic Tape and Telemetry Branch was created as part of the NATC Technical Support Division to provide telemetry to Navy flight test customers. Telemetry, the invisible link between aircraft and ground station, transfers results from complex measuring instruments on test aircraft to a team of flight test engineers on the ground.

Prior to 1970, options were limited for flight test engineers to monitor aircraft during testing. Engineers could communicate with the pilot via ultra-high frequency radio while the range provided aircraft location information. Aircraft data could be transmitted to a ground station, but only the raw data could be displayed on a strip chart. An engineer would then manually convert the data to engineering units.

Technological advancements improved the collection and analysis of test data with the development of the Real-Time Telemetry Processing System (RTPS) in March 1973. Patuxent River, using RTPS, was the first DoD site that could support processed telemetry data from the test platform, which was sent to displays monitored by flight test engineers in project engineer stations on the ground. While these basic concepts are still used today, the system relies on newer and faster hardware and software.

Strip charts were the test engineer’s primary tool in the early 1960s during flight testing at the Naval Air Test Center  at NAS Patuxent River, Md.
Strip charts were the test engineer’s primary tool in the early 1960s during flight testing at the Naval Air Test Center at NAS Patuxent River, Md.

Larry Hill, head of the ATR special projects office and a 40-year range employee, recalled how important the advent of computers was to developing today’s range infrastructure.

“The original computer system at ATR took up an entire room and contained a massive amount of computer equipment,” said Hill. “But now, with a significant change in technology, I carry around more computing power in my cellphone than that room ever held.”

NAVAIR established an assistant commander for test and evaluation March 1975. The position was assigned the management of T&E assets and facilities, which were subsequently divided into the Computer Sciences, Systems Engineering Test and Technical Support directorates. Range functions resided in the latter. Flight Test, Service Test and Weapons Systems Test divisions were disestablished and Strike Aircraft, Anti-submarine Aircraft and Rotary Wing Aircraft test directorates were formed to evaluate aircraft by type and mission.

By 1977, the demand for test data increased and the necessity for a more sophisticated flight test telemetry system became apparent. RTPS was upgraded to RTPS II, giving flight test engineers the ability to test four flights simultaneously. A major upgrade of test facilities in the late 1970s brought about some of the largest construction appropriations in the history of the air station.

In the early 1980s, the Patuxent River test area was extended to provide range and telemetry data from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., allowing for larger over-ocean test access with real-time coverage. The partnership continues today and provides the scheduling of assets between the two organizations and support of missions at Wallops.

The Technical Support Directorate’s Missile Programs Office was designated as the lead field activity for the Tomahawk missile’s East Coast operational test launch program in 1982. One of the early mobile range assets — a converted Convair 880 aircraft outfitted with telemetry equipment — flew alongside the missile to collect, process and provide data to the test team. The Chesapeake Test Range (CTR) supported more than 80 Tomahawk missile test flights at various ranges on the East Coast, Puerto Rico and Alaska until 30 June 1996.

Mark Swierczek, a NAVAIR flight test engineer, was part of the test team that evaluated cold weather Tomahawk engine operations in the late 1980s. To meet weather requirements, the project flew out of Elmendorf Air Force Base, in Anchorage, Alaska.

“The 880 was a unique asset that allowed us to complete testing in Alaska,” said Swierczek. “It had a full suite of test monitoring equipment, including strip charts, digital displays and radio communications so we could monitor the test flight in real-time.”

Swierczek added that the Convair 880 was not the only mobile range asset that test engineers had access to.

“RTPS outfitted everything from airplanes to school busses in order for us to complete tests that took place away from Patuxent River,” he said. “We also had strip charts in school busses that we drove up to [Naval Engineering Station Lakehurst] — another form of RTPS for offsite testing.”

By the 1980s, a high-bandwidth coaxial cable system linked all range data processing and simulation labs at Patuxent River. An instrumentation radar system was installed 20 miles south of Patuxent River at Point Lookout, Md., and was integrated with the CTR facility via a microwave link. The system obtains continuous and accurate position of items under test and provides time, space and position information for T&E events and fleet training exercises.

The Technical Support Directorate, which included the Magnetic Tape and Telemetry Branch, was renamed the Range Directorate in 1985. In 1988, RTPS was upgraded to RTPS III enabling up to 8.5 million operations per second. With six RTPS III project engineer station rooms, the test range could now handle six simultaneous flights.

After a military construction project added approximately 13,000 square feet to the CTR facility at Cedar Point, Md., the Telemetry Data Systems Branch moved from Building 1591 in 1989. As missions began occurring off the Atlantic coast, the range complex received its current designation as the Atlantic Test Ranges.

Two more reorganizations would occur: in 1997, when the Range Directorate became the Atlantic Ranges and Facilities (AR&F), and in 2004, when AR&F transitioned to the national NAVAIR Range Department.

F-35B Lightning II test aircraft BF-3 drops an inert GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition  at the Atlantic Test Ranges aboard NAS Patuxent River, Md., 8 August 2012.  (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
F-35B Lightning II test aircraft BF-3 drops an inert GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition
at the Atlantic Test Ranges aboard NAS Patuxent River, Md., 8 August 2012.
(Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

In 2009, RTPS was upgraded a fourth time to accommodate the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. Project Engineer Station rooms were upgraded with the Interactive Analysis Display System and expanded to support up to 40 flight test engineers in preparation for JSF test teams. Each workstation provides real-time analysis, display and data recall capability so engineers can independently review data and perform inter-maneuver analysis.

The addition of a secure annex in 2010 allows for top-secret Project Engineer Station rooms and an electronic warfare (EW) workstation, which centrally controls ATR’s ground-based threat radar simulators that support EW test and training requirements for use by T&E and training programs.

