Category Archives: Featured Stories

Advancing Capability, Operational Readiness for Naval Aviation

By Rear Adm. John Lemmon, Commander, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division

We operate under this mantra at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD): the acquisition and sustainment of capability is a weapon of war. As a combat support command, we conduct the research, development, test and evaluation, and life cycle sustainment for all of Naval Aviation. Our diverse command of talented military, civilian and contractor workforce advances capability and operational readiness for Naval Aviation every day. We bring our talent to bear on both fielded and not-yet-fielded Navy and Marine Corps platforms, systems and technologies to revolutionize readiness and increase lethality.

Headquartered at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, NAWCAD is one of two warfare centers supporting the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). With sites at St. Inigoes, Maryland; Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Orlando, Florida, NAWCAD is comprised of more than 10,000 aviators, engineers, scientists, logisticians, testers, artisans and other acquisition professionals.

Engineers at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s (NAWCAD) Atlantic Test Ranges monitor airspace over the Chesapeake Bay and other range assets during developmental flight testing. (U.S. Navy photo)

We are the busiest flight test center in the world with a unique portfolio of more than 300 labs, test assets, a developmental test air wing and protected open air ranges with more than 27,000 square miles of air space over the Chesapeake Bay, and more than 50,000 square miles of air space over the Atlantic—all available to support anything from small unit-level events to large-scale joint exercises. Over a series of base realignments, NAWCAD became the Navy’s largest warfare center by accumulating facilities so advanced we have the organic capability to usher requirements and ideas from concept through development and then deployment completely in-house.

Engineering design? Let’s get to work. Modeling and simulation? Coming right up. Prototyping and manufacturing? We’ve got it. Human systems research? Definitely—we provide the research, development, test and evaluation for everything that touches the human or that the human touches in Naval Aviation. Air vehicle modification? Yes again. We cut metal on aircraft to enable enhanced capabilities. Ready for ground and flight test? Our very own Naval Test Wing Atlantic has that covered—from fixed-wing, rotary-wing and even unmanned platforms of all sizes and types—our squadrons are ready to execute. For many projects, we also work directly with the fleet.

In addition to cradle-to-grave capability, NAWCAD provides training tools for Sailors and Marines at every stage of their career—including the next generation of test pilots coming out of our U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. And our highly patented workforce is world class in every discipline from biochemistry to human systems engineering to advanced undersea sensing. Collaborating both in and out of the DOD, we support technology advancement with industry, academia and other agencies. In fact, the Navy recently named NAWCAD leader of Southern Maryland’s Tech Bridge charged with accelerating naval access to local innovation ecosystems and industry advancements by reducing barriers to non-traditional industry partners like small businesses, startups and nonprofits.

Following the Naval Helicopter Association symposium in May, Sailors with HSC-2 in Norfolk had an opportunity to try out the new seat, which includes improvements such as height adjustability, lumbar support, adjustable additional leg room, the ability to recline, a flip-up seat bottom, redesigned restraints, a redesigned headrest to accommodate the night-vision goggle battery, and tracks to allow the seat to move to and from the window. (U.S. Navy photo by Mikel Lauren Proulx)

Solving Naval Aviation’s Problems

I’ll give one example of NAWCAD’s problem-solving ability: our recent success supporting the Multi-Mission Helicopters program in redesigning, prototyping and manufacturing the MH-60’s Next-Generation Gunner Seat.

Not long ago, Naval Aviation named the MH-60 gunner seat the No. 2 safety priority because its configuration and ergonomics caused detrimental injury to fleet aircrew. The inflexible seat hindered the cabin mobility needed by gunners. Also, it was not adjustable for users of all sizes, which degraded aircrew reach and visibility—our Sailors deserved better.

The warfare center went to work in collaboration with the Multi-Mission Helicopters and Aircrew Systems program offices. Our engineers coordinated directly with fleet gunners to understand requirements for the new design. Our team modeled and simulated the new configuration digitally ahead of ground and flight test, saving time and money while fine-tuning first-article test assets. We brought the design to life by manufacturing the prototype right here at NAS Patuxent River. Leveraging years of flight and mishap data, the team conducted lab-based physical crash testing to ensure the new version was safe.

The new seat was integrated aboard an MH-60 at our very own rotary-wing Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21 for ground and flight test. Following successful fleet fit checks, we facilitated the contract for full-rate production and fleet-wide retrofit—all of this in a single year from requirement identification. I am incredibly proud of the time and cost savings realized for the Navy, taxpayers and more importantly, the enhanced capability we provided the fleet—this is the kind of organic capability NAWCAD brings to the Navy and ultimately, to the fight.

A fuels and lubricants chemist at NAWCAD conducts jet and diesel fuel quality tests in a propulsion and power lab at NAS Patuxent River. (U.S. Navy photo by Adam Skyzolas)

We Are Naval Aviation

The United States boasts the most lethal and capable armed forces in the history of the world. Our brave warfighters—Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen and Guardsmen—have proven their excellence and proficiency across the entire spectrum of conflict in myriad locations across the globe. Key to our military’s success is our Sailors’ and Marines’ toughness, training, superior equipment and ability to adapt to increasingly complex threats from peer and near-peer forces, as well as rogue and failed states, and the terrorists and non-state actors they often breed.

NAWCAD proudly continues to provide the talent, tools and technologies in support of Naval Aviation, other services, federal agencies, academia and industry partners that help ensure our warfighters maintain their edge and always go into a conflict with significant advantage.


U.S. Navy photo

Rear Adm. John Lemmon is a native of Champaign, Illinois, and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Naval Post Graduate School and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.

After earning his wings as a naval aviator in 1990, he flew the E-2C Hawkeye in support of operations aboard USS Forrestal (CV 59), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67). He also served as commander, Task Group 67.8, Horn of Africa. His flight test experience includes tours at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) where he worked on numerous upgrades to E-2 and C-2 Greyhound aircraft, and later as Commanding Officer of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20.  

Super Hornet Demonstrates Ski Jump Launch

By Carrie Munn

An F/A-18 Super Hornet recently completed a take-off from a ski jump ramp during a demonstration at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland.

The Indian Navy has expressed interest in potentially purchasing Super Hornets and the demonstration was completed to ensure the jets could launch from the Indians’ aircraft carriers, configured with Short Take-Off but Arrested Recovery (STOBAR), commonly referred to as a ski jump.

The extensive planning and day-to-day coordination between the F/A-18 & EA-18G Program Office International Business and Test and Evaluation (T&E) teams, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, and aircraft manufacturer, The Boeing Company, resulted in a series of test events late this summer demonstrating the capability in a variety of load configurations.

The program office T&E Lead, Jackie Dvorak, credited the Navy-Boeing collaboration and the expertise of the supporting test team for continually adjusting to make the demo successful.

“The India ski jump demonstration is exactly what we do in developmental flight test with mitigating risk through extensive and detailed test planning and safe execution,” she said.

The supporting team worked with Boeing’s simulation data and information gleaned from previous ski jumps conducted with the F/A-18 Hornet and F-35B Lightning II to develop an Interim Flight Test Clearance. They identified a suitable test jet and instrumented it to capture data in real-time and completed multiple test events.

The team also hosted Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for International Program Rear Adm. Frank Morley and representatives from the Indian Embassy, who watched a ski jump launch flight test in-person, toured the aircraft and were briefed on the potential sale of Super Hornets to the Indian Navy. India’s fighter jet procurement decision is anticipated as early as next year.

Written by Carrie Munn, F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office Communications.

Super blue: tricked and flipped out

 First F/A-18E Modified, Tested, Ready for Blue Angels

By Rob Perry

A promise made several years ago to the Blue Angels came closer to fruition this summer as the first F/A-18E Super Hornet designated to replace the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron’s (NFDS) F/A-18 Legacy Hornets arrived for upgrades and testing at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland.

Dubbed the “Super Blue,” the F/A-18E is the first of 18 Super Hornets scheduled to be delivered by the end of the year in time for the 2021 Blue Angels air show season, slated to begin in April.

The 2020 air shows were cancelled in accordance with Navy and CDC guidelines brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Since 2015, the Navy has been analyzing how to upgrade the Blue Angels to the Super Hornet while balancing fleet readiness. An in-depth study of aircraft systems and flight characteristics was conducted beginning in December 2017. At the same time, to ensure a safe transition from the Hornet to the Super Hornet, the Blue Angels developed a new demonstration routine tailored to the F/A-18E/F as well as undertook a comprehensive risk and airframe fatigue reduction effort.

The Super Hornet replacement of the Legacy Hornet is expected to improve safety margins, reduce aircraft fatigue and require less maintenance. In many other ways, the Super Hornet offers improved performance—it has more thrust available, especially at low altitudes, enabling tighter turns and faster acceleration for some maneuvers, and offers better vertical and looping performance.

Out of Storage, Into the Skies

Air Test & Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 conducts flight testing of the first “Super Blue” for the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron this summer. (U.S. Navy photo)

In order to prepare the Super Hornet to perform maneuvers and stunts that have made the Blue Angels famous, it first had to undergo alterations and testing, some of which were performed by engineers and pilots with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 at NAS Patuxent River.

