Sometimes it feels as though the Navy’s AT rate should stand for aviation-everything technician because an Aviation Electronics Technician’s duties cover the electronic systems and subsystems of all naval aircraft and often cross into other rates.
While we do not perform the jobs of other rates, the equipment we maintain touches other areas such as hydraulics and aviators’ breathing oxygen. We also help maintain the equipment used by other aviation maintenance rates.
This broad spectrum is a result of the two maintenance levels covered by the rate: the intermediate, or “I” level, and the organizational, known as the “O” level. While there is a third, few Sailors work at that level.
O-level, also known as “on bird” maintenance, is performed at the squadron level. Here we work on the aircraft itself, troubleshooting systems such as radar, navigation, fire control and signal jamming. Considering the number of types, models and series of aircraft in the naval inventory—each with its own systems—one can begin to appreciate the sheer number of systems the AT rate encompasses.
ATs also troubleshoot to determine which component is faulty, replace it and turn the broken component in to the local intermediate-level facility for repair. In a squadron, ATs must also qualify to perform regular day-to-day aircraft maintenance such as fueling, daily inspections, runway taxiing and aircraft washing.
Intermediate-level maintenance is usually performed at a shore-based Fleet Readiness Center or the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department on afloat units. The broken components get repaired at different shops such as: micro and miniature circuit repair shops for any soldering repairs; radar shop, shared reconnaissance pods shop or a generic consolidated automated support system (CASS); and various electronic gadgets shops for other items not requiring a high power or laser setup such as can be seen in our Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) shop.
The calibration lab is a unique work center where ATs do not work on actual aircraft parts, but calibrate and repair any and all equipment that takes a measurement. We calibrate pressure gauges from engineering and air departments, oxygen gauges from Aircrew Survival Equipmentmans (PR), the Jet Engine Test cell for Aviation Machinist Mates (AD), servocylinder test stand for Aviation Structural Mechanics (AM), and support equipment pre-oilers, or PON6, for the Aviation Support Equipment Technicians (AS), to name a few.
ATs have their hands in every aspect of aircraft maintenance, and this rate is so diverse that at one time it had 85 individual Navy Enlisted Classifications.
The Aviation Electronics Technician rate offers a challenging and diverse career path that opens up numerous opportunities in the civilian sector.
ATCS Jessica Miller is an Aviation Electronics Technician Senior Chief stationed in Norfolk, Va.
Founded: August 1943 Based: Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan Current Commanding Officer: Cmdr. Guy “Bus” Snodgrass Mission: First, to be forward deployed warriors for our nation, and when required, provide superior airpower where it matters, when it matters to achieve our nation’s objectives. Second, to represent the United States of America as forward deployed ambassadors of liberty. Brief History: VFA-195 was originally commissioned as the “Tigers” of Torpedo Squadron (VT) 19 at Los Alamitos, California, August 1943, flying the Eastern TBM Avenger. The squadron participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf and in support of the landings on Guam, Palau, Morotai and Leyte. VT-19 was redesignated Attack Squadron (VA) 20A following World War II in November 1946.
In May 1947, VA-20A transitioned to the Douglas AD-1 Skyraider before being redesignated VA-195 in August 1948. While deployed aboard USS Princeton, the squadron provided close air support for U.S. Marines trapped near the Chosin Reservoir. During this period, the squadron earned its new nickname, ‘Dambusters’, when their Douglas AD-4 Skyraiders delivered precise low-level aerial torpedoes against the heavily defended and strategically positioned Hwachon Reservoir dam May 1, 1951. Widely considered as one of the most extraordinary strikes of the war, destruction of the dam flooded the valley below, protecting allied flanks while denying the North Koreans control of the reservoir’s waters for the remainder of the war.
VA-195 transitioned to the jet powered Douglas A-4 Skyhawk in July 1959 and moved to Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, in 1962. In the spring of 1970, VA-195 transitioned to the Vought A-7E Corsair II as part of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11.
The Dambusters were redesignated Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195 in April 1985 and transitioned to the F/A-18 Hornet. VFA-195 was subsequently assigned to CVW 5 and officially joined the forward deployed naval forces in Yokosuka, Japan. In 2001, the Dambusters, embarked onboard USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), flew in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and in 2003, flew in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2008, the squadron cross-decked to the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier stationed in Japan, USS George Washington (CVN 73). In 2011, the squadron made its first return to the U.S. in 25 years to transition to the F/A-18E Super Hornet. Today the squadron continues to deploy aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), providing formidable forward presence in the Western Pacific. Aircraft Flown: F/A-18E Super Hornet Number of People in Unit: 231 military personnel
Significant Accomplishments: Recent Detachments: Tactical training in Fallon, Nevada, and field carrier landing practice on Iwo To, Japan Exercises: Talisman Saber 2015; Valiant Shield 2014; Keen Sword 2014 Awarded: Retention Excellence Award, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Medical Blue “M.”