In 2013, ATR began an update to the core video routing infrastructure and video display systems in the ATR control room and Kineto tracking mounts to support the new digital high-definition video and high resolution PC graphics formats. Driven by unmanned aircraft systems requirements and the F-35 program, optical coverage has evolved from just providing video of an aircraft or store in the airspace to providing real-time imagery of specific details on the aircraft or store, such as control surfaces, doors and hatches.

“Obviously, the technology has changed a lot from the days when we were in a room with just strip charts and primitive video displays,” said Swierczek. “Back then we thought the technology had significantly increased when we went from four strip chart machines, to eight, then to a dozen. Now, even the strip chart is becoming obsolete as everything has gone digital.”

ATR’s testing capabilities will continue to evolve as Naval Aviation continues to evaluate the next generation of aircraft and weapon systems.

“We will continue to turn to our most valuable resource, our employees, and use their intellectual capital and know-how to provide the remarkable technologies and facilities that will support future testing of aircraft systems that allow the warfighter to fight and win,” said Vargo.

Theresa Hopkins supports the Atlantic Test Ranges and the national NAVAIR Range Department on the Business Communications team.


Fleet Readiness Centers Address Hornet Challenges

An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the VFA-113 Stingers flies over southern Afghanistan  in 2009 during Operation Enduring Freedom.  (Photo by Cmdr. Erik Etz)
An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the VFA-113 Stingers flies over southern Afghanistan
in 2009 during Operation Enduring Freedom.
(Photo by Cmdr. Erik Etz)

From his NAS Patuxent River, Md., office, Rear Adm. Paul Sohl, Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers (COMFRC), shared the Naval Aviation Enterprise’s (NAE) collaborative effort to address the aging Hornet fleet maintenance and repairs.

If you ask COMFRC about the aging legacy Hornet fleet, he will tell you about his production line, his talented artisans and the collaboration across the NAE to increase the number of F/A-18A-Ds returning to the flight line. He will also explain how the number of “out of reporting (OOR)” legacy Hornets accumulated over several years.

“The design life for a legacy Hornet was originally 6,000 flight hours,” said Sohl. “Those aircraft are being extended past 8,000 flight hours, with some being extended to 10,000 flight hours. The engineering, material and production efforts required to achieve such life extensions on a tactical aircraft are unprecedented.”

As of 1 December, there were 616 legacy Hornets in the Navy/Marine Corps fleet with 541, or 88 percent, operating above 6,000 flight hours, according to the F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office’s (PMA-265) monthly flight hour and inventory report. The following lists the number of aircraft above the 6,000-flight-hour service life:

  • 158 are between 6,000 and 7,000 hours
  • 293 are between 7,000 and 8,000 hours
  • 89 are between 8,000 and 9,000 hours
  • One aircraft is operating above 9,000 hours and is on its way to the service life extension goal of 10,000 flight hours.

According to PMA-265, 114 aircraft have completed inspections and are designated for service life extensions beyond 8,000 flight hours, with an additional 102 aircraft undergoing high-flight-hour inspections at Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) Southeast, aboard NAS Jacksonville, Fla., and FRC Southwest, aboard NAS North Island, Calif., facilities in addition to other field sites as of 26 November.

Lonnie Conditt, left, and Narom Orr, right, both machinists at Fleet Readiness Center Southeast in Jacksonville, Fla.,  measure holes to ensure alignment of an F/A-18 Hornet part on the production line.  (Photo by Victor Pitts)
Lonnie Conditt, left, and Narom Orr, right, both machinists at Fleet Readiness Center Southeast in Jacksonville, Fla., measure holes to ensure alignment of an F/A-18 Hornet part on the production line.
(Photo by Victor Pitts)

“One of the big challenges we face is, the more the fleet flies them, the faster they’re coming to the FRCs,” said Sohl. “In addition, the sequestration-related hiring freeze and furloughs during fiscal year 2013 slowed down the FRCs’ 12 million man-hour-a-year production machine. It is taking time to reverse that trend.”

“The six furlough days and overtime restrictions equated to six weeks of reduced work hours. In addition, attrition and the inability to hire replacements slowed us down even more,” he said. “We made progress hiring engineers, logisticians and artisans during fiscal year 2014 and are continuing that trend in 2015. The FRC workforce is returning to pre-sequester numbers.”

Sohl added that the fleet will see an increase in Hornet deliveries during fiscal years 2015 and 2016 as the FRC F/A-18 production lines continue to ramp up. Engineering analysis and instructions, parts and materials and trained artisans also had to be put in place.

“Meanwhile, the inductions do not stop,” said Sohl. “Aircraft keep coming into the FRCs, particularly at the 8,000-hour mark when additional depot-level maintenance is required. What excites me is that it is now time for the FRCs to step up and produce. It is a challenge I absolutely know the FRCs are ready to undertake.”

Recovery Plan

The NAE is working toward a comprehensive recovery plan, which includes a service life extension program (SLEP), a collaborative inspection process, and a list of fleet priorities from Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF) based on the DoN’s deployment requirements.

One aspect of the recovery plan is led by PMA-265, which created a team of stakeholders to track integration efforts. This undertaking is managed by Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Smay, the PMA-265 F/A-18 OOR integrated product team lead.

The OOR Drumbeat is an integration effort between the FRCs; Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR); Naval Supply Systems Command; Headquarters, Marine Corps; Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air Programs; the original equipment manufacturers (Boeing and Northrop Grumman); the Defense Logistics Agency; and CNAF.

Sohl compares the process of extending the service life of a legacy Hornet to keeping a high-mileage car on the road. There are standard work procedures at the FRCs similar to changing the oil in a car, which is a standard service for mechanics with a set price. And then there are high-flight-hour aircraft arriving at an FRC for major structural repairs.

“It is similar to a car needing major bodywork,” said Sohl. “At the body shop, the car is examined by an insurance adjuster, an estimator determines which parts to order and a body mechanic performs the work.”

“The similarity stops there because parts are available for your car, but that is not the case for some of our legacy Hornets,” he said. “Historically, the system was not able to absorb that new requirement.”