The Super Blue started its journey at Cecil Field, Florida, where it was taken out of preservation and modified, which included installation of an artificial feel spring for the control stick, a stopwatch, smoke and fuel pump switches and fuel pressure warning lights in the cockpit; an inverted fuel pump system; and the removal of the aircraft’s standard M61 cannon, replaced by the smoke system used to create trails during airshow demonstrations. Additionally, a software load unique to Blue Angels aircraft was installed.

The aircraft arrived at Patuxent River in May and upgrades to the fuel system and flight testing were completed in early August.

“After a few weeks of maintenance repairs and instrumentation of the aircraft, we began testing at the end of June,” said Lt. Sean “Daywalker” Cawley, flight test officer with VX-23. “The aircraft we were testing hadn’t flown in nine years, so it had some maintenance quirks that our awesome maintenance department solved, and they got the jet in great working order. During testing, the aircraft handled just like any other Super Hornet would. The only differences apparent to the pilot are the Blue Angels’ cockpit modifications.”

The inverted fuel pumps are necessary modifications to the stunt aircraft, allowing the jet to remain overturned for a prolonged period. VX-23 head project engineer Kris Haines said Blue Angels’ inverted maneuvers exceed normal limits, necessitating the fuel system modification. The fuel system upgrades to the Super Hornet are very similar to those made to the Legacy Hornets, which include using the same fuel pumps and activation switch.

“The Blue Angels fuel system modification consists of an electric fuel pump installed at the top of each engine’s feed tank,” Haines said. “The Super Hornet feed tanks integrate an inverted flight compartment at the bottom of the tank to trap fuel used by the production fuel pump during negative-G maneuvers. The [modified and installed] Blue Angels electric fuel pumps, activated by the pilot during inverted flight, pump fuel into the inverted fuel compartment of each feed tank to then be used by the production fuel pump in supplying each engine with continuous fuel during the extended duration inverted maneuvers.”

A VX-23 pilot tests the modified fuel system during a signature Blue Angels’ move—an inverted negative-G flight. (U.S. Navy photo)

An additional alteration to the aircraft’s landing gear was required for extended inverted flight.

“The landing gear struts have to be over-serviced so that during inverted flight, the gear stays extended,” Cawley said. “Otherwise, the heavy gear would fall under their own weight and air loads and set a weight-on-wheels condition which drastically changes the response of the flight controls if the jet thinks it is on the ground,” Cawley said.

Taking Her Out for A Spin

The Super Blue was delivered for testing to NAS Pax River due to the presence of VX-23, but also because the base is home to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS), where experienced Navy pilots undergo an intense 11-month course.

While at USNTPS, students fly a large stable of aircraft and perform qualitative evaluation flights on aircraft brought to the school house, Cawley said. Prior to training at USNTPS, prospective students must have spent time deployed with a fleet squadron. Test pilots who flew the Super Blue at VX-23 were deployed with F/A-18 squadrons prior to USNTPS training, a trait that Blue Angels pilots also share, “and are very comfortable getting back into the aircraft,” Cawley said.

“VX-23 test pilots and Blue Angels pilots have a strong tactical and professional background to get to these competitive follow-on tours. Obviously, after leaving those tours, each of us receive more specialized training to prepare us for our next jobs, be it a year at USNTPS or the Blues training work-up program for their new pilots.”

Although VX-23 test pilots and engineers routinely qualify a variety of aircraft for performance and are adept with the flying qualities of the F/A-18, testing the Super Blue was different.

“The maneuvers evaluated for the NFDS included some things that are outside the normal aircraft operating manual and outside normal fleet maneuvers,” Cawley said. “The things you see in the airshows such as the dirty roll—an aileron roll [a 360-degree roll along the longitudinal axis of the aircraft] performed with the landing gear down shortly after takeoff—are absolutely something reserved specifically for airshows, but with the NFDS retiring their Hornets, it was our job to ensure that that maneuver and others in the Blues’ show can be safely performed in the Super Hornet as well.”

In all, the Super Blue went through the same testing routines that the Legacy Hornets were put through to qualify for Blue Angels shows.

“Some of this testing included aircraft envelope expansion to allow the Blues to fly with the landing gear extended faster than we normally can, fly inverted with the landing gear down and execute consecutive aileron rolls,” Cawley said. “The aircraft flying qualities were evaluated with the artificial feel spring that the Blues use and we also did some performance evaluations for take-offs with the flaps up. [The spring] is attachable to the control stick [and] provides constant forward force on the stick. The Blue Angels pilots use this to help them fly more precisely in close formation.”

Cawley also explained that combat flight profiles and Blue Angels profiles are somewhat different in that the aircraft fly in much closer formations than typical for the stunt shows.

“Blue Angels flight profiles involve a lot of practice and working up to flying as close as they do during their shows,” he said. “Fleet aviators typically only fly in close formation when flying together through clouds or returning to base after a flight. Most fleet formation flying is further apart to facilitate greater pilot attention to their own aircraft sensors and the fight rather than the 100-percent dedicated attention to close formation flying required of any extremely close formation. Both combat and NFDS shows require intense preparation, solid teamwork and trust between the pilots.”

Lt. Sean “Daywalker” Cawley, flight test officer with VX-23, coordinated and conducted flight tests of the Blue Angels’ Super Blue this summer

VX-23 pilots usually test aircraft with different load outs, including extra fuel tanks and ordnance, but Blue Angels aircraft are completely stripped down, called a “slick” load out, with no external fuel tanks and all weapons pylons removed.

During testing, Cawley said, one typical pilot accompaniment tended to be a nuisance during lower speed inverted flight: the helmet bag.

“Fleet pilots rarely fly inverted at less than 1G,” Cawley said. “While they may be inverted during combat maneuvering, it’s usually under positive Gs. Fleet aviators typically fly with a helmet bag stuffed on the right side of the cockpit that will have checklists, instrument approach plates and various other things, so any time you fly inverted at -1G, that bag has a horrible habit of flying up, hitting the top of the canopy and sliding back to where we can’t reach it. When we flew the tests to evaluate the fuel system for the extended inverted time, the test pilots didn’t bring the helmet bag and just brought the checklist which is small enough to be stowed.”

In addition to Haines and members of the fuel systems evaluation team, a test conductor and additional engineers monitored the aircraft’s test parameters, which were sent to a control room from the cockpit. The test team monitored fuel pressure, fuel quantities and valve positions to ensure the system was working as designed.

“The testing validated the modification’s ability to provide sufficient fuel to the engines under inverted flight longer than the aircraft was designed,” Cawley said. “No dangerous drops in feed tank fuel quantity or fuel pressure were seen.”

All Super Hornets with the same modifications for the NFDS do not require additional testing, Cawley said. Once testing was completed at NAS Pax River, the Super Blue returned to Cecil Field for additional modifications and to receive its signature Blue Angels paint job (see FRCSE Paints, Maintains, Modifies Super Blues article below).

While it remains to be seen whether aviation enthusiasts will see the fruits of this labor in 2021, COVID-19 protocols did remain in place during upgrades and testing but did little to hamper deadlines.

Capt. Eric Doyle, director of the Blue Angels Super Hornet Transition Team, departs the Boeing facility at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Fla., for Naval Air Station Pensacola in the first Blue Angels F/A-18 Super Hornet, July 27. (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Christopher Gordon)

“While much of the flight test planning and coordination of testing assets were conducted via telework situations, the actual flight test execution required on-site participation,” Haines said. “In all, the COVID work climate had little impact on the overall test program, which was completed on schedule to support the Super Blue transition.”

“As I’m sure many people have seen through this time, a lot of work can successfully be done while teleworking using various conferencing systems, but communication in general is difficult and the additional hurdles didn’t help,” Cawley said. “However, the pros at VX-23 worked hard and finished the fuel system evaluation on schedule.”

Rob Perry is editor and staff writer for Naval Aviation News.  

FRCSE Paints, Maintains, Modifies Super Blues

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast painted the inaugural “Super Blue” for the Blue Angels. (U.S. Navy photo)

By Ashley Lombardo

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) recently applied the final coat of paint on the inaugural F/A-18 Super Hornet for the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels.

The aircraft’s distinctive paint, cobalt blue with yellow trim, is just the work completed by the depot that the eye can see. FRCSE also performs maintenance and modifications that range from the removal of weapons systems to the outfitting of each aircraft with a control stick spring system for more precise aircraft control.

The team’s transition from the F/A-18 Hornet to the F/A-18 Super Hornet, a more powerful jet that’s approximately 25 percent larger, would not be possible without FRCSE. The Legacy Hornet has served as the primary aircraft for the Blue Angels since 1986 and will be retired in 2021.

“Knowing we are playing a critical role in making the Super Hornets ready for the team is an incredibly proud moment for the command as a whole,” said Col. Fred Schenk, FRCSE’s Commanding Officer. “The work is ongoing, and we’re tremendously honored to be a part of the transition. We aren’t just providing the well-known Blue Angels paint scheme, but we are performing the necessary maintenance and modifications to sustain the aircraft throughout their service life with the team.”

According to Rick Heffner, FRCSE’s paint shop supervisor, the depot has been applying the Blue Angel’s signature paint for years, but when the demonstration squadron decided to transition to the Super Hornet aircraft, Heffner and his team had their work cut out for them.

“It was decided last year that FRCSE would continue to provide this service for the new airframe. The Super Hornet is larger than the Legacy Hornet, so getting the proper size markings for the aircraft was a challenge initially,” Heffner said.