As part of an S-3 Viking squadron Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) unit evaluation, two weapons school instructors were scheduled for a flight with two squadron naval flight officers (NFO). The brief was thorough but didn’t include any mention of the fact that, in addition to the standard post-stall gyration items, the weapons school pilot would be demonstrating cross-controlled inputs to show a more violent departure as part of the post-stall gyration portion of the hop. Once airborne, the pilot entered the first post-stall gyration at 21,500 feet by holding full aft, neutral lateral stick. He neutralized the controls and recovered by 14,000 feet. The pilot then entered a second post-stall gyration at 22,000 feet, utilizing unbriefed, cross-controlled inputs; booting full left rudder and holding the stick fully to the right. The Viking departed much more violently to the left, and then began to settle into a steady-state spin. The pilot held the prospin control inputs for at least three full revolutions. As the aircraft passed through 17,000 feet, he neutralized the controls and began scanning for indications of a recovery. The weapons instructor in the right seat, an NFO, began backing the pilot up with altitude calls. At 14,000 feet, the S-3 still hadn’t recovered, and at that point one of the NFOs in the back also began calling out altitudes over the internal communication system.
The pilot continued to hold the controls neutral for a short time before shoving the stick full forward. At 10,000 feet—the hard altitude for ejection if the aircraft still isn’t showing any indications of recovery—the angle of attack was pegged high, the turn needle was full left, and the airspeed was oscillating between zero and 70 knots. The S-3 NATOPS states that a constant airspeed is one of the indications of a spin, but the manual does not elaborate on what that airspeed actually is. The pilot reasoned that since the airspeed was oscillating, he wasn’t in a spin, so he never put in antispin controls.
Passing 7,000 feet without any signs of imminent recovery, the pilot called for ejection. The instructor NFO in the right front seat initiated ejection, and as his seat fired clear of the aircraft, the rocket motors gave the pilot first- and second-degree burns on his face and neck. All four aviators were subsequently pulled out of the water by an air wing search-and-rescue helo.
The only thing missing in this here escapade was the pilot saying, “Watch this,” before he started his unbriefed departure. And “unbriefed” ain’t never a good thing in my experience. Leave spontaneity to the horn blowers in them Beale Street jazz bands. Aviators need to brief the flight and then fly the brief. The lack of a clear definition in the Blue Pill regarding what constitutes a spin didn’t help none, neither. Of course, at the cost of a sub-hunting tanker, the NATOPS reads a little more clearly now. All Gramps can say about that is it’s a helluva way to run a railroad.
Although there were citizen-sailors, there was not a formal U.S. Navy Reserve organization until the Naval Appropriations Act of 1916, signed March 3, 1915, established the reserve force. The so-called “Big Navy Act” stated, “The Naval Reserve shall be organized under the Bureau of Navigation and shall be governed by the Articles for the Government of the Navy and by the Naval Regulations and Instructions.” Another responsibility of the Big Navy was to rely on reserve officers to be a majority of the Navy’s pilots, thus founding the Naval Air Reserve in 1916.
To help with the war effort, universities formed volunteer aviation units around the country. One of these groups was the First Yale Unit started by student F. Trubee Davison, the son of Henry Pomeroy Davison, a banker and chair of the war council of the American Red Cross. The unit, considered the first Naval Air Reserve unit, was an innovation in Naval Aviation.
Davison, who was a forward thinker, recognized the possibility of U.S. involvement in World War I and the need to be prepared, especially regarding aviation. He formed the First Yale Unit to provide training for pilots in support of the potential war. He and 12 Yale classmates began preparing on Long Island, New York.
Davison fought to have the unit recognized by the U.S. Navy. When not training, Davison spent his time lobbying various key individuals in government to gain official recognition for the unit. When the Naval Reserve Appropriations Act of 1916 was signed, the entire unit—which had grown to include 26 men—was sworn into the Naval Reserve Force. Within weeks, the United States entered World War I. Davison, however, never earned his wings nor did he see combat. During training, he sustained serious injuries when he crashed his plane into the sea. Nevertheless, Davison’s broken back and spinal cord injury did not stop his continuing support of U.S. efforts in World War I.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt called many of the First Yale Unit members back to active service at the beginning of World War II. Davison decided to join the Army, serving as assistant chief of staff of the Army Air Corps in charge of personnel. On June 3, 1945, Davison was promoted to brigadier general. He eventually received the Distinguished Service Medal and the Navy Cross.
Each year after World War I, Davison coordinated a reunion for the unit in New York City. At the 50th anniversary of the Naval Air Reserve gathering, Davison was awarded the Wings of Gold he failed to receive during flight training. He would go on to become the assistant secretary of war for aviation, the president of the American Museum of Natural History and the first director of personnel for the Central Intelligence Agency.