Kai Boyce, an aircraft artisan at FRC Southeast in Jacksonville, Fla., makes a repair in the auxiliary  power unit compartment of an F/A-18 Hornet in June.  (Photo by Victor Pitts)
Kai Boyce, an aircraft artisan at FRC Southeast in Jacksonville, Fla., makes a repair in the auxiliary
power unit compartment of an F/A-18 Hornet in June.
(Photo by Victor Pitts)

Aircraft Inspections

“FRC artisans extensively inspect each aircraft, often disassembling it down to the fuselage bulkheads and formers while scrutinizing parts based on the ‘hot spots’ described in associated inspection bulletins,” said Smay. “The panels are removed, the engines are removed, the cockpit is dismantled; each step is taken to ensure the aircraft will be safe to fly upon return to the fleet.”

In addition to the routine findings that require repair or replacement of an affected part, aircraft are often found to have corrosion or damage in adjacent areas not immediately covered by the inspection protocol. These unexpected findings are becoming increasingly prevalent as the aircraft continue to age and require the procurement or manufacture of a part that has rarely — if ever — been previously procured.

“The drumbeat facilitates an open line of communication between the subject matter experts doing the work,” said Smay. “The artisans, engineers and supply specialists, each working for various entities, all come together to address each complex case as a unit.”


When the artisans find unexpected damage or corrosion, they look to NAVAIR engineering for a solution.

“NAVAIR’s Air Vehicle Engineering Department has developed several ‘engineering levers’ to streamline the requisite engineering analysis in the form of request for engineering instructions (REIs) at the FRCs,” said Tom Rudowsky, the department head for NAVAIR’s Air Vehicle Engineering Department.

Rudowsky compared the engineering role at the FRCs to a carrier backstop to ensure aircraft return to service. “When standard work and repair manuals are exhausted and there is unusual or unexpected damage, we get the 911 call in the form of REIs,” he said.

One initiative improving the speed it takes to triage an aircraft is the building of a closer relationship between production artisans and engineers, resulting in higher quality and first-pass yields of REIs.

“About 15 percent more engineering capacity was made available by shifting the fleet’s in-service repair work from NAVAIR engineers to Boeing engineers in August,” said Rudowsky. In-service repairs have the highest priority because they are needed to return flight line assets to service.

COMFRC’s implementation of the Theory of Constraints Critical Chain Project Management across the F/A-18 FRC enterprise is also playing a major role by helping prioritize REIs. Another FRC priority is to continually develop its engineering workforce talent.

“We are continuing to grow our engineering talent with a structured skills-development program and active recruitment,” said Rudowsky. “We have the most capable engineering workforce the Navy has ever known. We can save just about any jet given time and money, but that’s not our task. Our task is to return mission capable aircraft back to our warfighters as quickly as possible.”

“From the engineers to the artisans, we rely on skilled people,” Sohl said.

While visiting FRC East at MCAS Cherry Point, N.C., Sohl was impressed with an artisan who applied best practices from his time working on F-4 Phantom structural repairs. By adapting aspects of the Phantom structural wing modification process to the F-35 Lightning II, processing time was reduced from seven days to two days.

“That to me epitomizes the talent we have in the FRCs,” Sohl said. “Those kinds of people are worth their weight in gold.”

Additive Manufacturing

The FRCs also employ additive manufacturing — cutting-edge technology using 3-D modeling to create prototypes that are “printed” from digital files — to improve quality and accelerate production of aircraft and components. NAVAIR has applied additive manufacturing technology in its prototyping facilities since the early 1990s and the capabilities continue to expand across NAVAIR’s warfare centers and the FRCs.

“All of our FRCs use polymer-based additive manufacturing systems to rapidly produce form blocks and tooling for sheet metal parts, validate 3-D models and fit check parts, produce work aids, and directly manufacture plastic ducting for aircraft systems,” said Sohl. “In the future, the FRCs will be producing additive-manufactured metal parts for our aircraft.”

Sailors cheer as an F/A-18C Hornet attached to the VFA-192 Golden Dragons launches from USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in 2013. (Photo by MCSN Marco Villasana)
Sailors cheer as an F/A-18C Hornet attached to the VFA-192 Golden Dragons launches from USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in 2013.
(Photo by MCSN Marco Villasana)

Looking Ahead

The Navy is now evaluating the opportunities to extend the service life design limits of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, according to the program office. Upon determination that the F/A-18E/F service life can be extended beyond the original 6,000-flight-hour design limit, a SLEP will be implemented to increase the service life to 9,000 flight hours.

By Andrea Watters

Andrea Watters is a public affairs specialist for the NAVAIR Corporate Communication Department and Naval Aviation News editor in chief.

F-35C Traps Aboard Nimitz

By Lt. j.g. Clinton Ramsden III
CF-03 FLT 195 CDR Christian Sewell. CF-05 FLT 102 CDR Tony Wilson.
An F-35C Lightning II approaches USS Nimitz (CVN 68) for an arresting landing 3 November. (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

The F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the Navy’s newest strike fighter, completed initial carrier developmental testing (DT-I) 14 November aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in San Diego, Calif.

An F-35C Lightning II makes an arrested landing aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68) on 6 November.  (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
An F-35C Lightning II makes an arrested landing aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68) on 6 November.
(Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

During DT-I, F-35C test pilots and engineers tested both the suitability and integration of the aircraft with carrier air and deck operations in an at-sea environment. A series of tests designed to gradually expand the aircraft’s operating environment enabled the F-35 Lightning II Integrated Test Force (ITF) from the VX-23 Salty Dogs — based at NAS Patuxent River, Md. — to conduct operations in preparation for the aircraft’s initial operational capability in 2018.

The F-35C demonstrated exceptional performance both in the air and on the flight deck, accelerating the team’s progress through the DT-I schedule and achieving 100 percent of the threshold test points three days ahead of schedule. Test pilots and engineers credited the F-35C’s Delta Flight Path technology with significantly reducing pilot workload during the approach to the carrier, increasing safety margins during carrier approaches, and reducing touchdown dispersion.