The painting process for these aircraft takes approximately 10 days. It’s a job that requires a significant amount of prep work, which includes sanding, washing, masking, priming and seam-sealing before applying the blue, yellow, white and clear paint coats and accents. Each process requires a keen eye for detail and meticulous time management.

Matt Lindberg, FRCSE’s deputy director of the F/A-18E/F MRO Production Line, said the first Super Hornet slated for conversion arrived at Cecil Commerce Center in December 2017 and work is expected to continue throughout 2021.

“FRCSE is performing the planned maintenance interval (PMI), modifications (MODs) and other over and above work to get these jets ready for years of uninterrupted service by the Blue Angels. A couple of the jets were in storage for five to six years, so we had to bring them back up to code,” he said. “The work we do can take anywhere from 90 days to a year, depending on the condition of the jet and work package requirements.”

Once the aircraft arrives at Cecil, it goes through the same basic life cycle: PMI, MODs and is then towed to the main facility at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville for paint strip and prime. Boeing then completes Blue Angel-specific modifications such as the addition of an oil tank for the smoke generation system before returning the aircraft to NAS Jacksonville for final paint. Lastly, Boeing finalizes the assembly and performs flight tests.

To date, FRCSE has performed PMI or MODs on nine of the first 11 Super Hornet aircraft slated for the Blue Angels.

“As a team, we take a tremendous amount of pride in the work we’ve completed and continue to do in support of the new platform for the Blue Angels. Every day our employees strive to maximize their performance to produce quality products at an ever-increasing speed,” Lindberg said.

“I can confidently speak for the rest of our team when I say we cannot wait to see the jets we have worked diligently on take to the skies in cities around the United States.”

Ashley Lombardo is a public affairs specialist with Fleet Readiness Center Southeast Public Affairs Office.

Blue Angels’ ‘New’ C-130J Delivered

C-130 pilots and crew assigned to the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, pose with the team’s newly acquired C-130J Super Hercules in Cambridge, England, on June 6. (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Jess Gray)

By Valerie Doster

Through a combined effort between the U.S. Navy, the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (U.K. MoD) and the Tactical Airlift Program Office, the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (NFDS), received a revamped C-130J Super Hercules logistics aircraft on Aug. 4.

The aircraft, purchased from the U.K. MoD in June 2019, underwent year-long refresh, turning the aircraft into the beloved logistics and transport aircraft used by the Blue Angels.

The program office and U.K. MoD co-managed the refurbishment, working through a Ministry of Defence contract. All efforts were performed at Marshall Aerospace and Defense Group (ADG) in Cambridge, England. 

“The teams were united in the one task, to meet the needs of the fleet,” said Capt. Steve Nassau, Tactical Airlift Program manager. “The return of an organic-based logistics aircraft to the Blue Angels squadron has freed up much needed assets being utilized temporarily to meet the NFDS mission needs. Thank you to everyone across the NAVAIR enterprise and across the ocean who assisted in this delivery.”

The newly acquired “J-Model” Super Hercules completes the NFDS transition from the previous legacy C-130T Hercules, which the squadron used for 17 years and retired in May 2019. While the C-130J will be the only variant of its type used by the Navy, the C-130J is familiar to the U.S. Air Force and shares common components with the KC-130J currently flown by the Marine Corps.

“It required a collaborative effort between NAVAIR engineering and Lockheed Martin to identify configuration deltas and test requirements,” said Jack Miller, Airframes Integrated Program Team lead. “These efforts were done to meet U.S. and FAA requirements and included a major rework inspection, hardware and software configuration changes, and ground and flight testing. The teams were also assisted by the C/KC-130 Fleet Readiness Center Team at Cherry Point, North Carolina, which created the reconfiguration plan.”

Additionally, detailed work, spanning across the NAVAIR enterprise, had to go on behind the scenes to ensure the squadron’s safe operation, and its ability to support and maintain a new type-model aircraft. Administrators built aircraft logbooks from U.K. MoD formatted information. NAVAIR engineers and logisticians reviewed and updated maintenance publications and procedures. NAVSUP personnel worked with the squadron and base supply officers to understand proper provisioning. The support equipment team identified C-130J specific support equipment and delivered it to the NFDS. This required routine communication between personnel from the program office, Center of Naval Aviation Training (CNATRA) and the NFDS to ensure proper adherence to the Naval Aviation Maintenance Program.

The refresh was not without its challenges. Teams on both sides of the ocean overcame several issues, including international travel restrictions, mandatory teleworking and social distancing restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic. Without NAVAIR on-site engineering support, the teams had to overcome time zone differences, communicating primarily through phone, email and Skype to prevent delays.

“The aircraft was about to receive its final paint when the worldwide pandemic hit in full,” Miller said. “With an ocean between us, shipping parts, team members and equipment overseas was a challenge. Working during a pandemic had our teams executing creative ways to reconstruct a way forward. Marshall ADG implemented safe ways to proceed with the repairs and paint, including working with flight and maintenance crews to complete testing. The NFDS crews endured 14 days of quarantine before actually being able to run the aircraft through its tests. Kudos to everyone on their flexibility and determination to get the job done right.”

Valerie Doster supports Tactical Airlift Program Communications

Vinson Conducts Flight Deck Cert with First Operational F-35C Squadron

By Lt. Cmdr. Miranda Williams

USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) completed several certifications Sept. 17, including flight deck certification (FDC) and carrier air traffic control center (CATCC) certification, after nearly a week of flight deck operations designed to ready the carrier for future operations.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to the “Stingers” of VFA-113, flies over Carl Vinson. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Haydn N. Smith)

The underway also marked the first time Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2 and Vinson, both part of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1, fully integrated and operated together since the addition of the F-35C Lightning II.

“The flight deck certification is one of many ways the Navy ensures the safety and readiness of our equipment and personnel,” said Rear Adm. Timothy J. Kott, commander, CSG-1. “The fact that Vinson was able to safely and successfully complete the flight deck certification while operating with the Navy’s first operational F-35 squadron is an exciting bonus.”

FDC is required for the carrier to embark aircraft, the primary weapons system for the platform, and is designed to provide operational continuity and proficiency training for carrier crews. During FDC, the carrier is evaluated on its ability to launch and recover aircraft in a safe manner in both day and night time operations.

A C-2A Greyhound, attached to the “Providers” of Fleet Logistic Support Squadron (VRC) 30, approaches for landing. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Katlyn E. Huska)

Vinson, along with CVW-2 squadrons, also achieved certification in Precision Approach Landing Systems (PALS), Joint Precision Approach Landing Systems (JPALS) and carrier qualifications for the six fixed-wing squadrons.

“These certifications ensure that Vinson meets the standards, and, in our case, we went above and beyond the certification requirements,” said Capt. Matthew Paradise, Vinson’s Commanding Officer. “I’m not surprised we did so well because every day the teamwork I saw demonstrated by the ship’s crew and the air wing was fantastic. Their technical expertise, attention to detail and hard work resulted in our successful completion of certifications.”

Prior to integrated operations with the air wing, Vinson underwent a 17-month maintenance availability to receive major upgrades in support of fifth-generation aircraft, making Vinson the first aircraft carrier equipped to support both the F-35C Lightning II and CMV-22 Osprey. Upgrades included enhanced jet blast deflectors able to take the increased heat generated by the F-35C and the addition of the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), the new computer network that supports the unique maintenance and tactical operations functions of the advanced aircraft.

An F/A-18F Super Hornet, attached to the “Bounty Hunters” of VFA-2, prepares to land aboard Carl Vinson. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Katlyn E. Huska)

With its recent modifications, no other weapons system has the responsiveness, endurance, multi-dimensional might, inherent battlespace awareness or command and control capabilities of the Vinson and CVW-2.

Other components of the air wing include three Navy Strike Fighter Squadrons that fly the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, one Electronic Attack Squadron that operates the EA-18G Growler, Airborne Command & Control Squadron that operates the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, one Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron and one Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron.

An E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, attached to the “Black Eagles” of Airborne Command & Control Squadron (VAW) 113, lands on the flight deck of Carl Vinson (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Haydn N. Smith)

Through multiplatform integration, CVW-2 will provide fleet commanders the ability to achieve the advantage across multiple domains: air, land, sea and electromagnetic.

Integration between the air wing and ship’s company is crucial to the everyday success of carrier operations. These flight operations take detailed coordination between ship’s company and the air wing squadrons, and flight deck certification was an opportunity to build that relationship.

“In the carrier environment, teamwork is everything,” said Capt. Matt Thrasher, commander, CVW-2. “Our Sailors and aircrew are focused on the task at hand and the path forward to deployment. Our success with the Vinson team is a direct result of the dedication, training and deployment-ready mentality we embrace daily.”

An F-35C lands on the flight deck of Carl Vinson during flight deck certification. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Katlyn E. Huska)

With the flight deck and air traffic control center now fully qualified, Vinson is eligible to perform carrier qualifications for new pilots and other missions to support the fleet.

Next, Vinson will complete a series of additional “work ups” and certifications in preparation for future operational tasking.

In accordance with COVID-19 safety protocols, all embarked personnel completed restriction of movement or COVID-19 testing, as required, prior to the ship’s underway period.