David Sinton Ingalls, another member of the First Yale Unit, at age 19 became the Navy’s only flying ace of World War I. Ingalls was the son of Albert S. Ingalls and Jane Taft, a niece of President William Howard Taft. After joining the First Yale Unit, he became a member of the Naval Reserve Flying Corps. Ingalls completed his training and transitioned to Europe, where he served with the 213 Squadron of the Royal Air Force in 1918.
During World War I, airplanes were primarily used for reconnaissance. However, when the United States entered the war, both sides discovered the importance of aerial combat and these new tactics affected the design and performance of aircraft. Aircraft became faster and more agile, allowing pilots to make more daring attacks on the enemy.
One such attack happened on the night of Aug. 13, 1918, when Ingalls flew over the German airdrome at Varsenaere. He conducted a low-level attack, flying so low that his Sopwith Camel biplane fighter nearly touched the ground. From this vantage point, the aviator stitched machinegun fire into the facility and dropped four bombs onto hangars below. He went on to conduct a similar strike on a different facility, as well as bringing down six enemy aircraft during various flying missions, earning him ace status.
After World War I, Ingalls went on to become assistant secretary of the Navy (AIR). He returned in the mid-1930s as a reserve officer, and then he served on active duty during World War II as commander of Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He earned the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star Medal during the war and retired as a rear admiral in the Naval Reserve. Ingalls would later serve as vice president of Pan American Airways in charge of its overseas operations. In 1954, he became president and publisher of The Cincinnati Times-Star newspaper and vice chairman of the Taft Broadcasting Company.
Adm. William S. Sims, who commanded U.S. Naval Forces in Europe during World War I, summarized the First Yale Unit’s reputation: “Whenever the French and English asked us to send a couple of our crack men to reinforce a squadron, I would say, ‘Let’s get some of the Yale gang.’ We never made a mistake when we did this.”
The Navy Air Reserve continues this tradition of excellence by providing medium airlift capabilities, tactical air, combat search and rescue and special operations support in times of war and peace.
A commissioned officer in the Navy Reserve, Lt. Verdon serves as a public affairs officer assigned to U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Command at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia
Founded: Oct. 2, 1983 Based: Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia Current Commanding Officer: Cmdr. Matthew A. Barker Mission:To strike enemy targets, from the sea, in support of national objectives Brief History: The VFA-131 Wildcats were commissioned Oct. 2, 1983, at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California, and received its first F/A-18A Hornet in May 1984.
In January 1984, the squadron moved to NAS Cecil Field, Florida, becoming Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic’s (AIRLANT) first F/A-18 squadron, earning the motto “AIRLANT’s First and Finest.”
As part of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 13, the squadron deployed to the Mediterranean Sea aboard USS Coral Sea (CV 43) before participating in Freedom of Navigation exercises in the Gulf of Sidra. In April 1986, VFA-131 provided air-to-surface Shrike missile and high-speed anti-radiation missile (HARM) strikes against Libyan surface-to-air missile sites in Benghazi, the first use of the F/A-18 Hornet in combat.
In October 1988, the Wildcats transferred from CVW 13 to CVW 7, and they deployed in August 1990 aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) to the Arabian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield. Upon return, the squadron transitioned to the F/A-18C Night Strike Hornet before redeploying in support of Operation Desert Storm.
From 1994 to 1998, the Wildcats continued to deploy to the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Southern Watch and Operation Vigilant Warrior.
In December 1998, the squadron relocated to NAS Oceana becoming the first F/A-18 Hornet squadron based there.
During the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, VFA-131 was aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) off the Virginia Capes. Within hours of the attack, Wildcat F/A-18 Hornets were conducting air patrols over Washington, D.C., and New York City as part of Operation Noble Eagle. From February 2002 through July 2013, the squadron deployed seven times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, including back-to-back tours in 2012 and 2013.
In 2014, the squadron received their fourth Commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic Battle “E” award for their outstanding performance during consecutive deployments in 2012-2013. The Wildcats transferred from CVW 7 to CVW 3 in November 2014.