Cmdr. Tony Wilson  (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
Cmdr. Tony Wilson
(Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

“The engineers responsible for the aircraft’s control laws did a phenomenal job designing this aircraft from the pilot’s perspective,” said Cmdr. Tony Wilson, the DT-I team lead at VX-23. “The control schemes of the F-35C provide a tool for the below-average ball flyer to compete for top hook.”

Other test pilots involved in the testing described the F-35C as easy to operate in the carrier environment. One former F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot described landing an F/A-18 as being “fun and challenging,” while landing an F-35C as “just plain fun.”

“My major take away was that the F-35C is very good at flying behind the ship,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ted Dyckman, a VX-23 test pilot. “Any deviation that someone gets themselves into, they can correct fairly quickly and accurately.”

“In fact, it’s a three-wire machine,” he added, referring to the optimal arresting wire aboard an aircraft carrier.

By alleviating the need for pilots to make power corrections, F-35C pilots are able to focus on the line-up to the carrier deck during traps. This capability allowed for 124 arrested landings with zero unintentional hook-down missed attempts to catch an arresting wire on the flight deck, otherwise known as “bolters.” (Two hook-down intentional bolters were conducted as part of the DT-I test plan.)

Cmdr. Christian Sewell (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

“The flight control system is precise, stable and responsive and provides carefree handling in all flight regimes,” said Cmdr. Christian Sewell, VX-23 F-35 operational test liaison officer/ITF operations officer. “We’ve tested right up to the edge of the envelope and the aircraft handles amazingly. In general, the pilot workload required to fly the F-35 is less when compared to legacy aircraft, which allows the pilot to focus their efforts on the operational mission.”

According to Capt. A.C. Lynch, deputy director of the NAVAIR Air Vehicle Engineering Department, the three-wire landings during DT-I demonstrated the successful re-design of the F-35C’s tailhook and supporting structural interfaces. The joint contractor and government team consisted of engineers with NAVAIR’s Systems Engineering; Air Vehicle Engineering; Support Equipment and Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment departments; the Atlantic Test Ranges and Patuxent River ITF; Lockheed Martin Aero; Northrop Grumman; and Fokker Landing Gear.

The tailhook re-design effort, like the flight control system, is an example of the power of collaboration between government and industry engineers. “In both cases, industry was able to leverage NAVAIR’s decades of experience in carrier-based aircraft design to build an outstanding product for the warfighter,” said Lynch.

“Since beginning shore-based carrier suitability testing in January 2014 with the redesigned hook system, test results have been positive with the ultimate proof coming in the success of DT-I,” said Bryan Racine, F-35 ship suitability team lead.

Lt. Jonathan Norris observes flight operations as an F-35C Lightning II makes an arrested landing aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68) on 6 November.  (Photo by MC2 Huey D. Younger Jr.)
Lt. Jonathan Norris observes flight operations as an F-35C Lightning II makes an arrested landing aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68) on 6 November.
(Photo by MC2 Huey D. Younger Jr.)

“This det. was very successful,” said Dyckman. “We flew it here and saw that it could trap with no bolters. The only true bolter was a power call on the landing signal officer and the aircraft touching down long.”

“We had stricter weather requirements when we were here. As we got into [testing], the weather started coming down,” he said. “We had such confidence in how the plane was flying that we lowered the weather minimums to what the fleet is actually using, knowing that when I lower my hook and come into the groove I’m going to trap.”

An F-35C Lightning II approaches USS Nimitz (CVN 68) for an arresting landing on 3 November. (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
An F-35C Lightning II approaches USS Nimitz (CVN 68) for an arresting landing on 3 November.
(Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

Dykman added that the test team’s confidence level in the aircraft was so high, they were ready to evaluate the aircraft for night operations during the first det.

“It flew very well behind the ship, even on the darkest night,” he said. “Two hook-down passes and two traps: that says it all right there. It’s unheard of to conduct night ops on the first det.”

During DT-I, F-35C maintenance and ground operations integrated well with standard Navy carrier procedures aboard Nimitz.

“All of the flight deck crew members involved in DT-I were assigned to Nimitz, some of whom went to NAS Patuxent River in mid-October for training,” said Wilson. “They returned to the ship and prepared the remainder of their crew for the arrival of the F-35C. The initial ship trials of the F-35C would not have been possible without the cooperation of Nimitz.”

An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the VFA-37 Ragin’ Bulls launches from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) on 24 September.  (Photo by MC3 Karl Anderson)
An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the VFA-37 Ragin’ Bulls launches from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) on 24 September.
(Photo by MC3 Karl Anderson)

After all test points are collected, analyzed and assessed, the DT-I data will be used to advise the Navy of any adjustments necessary to ensure the fifth-generation fighter is fully capable and ready to deploy to the fleet in 2018.

“Our main testing points were to verify that the approach handling qualities were satisfactory across a variety of wind conditions, to determine the launch characteristic and performance from the ship’s catapults across a variety of wind conditions, to look at the integration of the aircraft with the ship both on the flight deck and in the hangar bay, and to test the ability of the F-35C to use other ship’s flight systems to perform inertial alignments, instrument approaches and basic navigation to and from the ship,” said Cmdr. Shawn Kern, director of test and evaluation for F-35 naval variants. “We also performed some aircraft functions in and around the shipboard environment including use of various sensors.”

An F-35C Lightning II approaches USS Nimitz (CVN 68) for an arresting landing on 5 November. (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
An F-35C Lightning II approaches USS Nimitz (CVN 68) for an arresting landing on 5 November.
(Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

By 2020, the Navy will integrate initial F-35Cs into the carrier air wing where it will bring advanced stealth technology to the carrier environment, enhanced interoperability capabilities to other air wing platforms, and an upgraded network to ensure the precision of the commanders’ perception of the operating area. Future carrier air wings will consist of a mix of F-35C Lightning IIs; F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets; EA-18G Growlers; E-2D Hawkeyes; unmanned carrier launched airborne surveillance and strike air vehicles; MH-60R/S helicopters; and Carrier Onboard Delivery logistics aircraft.