Lt. Cmdr. Miranda Williams is the Public Affairs Officer for USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).  

Vinson Begins Operational Training Cycle, Changes Homeport

Sailors assigned to CVN-70 man the rails on the flight deck of the ship when Vinson departed Naval Base Kitsap–Bremerton. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Nicholas R. Carter)

USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) arrived at Naval Air Station North Island, California, on Sept. 2, concluding the ship’s homeport shift from Bremerton, Washington to San Diego, California.

Vinson departed Bremerton on Aug. 23 to commence sea trials as the final phase in completing a 17-month docking planned incremental availability (DPIA) at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility. Upon the conclusion of DPIA, which began Feb. 28, 2019, Vinson returned to the fleet to begin her operational training cycle.

The DPIA included a complete restoration and system retrofit to accommodate F-35C Lightning II mission capabilities, as well as upgrades to combat systems, electrical systems and crew living spaces, and maintenance on the ship’s hull, rudders and shafts.

“I am proud of all of the hard work and dedication shown by the entire crew throughout the DPIA—and particularly with the added challenges we faced during this pandemic,” said Capt. Matthew Paradise, Vinson’s Commanding Officer. “Also, a huge thank you to our family and friends; because our success was, in large part, due to their unwavering support. We just couldn’t have done this without them.” Prior to its departure, Vinson conducted extensive COVID-19 prevention measures to ensure the health and safety of the crew while at sea, and to prevent potential spread to their families and the community upon their return to port. Those measures included: restriction of movement for all personnel for 14 days prior to embarking the ship, mandatory face coverings, continued cleaning and disinfecting throughout common areas, routine COVID-19 testing and social distancing. — Lt. Cmdr. Miranda Williams

RQ-21 Takes First Australian Flight

By Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani

A U.S. Marine Corps RQ-21A Blackjack was flown for the first time in Australia as part of the annual Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D) on Aug. 8.

Marine Unmanned Arial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 3, MRF-D’s Air Combat Element (ACE), launched the surveillance aircraft in support of bilateral training between the U.S. and Australian Defence Forces, marking a series of firsts for the Hawaii-based unit.

“This is the RQ-21A’s first deployment since we declared the squadron [fully operational], it’s very exciting for us,” said 1st Lt. Trevor Ellingson, an unmanned aircraft systems officer with VMU-3.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Douglas Bohr and Cpl. Dalton Kiser, with Air Combat Element, Marine Rotational Force – Darwin, conduct preflight checks on the RQ-21A Blackjack at Bradshaw Field Training Area, Northern Territory, Australia, on Aug. 9. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani)

This historical milestone comes in the midst of an unusual year for MRF-D. In order to ensure health and safety of Australians and U.S. service members amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the rotation was delayed by two months, reduced from 2,500 Marines to just more than 1,000 and saw the ACE—which was originally composed of several squadrons of manned aircraft including MV-22 Ospreys—9ca7af to just 32 Marines.

However, the smaller footprint offered MRF-D an opportunity to exercise unmanned systems’ capacity to support expeditionary advance bases and positions following modernization initiatives led by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David H. Berger.

In line with these future operating concepts, Ellingson said that the unit, “didn’t bring a lot of manpower. We made our detachment as small as possible to get the mission accomplished. Out here, we’re training to be fast, agile, to be able to setup, get a bird in the sky as fast as we can and teardown quickly.”

1st Lt. Trevor Ellingson, unmanned aircraft systems operator, prepares to receive operational control of the RQ-21A Blackjack at a spoke site. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani

In a real-world mission, Marine Air Ground Task Force elements would be swiftly and secretly deployed within striking distance of adversaries. These small teams would provide specific mission-tailored capabilities to shape the battlefield for follow on and larger naval forces.

The RQ-21 provides a very unique enabling capability within distributed operations. The aircraft can be rapidly deployed with a limited footprint and provide anything from route reconnaissance and target confirmation to intelligence collection for both unilateral and multilateral operations. These capabilities are amplified by the system’s ability to extend its flight distance using spoke sites as a way of extending the hub site’s reach.

“The spoke site, which enables UAS [Unmanned Aircraft Systems] operators to fly the aircraft conveniently from the rear of a Humvee, also extends the range of the aircraft from the hub,” said 1st Lt. Matthew Tatarka-Brown, a UAS officer.

During a timed training event, the Marines were challenged to deploy from the hub location and establish a spoke site. All the necessary equipment for the spoke fit snugly into two high-back Humvees.

“I lead a small group of Marines in detaching from the main body to setup the spoke site,” said Tatarka-Brown. “We got it up within an hour and 10 minutes, but we’re always aiming to get it up quicker.”

Marines recover the RQ-21A Blackjack following spoke operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani)

Tatarka-Brown said the spoke site is extremely valuable because “it’s self-sufficient for a short period of time. It gives us the ability to have multiple aircraft doing separate missions simultaneously within the area of operations.”

To test this concept, the ACE also pushed live video from the spoke-operated RQ-21 to MRF-D’s Command Element—a first for the Marines to do so through a satellite communications system.

“We’re able to be that eye in the sky for long periods of time, providing battlefield situational awareness, pattern of life, whatever our joint force commander is looking for,” Ellingson said.

The ACE continued training with its Australian counterparts through October.    

Written by Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani with Marine Rotational Force-Darwin.

New Operating Procedures to Mitigate Physiological Episodes

By Andrea Watters

Naval Aviation’s operating instruction has been updated with information to help aviators not only mitigate but avoid physiological episodes—Naval Aviation’s No. 1 safety priority.

Physiological episodes (PEs) occur when aircrew experience physiological symptoms such as dizziness or cognitive degradation which may impair their ability to perform cockpit duties.

The Physiological Episodes Action Team (PEAT) has incorporated what they’ve learned in the “General Flight and Operating Instructions Manual CNAF M-3710.7” after extensive Root Cause Corrective Action (RCCA) analyses of aircraft systems and medical investigations since the PEAT’s inception in 2017.

Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller III, commander, Naval Air Forces, signed the overarching instruction Sept. 9 and it was released to the fleet Oct. 6, paving the way for updates to emergency procedures in the Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) documents for the F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornet and T-45 Goshawk, said Cmdr. Adrian “Catfish” Jope, PEAT lead.

“The updates are designed to change mindsets and outline procedures to mitigate and prevent physiological episodes,” Jope said. Aviators rely on their specific platform NATOPS document for how to operate the aircraft, its systems and emergency procedures.

“We have been sharing what we’ve learned with the fleet in ready rooms and auditoriums during our PE briefings, or PE TED Talks, but now they have an updated instruction in the newly revised CNAF 3710 in which to reference,” Jope said.

Major additions to the CNAF 3710 and follow-on proposed changes to the individual platform NATOPS include improved mask usage guidelines, the introduction of strategic air breaks to improve respiratory capacity, updated emergency procedures, as well as enhanced explanations of the functionality of On-Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) and Environmental Control System (ECS), Jope said. The new NATOPS procedures are expected to be released to the fleet in the coming months.

“We’ve been told for a long time that we will wear our mask from takeoff to landing unless we needed to make subtle adjustments or move it aside to take a drink of water. Over the course of the last couple of years, we’ve learned that breathing with a mask for long periods of time can create physiological challenges, and if left unchecked can potentially lead to adverse physiological symptoms. As such, we have learned that by dropping the mask to take cleansing breaths at appropriate opportunities below 10,000 feet cabin altitude where hypoxia is not a concern, aircrew can help restore their normal physiological balance,” Jope said.

The PEAT’s Aeromedical Action Team (AMAT) also found that existing training for aviators and medical professionals was not extensive enough, so more in-depth information was added to the physiology chapter in CNAF 3710, said Cmdr. Allen “Doc” Hoffman, a naval flight surgeon who serves as the AMAT lead and Aerospace Medicine branch head with the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

For example, the new physiology chapter covers the effects of breathing high-concentration oxygen through the OBOGS. Studies found one of the negative effects of breathing 94-percent oxygen is that it can wash out the nitrogen in the lungs, which in turn deflates the lung’s alveoli in the bronchial tubes causing atelectasis, Hoffman said. To mitigate that effect in the cockpit, the updated instruction covers what the symptoms feel like and when to take a strategic air break to conduct controlled breathing cycles and reset the respiratory system.

“We want to educate aviators on how their body naturally responds to the environment and environmental stressors just like you would when you run a marathon or you go weight lifting or you are in your car and another car almost sideswipes you—you are going to have a physiologic reaction. Those same reactions occur in the cockpit. The instruction educates them on which symptoms are significant and which ones they can mitigate in the cockpit and continue on their mission; that’s a win for everyone, and ultimately, improves operational readiness,” Hoffman said.

As an action team, the PEAT initiated the instruction updates. Changes are usually generated by the fleet, but in this case, the update was generated by the PEAT and AMAT and socialized with Naval Aviation Enterprise leaders as well as the fleet and medical community before being finalized, Jope said.

Working through the updates during the COVID-19 restrictions was also a challenge.

Members of the PEAT worked tirelessly during the summer to meet virtually with subject matter experts from aerospace medicine along with Naval Air Systems Command engineers and fleet model managers to finalize the changes.