Currently, the Wildcats have more than 112,000 Class “A” mishap-free flight hours, a 27-year milestone in work since December 1987. Aircraft flown:F/A-18A/C Hornet Number of people in unit: 204 Significant Accomplishments:
Transferred from NAS Lemoore to NAS Cecil Field to become AIRLANT’s first F/A-18 Hornet squadron
First use of F/A-18 in combat conducting HARM strikes against Libyan surface-to-air missile sites
Reassigned from CVW 13 to CVW 7
Deployed aboard Eisenhower in support of Desert Shield and Desert Storm
Transitioned from F/A-18A Hornets to F/A-18C Night Strike Hornets
Back-to-back deployments aboard Eisenhower in 2012-2013
Achieved 110,000 class “A” mishap-free hours Feb. 21, 2014
Lance Cpl. Melisa Bacott and Chief Petty Officer Duane Monroe are on a mission, and they recognize that it will take every member of the Naval Aviation community to accomplish it. Their mission: help Naval Aviation achieve required levels of readiness as efficiently as possible
Bacott and Monroe are participants in the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE), a partnership of Naval Aviation stakeholders- Sailors, Marines, civilians and contractors -working together to advance readiness at an affordable cost. From the deck plates and flight lines up to the top levels of Naval Aviation leadership, members of the enterprise focus on ways to identify warfighting degraders and remove them so that Naval Aviation continues to be a relevant, effective and affordable warfighting force.
At every level within the NAE, people of every rank and rate identify barriers, determine how to remove them and how best to spend every dollar budgeted in order to complete the everyday tasks and processes involved in making aircraft and their flight crews ready to fly. It’s not easy, it takes work and the rewards aren’t always immediate.
“Over time, I’ve realized that [the NAE] is about finding ways to get the mission accomplished while saving money,” said Bacott, site core member, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron (MALS) 29 Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) Office. “It was actually very challenging to get started with, but the more I get into it, the more rewarding I find that challenge to be.”
A former aircraft mechanic, Bacott now enjoys teaching and leading other Marines as they improve their own maintenance or supply processes to better achieve readiness. She has seen how identifying and removing unnecessary or excess steps can make it easier for Marines to do their jobs.
“The majority of the projects that I see work best are workflow projects,” Bacott said, “where we are able to cut out unnecessary travel and movement-and with that you see such an improvement in productivity. We can see something that would take seven days go down to just one or two days.”
Monroe, a chief aircraft structural mechanic, agrees with the value of breaking down and improving processes. He currently serves aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) as the CPI AIRSpeed leading chief petty officer.
“Everyday tasks lead to completing the mission as a whole,” he said. “It could be something as simple as improving our process for chow lines, or something more complicated like dealing with technical directives. It’s about a better way of doing things.”
In the beginning
For more than 10 years, Naval Aviation stakeholders have been collaborating as an enterprise, finding better ways of doing business. In 2004, Naval Aviation leadership saw the need for a different, more effective way of addressing readiness and resources. Their efforts became the Naval Aviation Enterprise, a partnership of Naval Aviation leaders, with a shared goal: “deliver the right force, with the right readiness, at the right cost, at the right time-today and in the future.”
The concept traces back to the late 1990s with the start of several initiatives such as: the Naval Aviation Pilot Production Improvement Program, the Aviation Maintenance and Supply Readiness Group and the Naval Aviation Readiness Integrated Improvement Program. Facing a wide range of readiness issues and a need to control the rising costs of operating while sustaining aging aircraft and equipment, leaders realized the need for a holistic, collaborative approach to solving complex problems. Initially focused solely on the Navy aspect of aviation readiness, the enterprise concept expanded to include Marine Corps aviation in 2007.
Since 2004, the enterprise approach has evolved and expanded as the concept gained traction. From the beginning, NAE efforts have centered on the various types of aircraft communities-referred to as type/model/series (TMS) teams. Initially focused on just a handful of TMS teams, the enterprise approach now includes more than 20 TMS teams as well as a team focused on aircraft carrier readiness. The NAE has also expanded in terms of Naval Aviation leadership; enterprise efforts are now led and supported by a wide range of Navy and Marine Corps senior leaders involved in manning, training and equipping Naval Aviation forces.
NAE leadership has established strategic goals and objectives for the enterprise-most recently focusing on cost-wise current and future readiness, and creating a collaborative environment. Using an enterprise approach focused on data-driven decision-making, TMS teams now conduct “deep-dive” analyses into their operating and support costs-identifying barriers that leadership can help resolve and potential opportunities to reduce costs over time. Current leaders are committed to ensuring enterprise efforts target the most impactful readiness degraders and cost drivers.
While the NAE membership and methods have evolved over the years, the primary focus has remained: delivering Naval Aviation warfighting readiness.
“Naval Aviation leaders continue to focus on warfighting first and on generating the necessary readiness in an efficient and cost-effective way,” said Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF)/Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CNAP) and NAE co-leader. “The enterprise construct promotes collaboration across commands and service branches and enables us to work together to find solutions to Navy and Marine Corps’ toughest readiness challenges.”