Lt. j.g. Ramsden is an assistant public affairs officer with Commander, Naval Air Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet.


Grampaw Pettibone

Grampaw Pettibone


Illustration by Ted Wilbur

Gramps from Yesteryear

Naval Aviation News May – June 2001

Danger Zone

A  CH-53D Sea Stallion was conducting practice landings at confined-area landing sites. As a demonstration, the helicopter aircraft commander (HAC) would make the first landing at each of a succession of different sites, after which the copilot would take over and make two landings at each site.

One of the locations had an upward sloping landing zone when approached on a southerly heading and was 150 feet in diameter with trees around the perimeter. The HAC made his demonstration approach and landing to the upper portion of the site on a southerly heading. The aircraft experienced an unexplained loss of lift on short final. The HAC initiated a moderate flare and power application to arrest the sudden rate of descent, and landed uneventfully. On deck, the HAC transferred the controls to the copilot who took off and established a downwind pattern 400 feet above the ground at 80 knots.

The copilot then began a descending, decelerating turn onto the final approach to the site at 60 knots. All was normal until the final portion of the approach when the helo seemed to lose lift just prior to commencing a hover on short final.

The aircraft settled and the rotor blades struck the trees, damaging the CH-53D. The tail rotor drive system was severed between the #4 and #5 drive shafts, producing uncontrolled right yaw as the helo landed.

Although the Sea Stallion had been on a southerly heading, when it struck the ground it had come around to 300 degrees. There were no injuries.

GramPaw Pettibone saysGrampaw Pettibone says:
Methinks the copilot was placed in a situation beyond his experience and abilities. Me also thinks the HAC failed to keep pace with what was goin’ on. The HAC may have looked danger in the face on his approach to the landing zone and survived, but he failed to recognize a repeat occurrence. Remember the old, simple and enduring axiom: stay ahead of the aircraft, not the other way around.

War Eagles Take Reins of Poseidon

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 Search and Rescue Operations
Members of the VP-16 War Eagles fuel up a P-8A Poseidon on the flight line at Perth Airport, Australia, to assist with the international effort to locate Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on 2 April. (Photo by MCC Keith DeVinney)

War Eagles Take Reins of Poseidon

By Lt. Christi E. Morrissey

The P-8A Poseidon program achieved initial operational capability 29 November 2013, launching the inaugural P-8A squadron deployment.

That day, two of six P-8A Poseidon aircraft assigned to the VP-16 War Eagles departed NAS Jacksonville, Fla., and arrived at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, 1 December. The four additional aircraft arrived a few days later. The U.S. Navy’s maritime patrol and reconnaissance community last witnessed a milestone of this caliber in October 1962, when the VP-8 Fighting Tigers first deployed with the P-3A Orion.

“The decision to send the Poseidon on its maiden deployment to the 7th Fleet area of operations signifies the U.S. Navy’s commitment to maintain a continued presence of its most capable assets in the Western Pacific, bolstering the United States’ rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” said Cmdr. William C. Pennington, Jr., VP-16’s commanding officer during the deployment.

Sailors attached to the VP-16 War Eagles monitor their workstations during a 1 April mission. (Photo by MC2 Eric A. Pastor)

In Okinawa, VP-16 participated in missions and exercises ranging from search and rescue efforts for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 to traditional theater anti-submarine warfare (ASW), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) exercises with regional allies. The War Eagles maintenance team and air crew tirelessly worked to keep the squadron’s aircraft flying and maintained operational readiness throughout the Western Pacific.

According to Cmdr. Daniel Papp, VP-16’s current commanding officer and executive officer during the deployment, the aircraft’s Pacific operations proved that the P-8A is ideal for such a vast operational area. The Poseidon’s range and speed allows crews to patrol large expanses of ocean that would take surface vessels days to reach.

“When it came to operating away from home for long periods of time, we started out more conservatively, sending small detachments to NAF Atsugi, Japan,” said Lt. Cmdr. Erik Thomas, a VP-16 naval flight officer and the squadron operations officer during the deployment. “This permitted us to test our procedures working in a detachment environment, launching flights and executing tasking without the aid of home base.”

Building on its success and capabilities, VP-16 quickly transitioned to operating at full speed.

“At one point, we had only a single aircraft on the ramp here in Okinawa because all of our other aircraft were participating in exercises and missions in other countries,” said Thomas. “During one of our busiest days, we flew 66 flight hours. For a squadron with only six aircraft, that’s unheard of.”


Snapdragon exercises took place from 30 December 2013 to 1 January 2014 in the Philippine Sea and offered a joint training opportunity between maritime patrol reconnaissance aircraft (MPRA) and U.S. submarine forces.

“We’ve been maintaining planes airborne around the clock for the last few days,” said Lt. Timothy Bierbach, a senior tactical coordinator (TACCO) and VP-16’s maritime weapons and tactics instructor. “With half of our aircraft currently on detachment to other countries for exercises and other missions, this has been a test of the P-8A and VP-16’s ability to maintain flight operations with limited assets. The P-8A is a transformational ASW aircraft and has reached or exceeded our current expectations in all mission sets.”

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric A. Pastor)
Sailors attached to the VP-16 War Eagles perform scheduled maintenance on a P-8A Poseidon aircraft 25 February. (Photo by MC2 Eric A. Pastor)

During the exercise, Lt. j.g. Joel Gillquist, a naval flight officer and co-TACCO, examined his screen using the Poseidon’s 21st century battle space management capabilities and notified the TACCO, Lt. John Bailey, that their relief was off deck early. The TACCOs coordinated with the other aircraft and provided their relief with increased situational awareness.