More than 25 teleconferences and 500 manhours were spent updating the CNAF 3710 and an additional 50 teleconferences and 1,500 manhours were dedicated to the NATOPS changes, Jope said.

Fleet aeromedical safety officers were briefed in August and started sharing the training updates with squadrons in October.

Andrea Watters is editor in chief of Naval Aviation News.

Test Pilot School Opens Doors for Naval Flight Officers

By Paul Lagasse

When naval flight officers (NFOs) hear the name “United States Naval Test Pilot School,” many conclude it is open to aviators only. They’re surprised to learn the school also welcomes applications from NFOs and engineers who want to pursue a career in developmental flight test.

USNTPS offers a fast-track into the exclusive ranks of the Navy and Marine Corps acquisition community, which is responsible for readying the aircraft, systems and weapons of tomorrow.

One might be surprised to learn that Rear Adm. Scott Dillon, commander, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan,Program Executive Officer, Tactical Aircraft Programs, and Capt. Elizabeth Somerville, chief test pilot and future Commanding Officer of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, are all NFOs. All three are also USNTPS graduates and they credit the school with honing the skills they needed to advance to their current positions and prepare them for what comes next.

Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan, Program Executive Officer, Tactical Aircraft Programs, listens to a brief at a Boots on the Ground event at Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic in 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by PR1 Brandon Cole)

Successful USNTPS applicants are technically competent and tactically capable first-tour Navy lieutenants and Marine captains with top fitness reports.

“I was intrigued by the fact that the school’s technical curriculum is complemented by once-in-a-lifetime flying opportunities in different types of aircraft that I would not otherwise have had an opportunity to fly as a Navy P-3 NFO,” said Dillon, whose first tour was with Patrol Squadron (VP) 1 in Hawaii. “I was also really impressed by the fact that when you graduate, you immediately have an opportunity to apply what you’ve learned at a test squadron, which is right at the center of the development and acquisition of new aircraft and new systems for the fleet.”

Gahagan’s experience was similar. He first heard about USNTPS when friends applied to the school when he was a junior officer assigned to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 115 in Atsugi, Japan, and again when he became an instructor at VAW-110 following his first tour.

“I touched base with them and they all viewed the program very favorably,” Gahagan said. “They said they were testing new capabilities and the latest technology that was going to be delivered to the fleet. That really got me interested, and I applied and was accepted.”

A career in flight test appealed to Somerville from her earliest days in the Navy flying in EA-6B Prowlers with Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 141 out of Whidbey Island, Washington.

“I had a fantastic tour, and then like most people as they near the second half of their tour I started thinking, ‘Well, what do I want to do next? Where do I think my skillset is best in line with the various missions in the Navy?’” said Somerville, who at that time already had a degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I have always had a strong interest in solving problems and in building and fixing things, and that really seemed to line up well with the flight test mission. That’s what drove me to apply to USNTPS.”

All three NFOs are also Aerospace Engineering Duty Officers, or AEDOs, which means they provide management oversight of aerospace weapons systems throughout their life cycle. The AEDO path leads officers to command positions with test and evaluation squadrons, naval air test and warfare centers and program management positions within the Naval Air Systems Command. And the AEDO community prefers to cultivate new candidates from the NFOs who graduate USNTPS as well as from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

36Rear Adm. Scott Dillon, commander, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, participates in a change of command ceremony at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif. Note: Photo taken before COVID-19. (U.S. Navy photo by Ron Rodriguez)Rear Adm. Scott Dillon arrives at the NAWCWD change of command ceremony at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California, on April 19. (U.S. Navy photo by Ron Rodriguez)

“My follow-on tour in VX-20, and my subsequent tours in program offices and other acquisition-related organizations including NAWCWD here in China Lake have all been available to me as a consequence of graduating from USNTPS,” Dillon said. “USNTPS opens doors not only for AEDOs like myself, but also for unrestricted line officers. It creates additional opportunities that are central to the entire process of fielding new systems that would not be available to people who don’t have that background.”

Gahagan said the critical thinking skills he honed at USNTPS played a valuable role in helping him find career opportunities in positions where such skills were considered essential.

“When I transitioned to the AEDO community, I carried those tools with me and I think they really do improve your decision-making quality,” Gahagan said. “You bring the ability to analyze factual data, your experience, your intuition and your judgment, and I think over time it makes for more informed, better decisions. And if you can do that in your career, it’s bound to help you in the long run.”

“USNTPS is 100 percent the key enabler to my entire career,” Somerville said. “I have enjoyed every tour I’ve done because of the people I’ve had the privilege to work with, but without USNTPS I wouldn’t have had the chance to do those tours and meet those people.”

Somerville said she was fortunate that her arrival at VX-31 in China Lake, California, coincided with the squadron’s initial testing of the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

“I went from not even knowing where China Lake was to doing a tour as a department head in the Growler and being part of the first squadron to deploy with the Growler onboard an aircraft carrier,” namely USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).

“None of those tours would have been possible without the education and the experience and the backgrounds that USNTPS gave me,” she said.

Dillon said that acquisition is about finding all the ways that a new system can fail to operate if some crucial detail is overlooked during the development cycle. “USNTPS trains people to pay attention to those details and to know what sort of technical concerns to be on the lookout for,” said Dillon, who oversaw the completion of the P-8A Poseidon’s initial operational testing and evaluation as program manager of the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft Program. “That way, problems can be discovered early and corrected while they’re still relatively easy to change, so that they never become an issue or a concern for the fleet operator.”

Capt. Elizabeth Somerville, chief test pilot, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 and former Commanding Officer of VX-31, earned her Wings of Gold as a naval flight officer in October 2000. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Lagasse)

“If you’re the sort of person who is both technically oriented and determined to dig into the details to determine whether or not we have truly gotten the design right, then you probably have the right sort of personality not only for test pilot school, but also for your follow-on assignment to a test squadron,” Dillon said.

Gahagan encourages NFOs to consider applying to USNTPS if it aligns with their career goals, their career timing and the needs of the Navy. “If all of those things align, it is a rewarding and challenging experience,” said Gahagan, who has also served as commander, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division. “And I’ll tell you, it allows a lot of options in your Navy career. It gives you a different approach in the warfighting arena because you understand a system’s capabilities and how it was developed, and those skills are in demand.”

“As the Navy shifts from autonomous operations to a more integrated approach that relies on aircraft like the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, the P-8 Poseidon and the Growler, I think the NFO will play a bigger role in air combat,” Gahagan said. “The NFO’s responsibilities will become much more challenging and demanding. USNTPS will help prepare you for those responsibilities.”

Somerville encourages NFOs who are considering applying to USNTPS to pursue a career in flight test and acquisition not to worry about how they will measure up against other applicants.

“The important thing is to walk in the door with the confidence of an individual who is an expert in your aircraft and who has all the qualifications that are expected of you at this stage in your career,” Somerville said. “As long as you have the willingness to work hard and have some technical or science background, then USNTPS will teach you the test and evaluation mission.”

“First as a project officer and later as a department head, you will get to make the calls to determine how these capabilities and platforms are going to be developed and to keep them on track when they run into roadblocks,” said Somerville, who also served as VX-31’s chief test pilot and Commanding Officer. “And then, when you go back out in the fleet, you’ll be able to point to that aircraft or that weapons system with pride and say, ‘You know, I played a big part in bringing that to the fleet.’”

Paul Lagasse is a public affairs specialist with U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Communications.

Apply to USNTPS

To learn more about USNTPS and how to apply, visit https://www.navair.navy.mil/nawcad/usntps.

The school’s academic rigor and excellence requires a highly competitive admissions process. Though not required, applicants typically hold degrees in engineering, physical science or math. Those without the requisite courses can make themselves competitive by completing correspondence courses at USNTPS.

Prospective test pilots have typically flown more than 1,000 flight hours. USNTPS evaluates military aviators by a selection board for flight qualification, professional performance, academic background and requirements of the service. The school evaluates engineers similarly with emphasis on experience, performance and flight suitability.

All interested candidates are encouraged to apply.  

Grampaw Pettibone

Gramps from Yesteryear: November-December 2001

Illustration by Ted Wilbur

Nighttime Nightmare

A strike package comprised of 12 aircraft launched from the carrier, in sections, on a night strike familiarization flight. The aircraft were to conduct in-flight refueling, also in sections, before proceeding on the mission. Due to excessive traffic overhead the carrier, the rendezvous point for one section of F/A-18 Hornets was altered by the section leader after becoming airborne. The two aircraft joined at a point 10 miles northwest of the ship and proceeded toward the tanker which was flying at 22,000 feet. Both pilots were wearing night vision goggles (NVG).

Established in spread formation with the wingman on the leader’s left side, the flight maneuvered to a 3-mile trail position behind a flight of three F-14 Tomcats also proceeding to the tanker. At this time a flight of three Hornets was also approaching the tanker at the section’s 11 o’clock position about 12 miles away.

The section leader’s wingman was spending 60 percent of his time monitoring traffic on radar and visually trying to assist the leader in joining up on the tanker. The flight closed to 2 miles in trail of the F-14s while the 3-plane flight of F/A-18s was six miles ahead. The wingman continued to devote most of his time to duties other than formation flying. The leader entered a descending 60-degree left angle of bank turn for 15 seconds. The wingman responded with a 35-degree angle of bank left descending turn. During this turn, a 24-degree heading difference developed between the two aircraft. The wingman was about 700 feet above the leader’s altitude.