The enterprise construct is based on a triad with three key elements: fleet requirements, providers and resource sponsors. (See Figure 1: Naval Aviation Enterprise Diagram). At each triad end point, there are senior leaders with overarching responsibilities within Naval Aviation. Fleet requirements are set by Shoemaker, whose position is often referred to as “Air Boss,” and Marine Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for Aviation. Although there are many providers, the primary provider is NAVAIR, led by Vice Adm. David Dunaway, commander, Naval Air Systems Command. Finally, the fleet requirements are funded by the resource sponsors that include multiple organizations within the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and Headquarters Marine Corps.
“The strength of the enterprise is based upon its unity of effort,” Shoemaker said. “If there is a problem in the fleet, and the operators raise that issue to NAE leaders, we can have a direct dialogue with the resource providers or sponsors who can work the solution.”
Leaders see this teamwork in action through the NAE briefing cycle, in which representatives from each aircraft community brief the Air Board-an NAE leadership body composed of Naval Aviation flag and general officers and senior executive service civilians.
“During 2014 alone, we had 21 different teams highlight 81 major readiness degraders,” said Russ Scott, director of the NAE Current Readiness Cross-Functional Team. “Sharing this information as an enterprise helps Naval Aviation leadership understand what is currently being done to solve problems and also helps identify barriers that need to be escalated up the chain of command for resolution.”
Through the enterprise partnership, Navy and Marine Corps leaders have worked together to resolve or lessen the negative impact of some of Naval Aviation’s toughest problems. These challenges span the full continuum, and nothing is off the table. Examples include:
Reducing the time to reliably replenish a key part
Ensuring the right people with the right Navy enlisted classification are assigned to the right squadron
Reducing the cost per flight hour for a TMS
Increasing the throughput of a Fleet Readiness Center with added artisans and engineers
Investing in initiatives that have a high return on investment in the future
Strengthening performance-based logistics contracts to maximize availability at the best cost
Maximizing flight hours available for training
“A lot of the work we do is focused on gaining a deeper understanding of the processes that drive TMS teams’ readiness in the form of personnel, equipment, supplies, training and ordnance readiness resources,” Scott said, “and then working with stakeholders from across Naval Aviation to figure out how to move the right ‘levers’ and get readiness levels where they need to be.”
The NAE is hands-on as they tackle problems. Leaders get a first-hand look at challenges and CPI/AIRSpeed successes during “Boots” events. These leadership site visits, named “Boots on Deck” when held aboard ships or “Boots on the Ground” when held at shore-based locations, are opportunities for leaders to hear directly from Sailors, Marines, civilians and contractors. During each event, personnel from the host unit present issues-sometimes referred to as “head-hurters”-that require greater leadership engagement or assistance. These head-hurters can span a variety of readiness issues, from parts and supplies to training to proper manning. Through an enterprise approach, the highlighted issues become action items that leaders from across Naval Aviation commit to resolving.
Looking forward, the NAE’s continued success depends largely on the active participation of Naval Aviation stakeholders at every level. From the flight line and deck plate levels up to the flag and general officer levels, it is a team effort to identify, target and fix the most impactful readiness degraders and cost drivers.
Monroe and Bacott believe that more people should join in the efforts to achieve the NAE mission, and they have some advice for stakeholders just getting involved in CPI and enterprise efforts:
“I used to be a squadron organizational-level guy, and this was all new to me,” Monroe said. “I had to readjust how I thought and look at the big picture. I tell people: ‘Don’t make judgments immediately. Allow the process to happen. Embrace it, and you might be surprised with the outcome.’”
“The best thing we can do is make sure everyone is properly educated and get more people hands-on in the process,” Bacott said. “Once everyone is truly educated about the Naval Aviation Enterprise, there’s not going to be any stopping what we can achieve.”
The Navy’s first functional UAS-only activity maintenance detachment achieved its “safe for flight” status Jan. 16, allowing the unit to conduct its initial functional check flight with the MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned air system just six days later.
Established in March 2014, the Helicopter Sea Combat Wing (HSCWP), U.S. Pacific Fleet, Vertical Takeoff Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) Maintenance Detachment is based at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC), Point Mugu, California, where it stores and maintains MQ-8B unmanned helicopters, bringing them to fully functional status before they are allocated to the fleet for operational use.
“The Fire Scout has excelled in continuous deployments, with more than 10,000 hours in support of special operation forces and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” said Capt. Larry Vincent, commodore of HSCWP, “but this support placed an unplanned burden on the [air vehicles]. Working closely with the Fire Scout program office (PMA-266), HSCWP continues to address these challenges as it ramps up to support to littoral combat ship deployments.”
Currently, the detachment coordinates the maintenance of four MQ-8B air vehicles and will provide all MQ-8B maintenance support for future West Coast deployments as it owns the only shore-based MQ-8B mission control station.
After deployments, air vehicles will return to Point Mugu for repair and depart the base in a flyable and fully “up” status for operational use. The team has already successfully returned one Fire Scout back to flying status and is in the process of grooming another for fleet operations.