“Network integration has given us a superior ability to conduct command and control, and pass mission critical information,” said Gillquist. “We are able to use systems such as Link-11, Link-16 and international marine/maritime satellite communication systems (INMARSAT) to coordinate with U.S. and international partners and allies. The ability to share information and data off the aircraft increases our operational effectiveness and allows our commanders to make better informed decisions.”

The Poseidon crew tracked its target for several hours during the exercise, adjusting their tactics to the submarine’s changes in course and speed. Minute shifts in the sub’s frequencies were quickly picked up by the P-8A’s sensors and recognized by crew members.

“The Poseidon’s Maritime Acoustic Suite is significantly more interactive than the legacy systems we had in the P-3C,” said AWO2 Aaron Deremiah. “We are able to manipulate our system to exploit the acoustic returns, allowing us to detect a wider range of frequencies than the Orion could.”

“The P-8A was designed to detect and track any subsurface target in the world, and it does that very effectively,” said Deremiah. “In addition, the flexibility of the mission crew workstations allows us to become more tactically involved in missions other than ASW.”

The aircraft’s local area network enables the crew to access all systems and sensors to exploit the full capacity of the air crew and aircraft, and ultimately find the moving target.

“From my station, I can use INMARSAT, make radio calls and even insert a buoy pattern, if needed,” said Deremiah. “Workload sharing has enabled the acoustic operator to play a more active role on the squadron’s flights, helping prevent task saturation of the TACCO and electronic warfare operators (EWO) on ISR and ASuW missions.”

Lt. Michael Glynn, assigned to the VP-16 War Eagles, pilots a P-8A Poseidon over the Indian Ocean in support of the international effort to locate Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on 15 April. (Photo by MCC Keith DeVinney)
Lt. Michael Glynn, assigned to the VP-16 War Eagles, pilots a P-8A Poseidon over the Indian Ocean in support of the international effort to locate Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on 15 April. (Photo by MCC Keith DeVinney)

AWOCS Patrick Biddinger, a senior EWO in the squadron and the original EWO fleet NATOPS evaluator on the Poseidon, agreed with Deremiah.

“There is more fluidity between the sensor operators than there ever was in the P-3C,” he said. “While we still have our areas of expertise, you are starting to see operators use and experiment with the capabilities of the other sensors allowing them to step outside of their traditional roles.”

During this exercise, air and submarine crews practiced ASW tactics. For P-8 air crews, the exercise provided training and flight hours for certification.


The P-8A carries sonobuoys and is armed with MK-54 torpedoes and the AGM-84D Harpoon anti-surface missile. Combined with state-of-the-art sensor suites and a flexible crew layout, the Poseidon is the most advanced maritime patrol aircraft in the world. The flight deck is nearly identical to a commercial 737 Next Generation, with 87 percent of the panels and switches matching those found in its cousin aircraft. Only a few added panels hint at the plane’s military capabilities.

“The increased situational awareness the Poseidon brings to the flight station compared to the P-3C is night and day,” said Lt. Shawn Khan, a P-8A patrol plane commander and former P-3C pilot. “In the P-3, we only had [a tactical air navigation system] and radio communications to coordinate altitude swaps with our relief aircraft.”

Khan also noted that increased automation, including autopilot and auto throttle features, decreases the manual workload on the aircraft’s pilots, so they are able to pay more attention to the tactical situation. In poor weather, the heads-up display for the pilot in the left seat allows a smooth transition from instrument to visual flying.

Although the Poseidon has fewer windows than a commercial 737, two large observer windows situated toward the front of the aircraft allow crew members to conduct visual searches and monitor for conflicting air traffic.

The heart of “the tube” consists of five interchangeable mission crew workstations, arranged along a rail, allowing for any combination of seating arrangements.

“These arrangements enable the TACCO to maximize efficiency and take advantage of previously unrecognized capacity,” said Bierbach. “This capability has exponentially increased our crew resource management and productivity.”

The acoustic sensors consist of the Maritime Acoustic System Processor and Maritime Acoustic System Data Recorder, which enables operators to analyze up to 64 sonobuoys at a time: twice the capacity of the P-3C. The P-8A uses a sonobuoy positioning system, which provides a more accurate geo-location of buoy patterns and reduces the need to constantly mark on top of deployed sonobuoys.

“The P-3 is a reliable and capable aircraft that has proven itself over the years, but the P-8 is a game changer, allowing operators to collect and process greater amounts of tactical data,” said Biddinger.

Perhaps the greatest change for the aircraft’s EWO has been the addition of the ALQ-240 Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system. According to Biddinger, the new ESM system enables operators to manipulate portions of the frequency spectrum they are examining, letting them tailor searches based on their operating area. The system is also able to automatically geo-locate a target, reducing the need to manually fix a track, and gives both the TACCO and flight station greater control over the aircraft’s flight path.

AWO2 Karl Shinn, assigned to the VP-16 War Eagles, unloads a sonobuoy from the rack aboard a P-8A Poseidon to prepare it for use during the early April search of the missing Malaysia Airline Flight MH370. (Photo by MCC Keith DeVinney)


The War Eagles spent more than nine hours a day in March joining the search and rescue effort for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

“VP-16 contributed two aircraft for daily flights in the search and rotated crews through Australia for several weeks,” said Lt. j.g. Kyle Atakturk, a VP-16 pilot who was part of the first crew to respond. “It was an emotional mission. Our air crew and aircraft went out nearly every day, flying in both inclement weather and optimum conditions, to cover huge expanses of the ocean. We just wanted to help bring closure to the families of the missing.”

The War Eagles also brought the P-8A to South Korea in March for Exercise Foal Eagle, designed to enhance South Korea’s security and readiness. VP-16 supported U.S. Marines on the ground through ISR missions and executed ASW targets. The Poseidon’s performance exceeded expectations by providing a superior ISR product to the Marines and the South Korean naval assets.