The wingman did not recognize the heading differential or the resulting closure rate. Both Hornets rolled wings level with a 21-degree heading difference and the wingman 300 feet above the leader. The wingman did not recognize the rapidly increasing size of the leader’s aircraft due to scan breakdown and self-induced task saturation. The leader started an easy right turn, while the wingman continued a slight descent until the aircraft collided at a closure rate of approximately 180 knots with a 17-degree heading difference. The wingman immediately initiated successful ejection, but the leader was killed on impact.  

It’s a heckuva workload speedin’ through the sky at night, wearin’ NVGs and makin’ your way to the tanker with a bunch of fast movin’ birds in close company. The wingman lost situational awareness in this case because he was tryin’ to do too much beyond his primary duty of flying as wingman. He violated a basic, fundamental task of formation flying: avoid flyin’ into your lead.

Also, the flight did not brief for and subsequently did not use the air-to-air function of the tactical aid to navigation system, which mighta helped the fliers track their distance from each other. ‘Nuff said.

Physiological Episodes: Understanding the Human System

(U.S. Navy photo illustration by Fred Flerlage; photographic image by Cpl. Jason Jimenez)

Fleet aviators have not experienced a significant physiological event (PE) in more than a year due in part to increased understanding of breathing dynamics and how to mitigate symptoms in the cockpit, according to the Navy’s flight surgeon on the Physiological Episodes Action Team (PEAT).

Cmdr. Allen “Doc” Hoffman said he celebrated that milestone May 31, which is one of the PEAT’s many contributions toward resolving PEs since 2017 when they became Naval Aviation’s No. 1 safety priority.

In addition to technological improvements, the PEAT attributes the decline of PEs to educating and communicating directly with aviators during roadshows. Over the last two years, these roadshows have evolved from presentations in large auditoriums to briefings in less formal settings—squadron ready rooms (see article on page 28).

Focused on Navy’s High-Performance Athletes

Hoffman is a residency-trained flight surgeon who is board certified in aerospace and occupational medicine. He joined the PEAT in September 2018 to help unravel the mystery behind PE symptoms and develop a long-term treatment plan designed to return aviators to flight status.

Hoffman chairs the Air Medical Action Team (AMAT) created by the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) in 2017 to evaluate the human side of the equation. Comprised of more than 40 specialists, the team meets monthly to plan and analyze research studies and develop clinical practice guidelines to treat and prevent PEs.

“Treatment accessibility and quality are key successes. It’s one thing to treat people once they’ve been injured, but it’s the gold standard to prevent the injury. And that’s what we’ve done for the last year,” Hoffman said.

The AMAT’s investigations have shifted the emphasis from the aircraft to the men and women who fly those aircraft.

“PEs happen to people, not to aircraft,” Hoffman is quick to point out.

Renewed emphasis is on increasing stakeholder’s understanding of what aircrew experience physiologically in the inherently stressful flight environment in the cockpit as well as training and equipping naval aviators as professional athletes.

“We don’t train pilots how to fly the aircraft, we train pilots on how to fly their bodies. People tend to forget that the human system is the most important part of the aircraft system,” said Capt. James R. Linderman, the aeromedical physiologist on the PEAT and AMAT. Linderman, who earned his Ph.D. in physiology, has brought his experience in molecular, cellular and human physiology to the effort since 2019.

“Flights are basically athletic events where you need more oxygen. Your heart’s racing, you’re pulling Gs; it’s an athletic event and you need a constant supply of oxygen,” Hoffman said.

Acknowledging the physical demands of flight, the Navy holds pilots to a higher physical and mental standard than the general Navy population, Hoffman said. To be an aviator, one must meet the general duty standards plus the specific physical and functional requirements to fly, including perfect vision and hearing. Psychological requirements include an even-keel mentality with the ability to stay in control to solve problems in an emergency.

Aviators must also “fit” into their aircraft. Depending on the platform, one may be too tall, weigh too much or have arms that are too short or too long.

“We look at all those things to make sure that the right people go into the right aircraft, and they have the right physiological margins to tolerate that abnormal work environment,” Hoffman said.

A student naval aviator prepares her flight gear at Training Air Wing (TW) 4 aboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi, Texas, on June 23. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Michelle Tucker)

Re-Examining Hyperventilation, Breathing Dynamics

Prior to recent findings, the aeromedical community and aviators believed hypoxia—oxygen deprivation at the tissue level—and decompression sickness (DCS) were the two major threats to aviators in the tactical air cockpit, Linderman said.

“While those are two conditions to be concerned about, they may not be what we’re seeing with respect to physiological events,” he said.

During its investigation, the AMAT analyzed the 57 reported symptoms and narrowed them down to two categories of physiological events—pressure-related or non-pressure-related, Hoffman said.

“Once we ruled out hypoxia and decompression sickness, it took us about 14 months to identify the two types of PEs and develop treatment,” he said. [The physiology and treatment of pressure-related PEs will be covered in a future issue.]

In the non-pressure related category, the AMAT discovered other contributing physiological states such as respiratory alkalosis—a decrease in blood carbon dioxide (CO2) levels called hypocapnia can lead to a rise in blood pH and create an area of regional hypoxia in the brain.

“Initially, people were saying ‘the aviators are hyperventilating; they’re causing their own problem,’” Hoffman said. “People associate hyperventilation with a conscious choice to breathe too fast because you are anxious or scared, but that’s not the case for aviators. Just by putting on your flight gear and sitting down in the aircraft, you have decreased your respiratory ability and your body will naturally start breathing faster to compensate. It’s not a conscious choice; it’s an involuntary reaction to maintain your physiological margins.”

In 2017, student pilots were reporting inadequate oxygen during their T-45 Goshawk flights. While investigators found no contaminants or toxins in the Onboard Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS), they did, however, find and resolve inadequate air flow caused by a 90-degree bend in the pipe.

What can happen in a low flow state is that chemoreceptors send signals to the brain triggering an unconscious response to breathe slightly faster, Linderman said. “That increase in breathing, again, not in a normal situation, could lead to a cascade of events that ultimately ends in this person getting hypocapnia.”

Hypocapnia is caused by an increase in blood pH, which must remain between the very tight range of 7.35 and 7.45. Anything above that causes a structural change in the hemoglobin causing it to hang on to oxygen instead of releasing it.

“It has nothing to do with not breathing in enough oxygen. You have plenty of oxygen, you just don’t release it to the tissue because your hemoglobin is ‘being selfish’ and holding onto it because of that high blood pH,” Hoffman said.

Airflow was improved in the T-45 by adjusting the engine idle and straightening out the bend in the OBOGS pipe, an earlier effort by the PEAT.

“We haven’t seen issues of low airflow in the T-45 since the [OBOGS] pipe was straightened,” he said.

The lungs’ ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide is also affected by two of the most physically demanding aspects of flying a tactical aircraft: high altitudes and pulling Gs, Hoffman said.

Since these two situations occur above 10,000 feet cabin altitude, aviators breathe supplemental oxygen at 94 percent, which is a much higher concentration than the 21 percent oxygen and 78 percent nitrogen in ambient air, Hoffman said. Cockpit ambient air with adequate partial pressures of oxygen are found at sea level and below 10,000 feet cabin altitude. 

Studies have found that one of the negative effects of breathing 94 percent oxygen is the potential for nitrogen to be washed out of the lungs which leads to atelectasis, Hoffman said. Atelectasis is the complete or partial collapse of a part of the lungs called alveoli. Nitrogen keeps the alveoli—the little sacs in the lungs that handle gas transfer—inflated. A lack of nitrogen can cause the alveoli to collapse which, in turn, increases the respiratory rate, he said.

BUMED is funding research projects exploring the effects of high levels of oxygen, how long before these effects occur and whether it is beneficial to use a lower percentage, Hoffman said.

The team has also learned more about breathing dynamics and how the position of the body affects one’s breathing. For example, while performing on stage an opera singer is standing upright, chest extended, shoulders back with lowered and tightened abdominal muscles, which enables maximum respiratory capacity, Linderman said. A pilot, on the other hand, is sitting in the cockpit wearing aviation life support systems, all of which reduces their respiratory capacity. It can also cause one to unconsciously change their breathing dynamics, ultimately affecting gas exchange and cellular processes within the body, he said.

Aircrew Survival Equipmentman Airmen, assigned to the “Sunliners” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81, test oxygen flow in pilot gear in a paraloft aboard aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Robyn B. Melvin)

Strategic Air Breaks Proposed

To mitigate non-pressure related events, BUMED and the PEAT are introducing “strategic air breaks” or periodic breathing techniques to improve aircrew’s respiratory function.

One of these breaks includes finding a time during the administrative part of a flight to drop below 10,000 feet cabin pressure, take off the mask and take deep breaths for a period of time to reintroduce nitrogen into the lungs and help re-inflate the alveoli.

“This will help mitigate, not just normal flight, but the physiological effects of pulling Gs. With the physiological margin of fully expanded lungs, the body is in a better position to handle G forces. When you pull Gs you are going to naturally have atelectasis; you can’t mitigate the effect from centrifugal force. However, if your lungs are at 100-percent capacity when you start, you’re going to be able to handle it much better,” Hoffman said.