HSCWP VTUAV will also eventually act as the organizational-level storage and maintenance facility for the larger MQ-8C variant, which is still undergoing test and evaluation at NBVC Point Mugu. An upgrade to the MQ-8B, the Navy’s newer unmanned helicopter will provide longer endurance, extended range and altitude, and a heavier payload capacity than the MQ-8B.
“Standing up any unit presents challenges,” Vincent said. “HSCWP VTUAV was no exception and the unique aspect of UAS exhibited new ones.”
One example Vincent provided was about designating airspace for the UAS. “The HSCWP contract logistics support detachment wrestled with new territory implementing sustained flight operations with UAS flights in national and special-use airspace,” he said. “The combined effort of NBVC Point Mugu and the HSCWP VTUAV maintenance detachment has accepted this challenge in stride and welcomes the arrival of UAS.”
From maintenance material support to air operations support, NBVC Point Mugu has ensured the smooth integration of the HSCWP VTUAV Maintenance Detachment onto the base. Situated along the coast, about 60 miles west of Los Angeles, with a 36,000-square-mile sea test range and very moderate climate, NBVC Point Mugu serves as an ideal flying location. NBVC Point Mugu was the first naval base to obtain a Class Delta Airspace Certificate of Waiver or Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration, which permits a UAS to operate in the national airspace.
Once fully staffed in July, the detachment will be composed of 14 military personnel and 24 contractors. Navy personnel will oversee contract support and serve as UAS operators, and Kay and Associates will provide aircraft maintenance.
Lt. Jonathan LaQuay is the HSCWP VTUAV Maintenance Detachment officer-in-charge.
The Program Executive Office (Unmanned & Weapons) Public Affairs Office also contributed to this article.
After five detachments and more than a year of planning, training and execution, the Sailors of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8 reached the culmination of their efforts when they helped recover NASA’s Orion spacecraft’s crew module after its first spaceflight test.
With the goal of reinvigorating its human space flight program, NASA test-launched the Orion in December, marking an important milestone for deep space exploration—one destination being Mars.
The U.S. Navy became involved when NASA’s Orion air operations and capsule parachute assembly system (CPAS) teams requested U.S. Navy sea-based helicopter support to complete the extensive testing requirements to certify the crew module (CM) for manned space missions and ensure their safe recovery upon re-entry.
Built on the Apollo-era crew module, Orion’s CM requires a water landing when it returns to Earth. Helicopters were needed to provide aerial tracking, as well as carry two teams of NASA photographers, videographers, air operations personnel and CPAS members to document testing and the Orion’s inaugural flight.
The Navy’s MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter was able to satisfy NASA’s unique requirements. Equipped with a suite of advanced sensors-the Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS) and Remotely Oriented Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) system-the footage and data captured by aircrew could instantly stream to NASA engineers aboard any surface vessel, and, via satellite uplink, be relayed to the Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas. The Knighthawk’s large cabin and lift capacity satisfied transport requirements, enabling aerial analysis of the CM. This capability to observe and rapidly deliver integrated data was a critical enabler to the success of the mission.
Prior to the inaugural flight of the Orion Space Capsule, dubbed Expeditionary Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), the HSC-8 “Eightballers” participated in four detachments to prepare for the actual launch. This included two CM drop tests at the Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, in which the capsule was released from an Air Force C-17 at 35,000 feet. Following two land drops, NASA conducted two Underway Readiness Test (URT) events near San Clemente Island, off the coast of southern California. One URT event was conducted from USS San Diego (LPD 22) and the other onboard USS Anchorage (LPD 23).
Combining lessons learned from these detachments and trajectory data from thousands of CM re-entry simulations, NASA engineers and HSC-8 pilots formulated a plan that would precisely position two airborne MH-60S helicopters during the actual recovery event. Both helicopters and their embarked teams were positioned to detect the CM entering the atmosphere and track it using the MTS’ Forward Looking Infrared and Day TV camera lens as it progressed through its re-entry sequence.
One of many unique opportunities this mission presented involved coordination with members of the rotary wing test community, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21, at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. The Eightballers operated in close communication with Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) to accommodate any aircraft configurations and certify installed equipment as safe for flight. NAVAIR rapidly approved flight clearances for the NASA mission, including specialized photography, videography and GPS equipment coupled to onboard computers for tracking the CM re-entry.
During the descent, NASA required the tracking of 22 separate items, from the CM itself to the forward bay cover, parachutes, multiple parachute lids and sabots. Those items falling from above the helicopters had the potential to damage the aircraft. In order to ensure the highest level of safety throughout the evolution, NASA elicited HX-21’s assistance during the planning and flight phases, deriving optimal standoff ranges based on module trajectories and developed an ideal flow of events with contingencies for a multitude of off-ramp scenarios.