“VP-16 has been investigating ways to collaborate with our sister services in a joint environment,” said Lt. Michael Glynn, a P-8A instructor pilot and P-3C aircraft commander. “As the U.S. supports the rebalance to the Pacific, we’re focusing on projecting power in an area with anti-access and area denial systems. To operate effectively, you need to seamlessly link sensor platforms like the P-8A with commanders and shooters. We are just now tapping into some of the capabilities in the systems aboard the Poseidon.”

During a seven-month deployment, the War Eagles completed maritime strike exercises with U.S. aircraft including: Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers, U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry, F-15 Strike Eagles and F-22 Raptors. Glynn noted these types of joint exercises, practicing and simulating high-end tactics, techniques and procedures with U.S allies, let the forces learn together and improve interoperability.

“Those missions are the bread and butter of the MPRA community,” said Pennington. “During my time in command, I challenged our Sailors to become the most proficient ASW squadron in the Navy, asking them to embody our motto: ‘Anytime, Anywhere, Any Task … Nothing but Excellence.’ I can proudly say that our Sailors and air crew stepped up to the plate and exceeded all expectations.”

Lt. Morrissey is a VP-16 pilot and the squadron’s public affairs officer. A Harvard graduate, she was a member of the first class of CAT I students to train on the P-8A. LaToya T. Graddy, the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircrafat program office (PMA-290) public affairs officer, contributed to this article.

On Glide Path, On Course

An air traffic controller is reflected in the precision approach radar scope as he directs an aircraft. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

 On Glide Path, On Course
Past, Present and Future

By Capt. Brett Easler and Cmdr. Bruce Herman, USN (Ret.)

“On glide path, on course” is a phrase from apprentice and journeyman controllers alike that most Naval Aviators hear time and time again. In many cases, those were reassuring words when the weather was obscured with zero visibility and fog, no other precision approach landing (PAL) aids were available, fuel was low or no suitable divert fields were within range.

Cutting a path through fog, rain and snow, the ground controlled approach (GCA) has long been the Navy and Marine Corps’ PAL system. Whether ashore, afloat or in the Marine’s austere expeditionary environment, the talk-down approach has been the standard by which we train, man and equip our controllers to meet the warfighter mission.


The naval air traffic control (ATC) community serves with great pride and a rich history. Since Naval Aviation’s earliest days, ATC has functioned as a critical element of the Naval Aviation mission. Invariably, the evolution of ATC parallels the evolution of the aircraft.

Sailors operate a ground controlled approach unit on Guam in 1946. (Photo courtesy of Cmdr. Bruce Herman, USN (Ret.))

On 22 December 1942, Ens. Bruce Griffin soaped over the windshield of an SNJ Texan Navy trainer so he was unable to see forward out of the windscreen. Griffin took off from NAS Quonset Point, R.I., and made the first blind landing using GCA MK-1. Lt. Evan Aurand was in the tower and brought Griffin in, making him the first true GCA controller. Nine days later on 1 January 1943, GCA was called into emergency use for the first time when a snowstorm closed Quonset Point approximately 30 minutes before the arrival of a flight of PBY Catalinas.

In May 1943, Navy operational personnel successfully field tested the laboratory model of the GCA system developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Radiation Laboratory. Shortly thereafter, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) approved GCA as the Navy’s standard talk-down approach control system and field training of GCA crews commenced at NAS Gainesville, Ga.

Specialist yeoman, quartermaster and radarman ratings were trained in an eight-week course where each student controlled approximately 150 live approaches using the AN/MPN-1 radar and SNB aircraft. The specialist yeoman rating represented control tower operators and was used from 1943 through 1948.

When initially commissioned, GCA was a mobile system capable of deploying to support tactical operations, as well as remaining at fixed locations. Advantages of the system included its accuracy and the absence of a requirement for a dedicated avionics package in the aircraft. A trained pilot equipped with a functioning radio was able to make an approach and landing in adverse weather conditions. A number of locations had published GCA weather minimums of 100 foot ceiling and one-quarter mile visibility, with terrain and runway/approach lighting systems effecting published minimums. Disadvantages of the GCA system included its size and weight, which affected its transportation via airlift/sealift, and the increased number of personnel required to operate and maintain the system.

AN/MPN-1 mobile ground-controlled approach radar systems were integral precision landing equipment for air traffic controllers during World War II and into the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of Cmdr. Bruce Herman, USN (Ret.))

In March 1962, the Navy’s ATC schools and its 11 courses moved from Naval Air Technical Training Unit Olathe, Kan., to form the Air Traffic Control Schools Division of Naval Aviation Technical Training Center (NATTC) at NAS Glynco, Ga. The initial GCA course lasted 10 weeks and allowed each student to make 150 live runs using the AN/MPN-5 radar for synthetic training and the AN/CPN-4 radar for live training. The training was further refined to only six weeks, during which students made approximately 200 synthetic runs and 55 live runs using S-2 Tracker aircraft.

Students also received flight skins and flew in the right seat of the S-2 while listening and watching the pilot conduct GCA approaches. This approach to training provided the student controller with an appreciation of the pilot workload during a GCA. On 30 April 1974, the last S-2 live-run flights for GCA training took place in Glynco, ending a practice started in 1944. More than 290,000 approaches were made since training began at NATTC in 1962. ATC schools have resided at NATTC Pensacola, Fla., since April 1996 after a 20-year layover at NATTC Millington, Tenn.

In the early 1970s, GCA units merged with the air station ATC division into a single organization. The result of this transition was the air traffic control facility (ATCF). Before adoption of the ATCF concept, the staffing level for a GCA unit consisted of 15 controllers, three technicians, one engineman and two officers: an officer-in-charge and an approach controller.


An air traffic controller communicates with an aircraft at NAS Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove, Pa., 21 May 2004. (Photo by Journalist Third Class David P. Coleman.)