Strategic air breaks and more information on breathing dynamics will be introduced in a new section in the Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) General Flight and Operating Instructions Manual CNAF M-3710.7, Hoffman said. The updated instruction is expected to be finalized in August.

“While aviators have been trained in this all along, what we’ve found is that they haven’t been trained extensively enough. We believe educating the pilots and the medical professionals is so significant that we’ve rewritten the entire physiology chapter in CNAF 3710. It is about twice the size of the original, and once published, it will do a great job in educating new aviators and re-educating veteran aviators on exactly what their bodies are experiencing in flight,” Hoffman said.

Armed with this knowledge, aviators will become more aware of symptoms, correlate those symptoms to what happened in the cockpit and know how to mitigate them, Hoffman said.

Andrea Watters is editor in chief of Naval Aviation News.

PEAT Communicates with Fleet

The Physiological Episodes Action Team (PEAT) has been relaying its findings to aviators in the form of roadshow presentations. At first, the roadshows occurred in larger settings, but the team realized meeting with aviators in their squadron ready rooms was more effective, and the new approach seems to be resonating with aviators, according to Cmdr. Adrian “Catfish” Jope, PEAT lead.

“Initially the PE Roadshows were very much aircraft-centric without much discussion on the aeromedical front,” Jope said.

As more information came out regarding the aeromedical aspects involved with PEs during the Naval Air System Command’s (NAVAIR) Root Cause Corrective Action (RCCA) investigation, the team decided to shift some of its roadshow focus to address these important aeromedical findings.

Flight Surgeon Cmdr. Allen “Doc” Hoffman discusses the aeromedical impacts of flight on human physiology with the “Cougars” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 139 during a Physiological Episodes Action Team roadshow at NAS Whidbey Island, Wash., in October 2019. (U.S. Navy photo)

“Since PEs happen to aviators and not the aircraft, we placed aeromedical professionals who were familiar with PEs at the forefront of the discussion. This enabled us to educate aircrew about the dynamics of aerospace physiology as well as what an aviator could expect should they experience a PE.  Additionally, we felt that it was vital to help strengthen the relationship and restore trust and confidence between aircrew and flight surgeons, especially when it came to the subject of PEs,” Jope said.

In March, the PEAT held its first round of what Jope refers to as the “PE TED Talk” at ready rooms across the Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, Virginia, flight line. 

“Utilizing the same tools that aviators use on a daily basis to conduct flight briefs and debriefs, namely a whiteboard and dry erase markers, the team was able to communicate with aircrew in a way that is familiar to them,” he said.

During the discussions, the PEAT shares in depth information about the aircraft systems often associated with PEs, specifically the Environmental Control System (ECS) and the On-Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) and how they function in a normal and degraded fashion. Additionally, the PEAT’s flight surgeon systematically breaks down human physiology as it relates to the harsh aerospace environment, but at a level that everyone can easily understand.

“By doing this, we have been able to take a lot of the mystery out of PEs and dispel many misconceptions or concerns that aircrew have coming into the conversations,” Jope said.

Positive Feedback

“I initially was skeptical about how the Navy was handling PEs, mostly because of ‘word of mouth’ and other aircrew’s experiences. I was fortunate enough to sit through a PEAT roadshow in March which changed my mind completely,” said Cmdr. Anthony “YoYo” Scigliano, Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic (SFWL) Safety Officer. “After the PEAT’s roadshow, I went around talking to aircrew to get their perspectives. Everyone I talked to had the same view I did and came out much more informed.”

Lt. Cmdr. Kyle “Mooch” Jones, Safety Department Head with Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 at NAS Oceana, had a similar reaction.

“That roadshow was great because everyone was there, from the admiral down, and it was an honest assessment of what we, as a Navy, knew to that point. That type of delivery plays well with aviators and I think that helped change some perspectives,” Jones said.

The PEAT plans to continue its PE roadshows once COVID-19 travel and social distancing restrictions are lifted.

Lt. Cmdr. Kyle “Mooch” Jones, Safety Department Head with Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106, prepares for a flight in an F/A-18F Super Hornet. (U.S. Navy photo)

Changing the Culture

Part of the challenge in mitigating PEs is the reluctance of aircrew to talk to the doctors because of their apprehension of being placed in a down status or “grounded,” Jope said.

“While it’s not necessarily right, it’s a cultural thing. Many aviators have Type A personalities, and, like athletes, they want to be involved in the game. If they’re on the sidelines, they feel like they’re not helping the team.

“To begin to change the culture, the new message has to be ‘if you’re not playing at 100 percent, you’re not only hurting yourself, but the entire team,’” Jope said. “This goes beyond feeling sick, too. Similar to athletes, aviators need to make sure that they are getting the proper nourishment, exercise and rest to keep themselves in top condition to take on the harsh and sometimes unforgiving environment in which they work. If they don’t, they are risking injury, or if already playing hurt, they risk making the injury worse and possibly finding themselves out of the ‘game’ for weeks or even months.”

There have been multiple PE reports over the past few years that could have been prevented had aviators taken an honest assessment of their overall fitness for flight prior to stepping into the cockpit, Jope said.

The Naval Aviation Enterprise is encouraging aviators to take themselves off the flight schedule if they’re not up to it, and that is happening more frequently at SFWL.

“I think that aircrew feel comfortable enough to take themselves off the flight schedule if they aren’t feeling up to snuff. They will get respect for owning up to the fact that they don’t want to put others at risk,” Scigliano said.  — Andrea Watters  

Test Pilot School Alum Reach for the Stars

Matthew Dominick, Jasmin Moghbeli, and Raja Chari (U.S. Navy photo illustration by Fred Flerlage; photographic images courtesy of NASA)

The first group of NASA astronauts since the announcement of the Artemis program graduated from the Johnson Space Center in Houston during a ceremony Jan. 10. Among the graduates were two men and a woman who attribute their success, in part, to attending the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS).

Then-NASA astronaut candidate Matthew Dominick during earth and planetary science training in Rio Grande del Norte National Monument Upper Gorge Area near Questa, N.M. (NASA photo by Norah Moran)

Matthew Dominick, a Navy lieutenant commander, graduated from USNTPS, based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, and served on USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) as department head for Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115. Dominick was one of 11 NASA and two Canadian Space Agency astronauts in the recent graduation class.

Raja Chari, an Air Force colonel, served as the commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California following his USNTPS graduation.

Jasmin Moghbeli, a Marine Corps major, is a distinguished graduate of USTPS. Moghbeli tested H-1 helicopters and served as the quality assurance and avionics officer for Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1.

Speed and man’s interaction with machines sparked Dominick’s early interest in flying and, ultimately, his decision to enlist in the Navy.

“[As a child] I was always building things in my backyard or in my garage and probably breaking my dad’s tools and figuring out how to work things,” Dominick said. “I am fascinated by human-machine integration and how we interact with machines. And I was always interested in going faster and higher … but I quickly realized there are limits to what you can do without an education, and the Navy presented me with that opportunity.”

Like many of his colleagues, Chari first knew he wanted to fly as a career in late middle school, but his inspiration was perhaps a little different from theirs.

Then-NASA astronaut candidate Raja Chari readies for T-38 flight training at Ellington Field. (NASA photo by James Blair)

“I was really into ‘Star Wars’ at the time, but at some point, I realized that I couldn’t fly an X-Wing in real life and fighter jets seemed like a logical Plan B,” Chari said with a laugh. “And being an Air Force guy, I’m probably going to catch a lot of flak for saying this, but I can’t lie that ‘Top Gun’ didn’t play a role in it, too.”

Moghbeli, who cut her aviation teeth piloting helicopters for the Marine Corps, said her first flight aboard a Cessna with a family friend cemented her desire to fly. Around the same time, she decided to pursue a career in the Marine Corps.

“Both my grandparents served in the military in Iran. My Mom’s father served in the Iranian Navy, so I think from an early age, I started having an interest in the military,” Moghbeli said. “I was initially looking at the Navy and then, in my junior year of college at a career fair, I talked to an officer at a Marine Corps booth, and ended up going to officer candidate school that same summer and enjoyed getting commissioned after that.

“I have always liked the idea of service to country and traveling and adventure, and I’ve always played sports,” Moghbeli said. “Rivalry really appealed to me.”

Test Pilot School Offers Path to Space

The path to exploring beyond the Earth’s atmosphere was different for each of the newly minted astronauts, but these three share a special bond having completed the unique training experience at USNTPS.

Dominick earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of San Diego and a master’s degree in systems engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. His thirst to continue learning and a desire to contribute to the fleet in a more effective way led to him to apply to USNTPS.

Then-NASA astronaut candidate Jasmin Moghbeli conducts T-38 engine maintenance training at Ellington Field in Houston. (NASA photo by Josh Valcarcel)

“I was in my fleet squadron and I realized that what was right for me—based on what I love to do—was to go to test pilot school because that would be a place where I could explore further how [to] make things better for the fleet,” Dominick said, remarking that USNTPS pilots actively participate in testing aircraft and troubleshooting issues that arise in order to repair and improve systems.

“Test pilot school is about a way of thinking about problems and a way to communicate issues. Most of test pilot school is really just understanding complex things and distilling them down into a way that people can understand, so that problems can get resolved. Most people think about test pilots like, edge of the envelope, keeping an airplane flying, conducting these really extreme high-risk test points. That’s kind of the glamour shot. But 95 percent of test piloting is reading and writing—and writing very well.”