On Dec. 1, 2014, the Eightballer team embarked aboard Anchorage with three MH-60S helicopters to begin the 600-mile trek southwest to the planned EFT-1 recovery area in the Pacific Ocean. Leading up to the test event, the NASA and Navy teams worked hand in hand to refine the recovery plan and conduct a full dress rehearsal the day prior to EFT-1’s launch. The combined efforts of NASA, Anchorage, Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and HSC-8 resulted in a streamlined plan for coordinated operations between air operations and the water recovery team for the CM and CPAS equipment.
During coordination meetings, the HSC-8 maintenance team worked to ensure all three embarked aircraft would be ready. They quickly corrected discrepancies in the ROVER system identified during the dress rehearsal, and in the end, provided fully mission-capable aircraft that streamed seamless video from the helicopters to NASA engineers aboard Anchorage.
On Dec. 5, the Orion Space Capsule took to the skies aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy Rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. After completing two orbits around the Earth, farther than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has been in more than 40 years, the Orion crew module commenced its re-entry sequence.
Using the MTS, Eightballer pilots acquired the CM exactly when and where NASA engineers and imagery experts predicted, and Day TV imagery was fed from HSC-8 aircraft to NASA engineers. From that point on, the NASA teams aboard the helicopters obtained video and photos of the entire re-entry sequence, including CPAS deployment and capsule splashdown.
Following CM entry into the Pacific, helicopter-based NASA engineers steered Eightballer pilots to intercept essential articles in the water for retrieval by Anchorage and EOD boat teams while avoiding the descending debris. Although the sea claimed some CM equipment, the air operations team’s goals and objectives were exceeded and the mission accomplished.
The video footage and data gathered by the Eightballers was ultimately disseminated to millions of people around the world. From the video, NASA engineers gathered vital design and performance data about the CM and CPAS, which will lead to the safe, successful recovery of future NASA modules.
“Throughout the test event, HSC-8 members were humbled, honored and proud to have teamed with NASA for the historic event,” said Cmdr. William H. Shipp, HSC-8 Commanding Officer. “The MH-60S proved once again that it is Naval Aviation’s contingency platform of choice, able to be adapted to deliver mission effects whether over land, or afloat, in support of anti-surface warfare, personnel recovery, Special Operations Forces support, logistics, search and rescue, or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”
Cmdr. William H. Shipp is the Commanding Officer of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8.
There is no typical day for the Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VR) 62 “Nomads.” VR-62, one of five Navy Reserve C-130T Hercules logistics squadrons, works in conjunction with several combatant commands around the globe. The squadron must be ready for operations ranging from Operation Tomodachi, the relief mission after the Sendai earthquake in 2011, to rescuing a crew of mariners off the coast of Chuuk Island, Micronesia, in 2013.
Each mission is unique, with a different set of constraints, but we plan and execute every mission with precision,” said VR-62 Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Bryon “BT” Smith. “We can be called to airlift just about anything to anywhere on the globe, and we do it with pride and professionalism.”
The Nomads follow in the footsteps of previous VR squadrons like VR-6 and VR-8 that participated in the Berlin Airlift, and proved the Navy Unique Fleet Essential Airlift (NUFEA) concept. NUFEA means that the Navy is in control of its own airlift. The Nomads are part of the Fleet Logistics Support Wing (FLSW) and can respond to Navy requests for airlift at a moment’s notice.
There are two groups of FLSW personnel, Full-time Support (FTS) and Selected Reservists (SELRES). FTS officers and enlisted are full-time, active reserve personnel tasked with training SELRES officers and enlisted personnel and adding day-to-day continuity to squadron operations. SELRES are traditional reservists serving one weekend a month and a two-week annual training period.
“We operate as a reserve community, but we are anything but weekend warriors,” said Master Chief Aviation Maintenance Administrationman (AZCM) Karen Quinn, VR-62 Operations Master Chief. Quinn said FLSW is supporting a wide variety of units including air, surface, sub-surface and flying missions around the globe.
Based at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, the Nomads flew 3,209 hours in fiscal year 2013 and beat that record in fiscal year 2014 flying 3,545 hours. Of those hours, 97 percent were flown on airlift missions. The Nomads have an average of 200 personnel with about 30 percent of those serving as reservists. There are usually 30 pilots, 10 flight engineers and 23 loadmasters. Additionally, there are flight engineer and loadmaster trainees. The Nomads are constantly training the next cadre of C-130T aircrew.
Training is always a priority at VR-62. There is a constant pipeline of enlisted aircrew and pilots preparing for the airlift mission. The Nomads have eight pilot instructors, three flight engineer instructors and four loadmaster instructors. There is a similar pipeline of maintainers arriving from the fleet and schoolhouse to keep aircraft ready for the squadron’s high operations tempo.