Navy and Marine Corps air traffic controllers now provide talk-down services at 31 air stations using the AN/FPN-63 precision approach radar (PAR); carriers use the AN/SPN-46 automatic carrier landing system for mode III approaches; and LHDs or LHAs use the AN/SPN-35 PAR. The nine Marine Corps ATC detachments also deploy the AN/TPN-31A air traffic navigation, integration and coordination system in support of humanitarian, disaster and contingency operations in every clime and place. Up to 160,000 talk-down approaches are conducted annually across the DoN. The number of GCAs have declined during the last 20 years, however, as a result of instrument landing system (ILS) installations, reduced flight operations and increased simulator time for the aircrew.

The DoN has installed 14 ILS (MK-1F and MK-20A) systems as site-specific operational requirements to support aircraft with ILS avionics. The first four systems went to NAS Adak, Alaska, (installed September 1989); NSF Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory (installed in August 1992); NAS Kingsville, Texas, (installed in September 1993); and Amchitka Island, Alaska. The ILS provides a PAL system compatible with shore-based multi-engine aircraft and a means to accomplish proficiency training at home stations and bases.

During the summer of 1994, both the CNO and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force approved a joint Mission Need Statement, which identified the requirement for a rapidly deployable, adverse weather and terrain, day/night, survivable and interoperable precision approach landing capability (PALC) system. The subsequent analysis of alternatives, updated in November 2005, recommended differential global positioning system technology as the preferred solution, which is now known as the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS).

Until March 2013, JPALS was envisioned as the single solution for meeting the PALC requirement for all service branches in any operating environment, eliminating the requirement for multiple and/or varying PAL systems. JPALS Increment 1 was developed for sea-based application, and has completed initial sea-based testing while successfully conducting more than 70 auto-land approaches with pin-point accuracy using a modified F/A-18C Hornet. JPALS will become part of the ATC suite on aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships in support of the F-35B/C Lightning II by the end of the decade.

Given the current fiscal environment, the Director, Air Warfare (OPNAV N98), ordered an extensive evaluation of the DoN PALC roadmap. The evaluation, performed by OPNAV N980A and the Naval Air Traffic Management Systems program office, reviewed multiple courses of action to ensure all-weather landing capability continues in support of Naval Aviation, while closing the interoperability gaps experienced under the current family of systems used to satisfy the DoN PALC requirement.

In June 2013, the Navy Resources and Requirements Review Board directed the continuing development of JPALS for aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships and installation of ILS ashore through sundown of PAR by 2030, when ILS aircraft integration is scheduled for completion. As a part of the roadmap, existing AN/FPN-63 PAR systems ashore will receive upgrades to ensure service life until transition to the ILS is complete. A landing system upgrade program was also initiated to enhance the availability and sustainment of both the AN/SPN-46 and AN/SPN-35 sea-based precision radars.


We are at decision height and the PALC roadmap for Naval Aviation is “on glide path, on course” to replace PAR ashore with instrumented capability in the cockpit. The long-standing tradition of “Airman Timmy and Lance Corporal Jimmy” in the pilot’s headset giving course corrections and trend information will cross landing threshold one last time in the next decade.

So what’s the bottom line? Carriers will have AN/SPN-46 for currently configured aircraft and JPALS for the F-35C, while amphibious assault ships will have AN/SPN-35 for currently configured aircraft and JPALS for the F-35B. Both aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships will continue to use AN/SPN-41 (Bullseye) as a backup and have the talk-down approach available if all else fails. Ashore, the AN/FPN-63 will sunset when the fielding plans for ILS air station installations and the aircraft avionics upgrades are complete. The introduction of JPALS and establishing ILS as the primary PALC will be the foundation for future aircraft avionics development and integration.

Until the PALC roadmap meets full operational capability, the GCA will be available until all aircraft within the Navy and Marine Corps inventory are capable of an unassisted instrument approach using a cockpit needles display.

This is an age of instant history when the startling innovations of yesterday become the anachronisms of today. Perhaps no place is this more apparent than in Naval Aviation. After more than 70 years of service with thousands of saves recorded in both civil and military records alike, it is time to bid farewell to a legend: a landing system that safely brought home Panthers, Banshees, Skyraiders, Cougars, Furies, Phantoms, Corsairs, Traders, Trackers, Tracers, Tomcats, Neptunes, Orions, Aries, Hawkeyes, Hornets, Seahawks, Vikings, Prowlers and Growlers in zero-zero conditions. As the era of GCA ashore concludes and the comforting phrases “approaching glidepath, begin descent” or “over landing threshold, on course” are no longer heard in headsets, the next-generation PALC systems will continue the Navy and Marine Corps ATC tradition of bringing our aircrew back safely.


Capt. Easler is retiring this fall after 36 years of active duty, serving his final tour on the staff of Director, Air Warfare (N98) as the Director, Naval Airspace and Air Traffic Control Standards and Evaluation Agency. Cmdr. Herman is also an air traffic control limited duty officer who retired in 2003 after 33 years of service. 


Year in Review 2013

USS George Washington (CVN 73) steams toward USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE 10) prior to a replenishment-at-sea 24 November 2013. (Photo by MC3 Brian H. Abel)

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.

Ships of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group sail in formation in the Red Sea 16 June 2013. (Photo by MC2 Corbin J. Shea)


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.

Sailors from USS Mustin (DDG 89) and soldiers of the Philippine Army unload aid from an MH-60S Seahawk belonging to the HSC-25 Island Knights during relief efforts in response to Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Republic of the Philippines 16 November 2013. (Photo by Lt. j.g. Timothy Tran)


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.

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) transits the Atlantic Ocean during CVW-7’s fly-off 2 July 2013. (Photo by MC2 Ryan D. McLearnon)


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.

Two MH-60S Seahawk helicopters assigned to the HSC-6 Indians land on the flight deck of USS Nimitz (CVN 68) 20 November 2013. (Photo by MCSN Siobhana R. McEwen)


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.

A plane captain assigned to the VAQ 132 Scorpions communicates via hand signals to the pilot of an EA-18G Growler at NAF Misawa, Japan, 7 January 2013. (Photo by MC1 Alfredo Rosado)