After graduating from the Air Force Academy and earning his master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chari was considering whether to pursue a career in engineering or aviation when a friend gave him some valuable advice.

“He said, ‘Did you know there’s this place called the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School where you can actually do engineering work and fly, too?’” Chari recalled. “To me, that sounded like a perfect blend of my interests.”

Dominick wears a spacesuit prior to underwater spacewalk training at the NBL. (NASA photo by Josh Valcarcel)

Chari applied to USNTPS while assigned to an F-15 Strike Eagle squadron in England, and was thrilled when, the following year, the school offered him a place.

“It was a pretty amazing experience, and I made friends that I still keep in touch with today,” Chari said. “It’s definitely not a walk in the park, but it’s also fun when you remember to take a step back and look at it. You’ll be grumbling that you have to write this huge paper, but then you remind yourself that you’re doing it because tomorrow, you’ll get to fly a plane you’ve never flown before.”

USNTPS also opened up another career path for Chari that, until then, had seemed only a distant possibility—being an astronaut.

“Honestly, I didn’t really think it was realistic until I got selected for test pilot school,” he said. “That’s when it dawned on me that this astronaut idea was now actually within the realm of possibility.”

Moghbeli earned her bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering with information technology at MIT and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School before being accepted to USNTPS, which she admits was more challenging than she anticipated.

“I think I underestimated a bit,” Moghbeli said. “I remember when I first got there, we received this email about the ‘You’ll Be Sorry Party.’ I was like, ‘what do you mean ‘you’ll be sorry?’ You know, like, it can’t be that bad. The long-standing joke is you spend half your day in class, half your day flying and half your day writing reports. It was very, very time consuming trying to do everything to the level that I wanted.”

Teamwork and Troubleshooting: Key Ingredients

What is it that makes USNTPS one of the key pipelines for people who seek to become astronauts?

Dominick wears a spacesuit prior to underwater spacewalk training at the NBL. (NASA photo by Josh Valcarcel)

Marine Lt. Col. Rory Feely, Commanding Officer, USNTPS, said that in addition to the school’s comprehensive curriculum, top-notch instructors and highly competitive application process, it is the school’s emphasis on teamwork that benefits future astronauts.

“When you look at the qualities and characteristics of those who are successful in applying to NASA and becoming astronauts, I think it is the teamwork side of their personality that sets them apart,” Feely said. “And we foster that trait here because close collaboration between aviators and engineers is a critical part of flight test, not just here at the school but throughout the Navy’s other test squadrons.”

“There’s nothing we do in life these days that we do by oneself,” Feely said. “Our disciplines and our endeavors are just far too complicated for one person to be able to cover all the bases. USNTPS graduates learn from experience that their success is dependent on their ability to work with and to trust others as a team.”

Feely speaks from experience; he worked with Moghbeli in early 2012 when both were assigned to the operations department of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 367 at Camp Pendleton, California—and, in fact, Feely wrote a letter of recommendation in support of her application to USNTPS.

“She never, ever quit, which is a fantastic attribute to have,” Feely said. “I used to tell people that the only reason she’s working for me is because I outranked her, otherwise I’d be working for her.”

Founded in 1945, the USNTPS trains developmental test pilots, flight officers, engineers and industry and foreign partners in the full-spectrum test and evaluation of aircraft and aircraft systems. The school is in the forefront of developing modern test techniques, and is a leader in the standardization of flight test. It is the only source of rotary-wing test pilots in the United States and serves as the Army’s test pilot school. Graduates leave the program prepared to meet the wide range of requirements necessary to conduct research, developmental and operational test and evaluation activities in support of U.S. military services, government agencies and many foreign nations.

Moghbeli is helped into a spacesuit prior to underwater spacewalk training at the NBL. (NASA photo by Josh Valcarcel)

For military pilots, flight officers and engineers who want to become astronauts, USNTPS isn’t the only gateway, but it is one of the most successful, Feely said. But those people have to really want it, he said.

“USNTPS is very selective about who is allowed to participate in the program, both on the staff side and the student side, and those who make it through the doors are already very accomplished in many areas of their careers not only academically, but also in terms of their flight performance,” Feely said. “A person may have hopes of becoming an astronaut when they become a pilot in the military, but first they have to build their reputation by aiming higher and seeking out greater challenges.”

Dominick said his USNTPS experience prepared him for uncertainties while in the air and ways to quickly troubleshoot issues as they arise.

“[USNTPS] puts you in situations in which you are uncomfortable. When you first get there, the first aircraft you fly is one you are unfamiliar with,” said Dominick, who had experience with fixed-wing aircraft, but found himself in the cockpit of a helicopter as his first flying experience at USNTPS. “They want to make you uncomfortable and to assess what is going on. I think that was really valuable experience.

“Also, if you want to have influence, if you want to be there in the early stages of development and make the fleet have better tools to do the job, then go to USNTPS.”

Moghbeli reiterated that having an immediate impact to the fleet was a fulfilling reward for those who attend USNTPS.

“Something I loved about it was that it allowed me to combine that operational experience I had from the fleet with my engineering background. And the cool thing about it is you graduate from test pilot school and you’re immediately having impacts to aircraft systems, weapons systems, avionics, things that are going to be going out to the fleet,” she said. “I remember I was working on an electrical warfare pod as the project manager after graduating. I would give feedback, the engineers would incorporate it, and I would test again. That iterative process, of seeing the active change in that product and giving the fleet something that I felt was a better product, was a very satisfying experience for me.”

Chari agreed with his colleagues about the value of finely honed problem-solving skills in day-to-day military service. “If you’ve ever been frustrated with a system because it doesn’t work the way it should, the way to deal with that is to go to test pilot school and become part of the solution,” he said. “You will develop the ability to influence future systems and make them better for the operators who come after you.”

From left, NASA astronaut candidates Dominick, Chari and Moghbeli take time to bond on their hike during wilderness survival training at the Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School in Brunswick, Maine. (NASA photo by Josh Valcarcel)

Solving Space Challenges

All three astronauts said they draw on their experiences and knowledge gleaned from USNTPS on a daily basis, mostly their troubleshooting skills and thought processes to improve existing technology.

Dominick, who is currently working with Moghbeli on the Orion lunar lander for NASA’s planned return to the Moon, said his skills from USNTPS are directly impacting that program. Specifically, Dominick said he is addressing challenges of being able to dock the Orion spacecraft with the lander, and then have the lander touch down on the Moon and then be able to redock once leaving the Moon’s surface.

“We’re going to visually fly one spacecraft into another … it’s very analogous to some of the tasks we did at test pilot school,” Dominick said. “When I was at [Air Test and Evaluation Squadron] VX-23, I was involved with the Precision Landing Mode program, initially called MAGIC CARPET, working on landing [an aircraft] on the ship in a more precise way. And what’s really funny is that I am now using the same exact fundamental control laws and human system integration that we were using for landing on a ship … to learn how to land on the moon.”

“I’m looking at using my background as a helicopter test pilot to look at how we train for this mission, what trainers can we use and what’s out there. And what’s cooler than that?” Moghbeli said. “To be able to work on the next lunar lander as a new astronaut is pretty cool.”

“It’s a natural progression from test pilot school to NASA,” said Chari, who is now the test director for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, helping ready the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon for crewed spaceflights. “A lot of what we’re doing with the new vehicles is very much test related. All of the vehicles being developed need people who have test backgrounds and who understand the acquisition process. And we have to be very good at managing many tasks at once. So it’s a very translatable skillset.”

The new graduates may be assigned to missions destined for the International Space Station, the Moon, and ultimately, Mars. According to NASA, the organization has plans to send the first woman and next man to the surface of the Moon by 2024. Additional lunar missions are planned once a year thereafter and human exploration of Mars is targeted for the mid-2030s.

Rob Perry is a staff writer and editor with Naval Aviation News. Paul Lagasse is a public relations specialist with the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.   

USNTPS Alum Bridges Two Eras

(Photo courtesy of SpaceX)

NASA astronaut Doug Hurley holds a unique distinction in the annals of space flight. As the pilot of the last Space Shuttle mission in 2011 and a member of the first crewed flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft that launched to the International Space Station on May 27, Hurley and his fellow astronaut, Bob Behnken, are the first American astronauts to have flown to space in two different types of U.S.-built launch vehicles since John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth in a Mercury spacecraft, flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1998. And, like Glenn, Hurley has the distinction of being a graduate of the U.S. Naval Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

A veteran of two Space Shuttle missions, including the program’s final mission in July 2011, Hurley was named to the Crew Dragon Demo 2 mission along with Behnken in 2018. Following his graduation from USNTPS, the U.S. Marine Corps veteran was assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 where he served as an F/A-18 project officer and test pilot, becoming the first Marine pilot to fly the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and serving as the squadron’s operations officer.

Another interesting fact: on both his last shuttle flight and his first Crew Dragon flight, Hurley flew from the same location, the historic Launch Complex 39A, from which the first Saturn V moon rocket launch and the first—and last—space shuttle launch took place. In every sense, then, Doug Hurley’s space saga is truly historic. — Paul Lagasse