Established at Naval Air Facility Detroit, Michigan, July 1, 1985, as the “Motowners,” VR-62 began flight operations with the McDonnell Douglas C-9B Skytrain II aircraft in February 1988. When NAF Detroit closed, VR-62 moved to Naval Air Station South Weymouth, Massachusetts, and was renamed “Mass Transport” on April 1, 1994.
The real magic happened when VR-62 became a C-130 squadron. In January 1995, the Nomads received the first of five C-130T aircraft. The upgrades and in-flight refueling capability in the T model made it an extremely versatile asset. The standard crew for the C-130T is two pilots and one flight engineer in the flight station and two loadmasters in the cargo compartment.
On June 1, 1996, VR-62 again changed homeports, this time to Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine, as the “Nor’easters.” When NAS Brunswick closed, VR-62 relocated to NAS Jacksonville, this time as the Nomads on Sept. 1, 2009.
“The moniker Nomads fits perfectly when you see our history, four home ports in 20 years,” said Nomads Command Master Chief Freddy Pacheco.
The annual operations plan is much the same year to year. There are three detachments: Central Command, European Command and Pacific Command. The operations average 90 days and then another VR squadron assumes duties in theater. The detachments include one aircraft, a team of maintainers and two sets of aircrew. While one aircraft is on detachment, the remaining squadron aircraft are available for Navy Air Logistics Office (NALO) missions and maintenance.
“We can be called upon to deliver the most urgent cargo in the Navy,” Smith said. “The Nomads take pride that we are entrusted with airlifting extremely high priority cargo for the Navy’s most important missions.”
AWFCS (ret) Michael Wendelin was a loadmaster with VR-62 from 2002-2014.
Two Leads don’t Make a Wingman
Two F/A-18 Hornets from the same squadron launched off the carrier in the evening as part of a larger strike package. Their briefed plan was to rendezvous overhead and proceed to the tanker as a section. Air-to-air tactical air navigation (TACAN) was neither briefed nor used within the section. After tanking, they would join the rest of the strike package and proceed on the mission. The flight joined with goggles, and the wingman took goggle spread on the left side of the formation.
As they approached the tanker track, the flight established themselves in a 3-mile trail of another division of fighters also assigned to their tanker. Because of the number of tanker tracks in the area and a large number of aircraft trying to find their assigned tanker, the mishap section was spending an inordinate amount of time heads down on their radars. The wingman was spending more than half of his time monitoring traffic visually and with his radar.
The lead initiated a slow right turn to try to fix the intercept geometry with the tanker, but the turn brought another section of fighters to their nose at a range of four miles. The lead began a 60-degree angle of bank descending turn back to the left but, his wingman only used a 35-degree angle of bank. Both aircraft rolled wings level with a 21-degree heading differential and the wingman 300 feet above his lead. With 3,000 feet of lateral separation and a 200-knot closure rate, the wingman, who was by now task saturated, did not recognize the rapidly increasing size of the lead and lack of any bearing change.
The lead initiated an easy right turn and the wingman continued a shallow descent. The two aircraft collided. The wingman ejected and sustained minor injuries. The lead was killed by the collision.
Sometimes when ol’ Gramps hears a story he jumps up and down and raises a ruckus to make a point. But when I hear stories like this, I just have to sit down, rub my oId noggin and ponder the loss of yet another of our greatest treasures. It’s enough to make an old salt weep. Y’all know it torches my trousers when one of you bends some metal, but goldurnit, I hate these stories with a tragic ending!
From our first day in orange and whites, we are taught simple but oh-so-important rules. Rules to live by. Rules that may save your life. Our building block approach to teaching means that each flight brings something harder to the mix, but you can’t forget those blocks that make up the foundation of what the Instructor Pilots are learnin’ you. How to fly a good instrument approach; how to handle a problem with your air machine; how to be a good wingman and the like.
Problem with these fellas was that two people were doing the lead’s job, and no one was doing the wingman’s. You kids know the first and most important priority of any wingman is to keep lead insight and maintain safe aircraft separation, it mighta helped if these two had used their yardstick, but if we take it to the most basic level, the wingman has got to keep lead in sight and keep the two jets from tryin’ to get into the same piece of sky.
Gather round kids and let’s learn a lesson. Do the little things well, and the big things will fall into place. A good wingman always knows where lead is, no matter what else is going on. Now you kids need to pay attention to this stuff, I DON’T WANT THIS TO HAPPEN AGAIN!
Shoot, I raised my voice and don’t like to do that—but good grief, ol’ Gramps’ heart just can’t get ripped up like this much more! Now you kids quit skylarking and get back to work. Gramps has something in his eye he needs to take care of.