VMFA-314: First Marine Corps Squadron Transitions to F35C

Lt. Col. Cedar L. Hinton, Commanding Officer of Marine Wing Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing lands VMFA-314’s first F-35C Lightning II on Marine Air Station Miramar, Calif., on Jan. 21. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dominic Romero)

Under instruction of the Navy’s F-35C fleet replacement squadron (FRS), Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125, the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 began transitioning from legacy F/A-18C Hornets to the F-35C Lightning II on Sept. 30.

VMFA-314’s transition from legacy Hornets to the F-35C began last June during a sundown ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, California, where the “Black Knights” formally retired their last F/A-18C Hornet and simultaneously embarked on the path to becoming the first Marine Corps squadron to fly the F-35 carrier variant. All previous Marine Corps F-35 transitions have been to the F-35B STOVL variant.

 “This transition process really began at the sundown ceremony in February  at Miramar,” said VMFA-314 Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Cedar Hinton.

Since then, VMFA-314 has been moving toward becoming a fully operational F-35C squadron. Starting at the end of September, VMFA-314 has been spending the latter portion of 2019 at NAS Lemoore preparing for Safe-For-Flight Operations Certification (SFFOC).

VMFA-314 is part of Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) 3, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 11, located at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

SFFOC is the final milestone for VMFA-314’s transition to the F-35C. This process ensures a squadron is manned with qualified personnel to implement maintenance and safety programs in support of fleet operations. All transitioning squadrons are required to complete this certification prior to independently conducting flight operations.

The “Rough Raiders” of VFA-125 at NAS Lemoore play a critical role in transitioning VMFA-314 pilots and maintainers to the F-35C and ultimately achieving their SFFOC. When introducing a new aircraft to the fleet, the appropriate FRS is assigned oversight responsibility for the transitioning unit. VFA-125 was re-activated in January of 2017 to fulfill FRS role for the F-35C. 

SFFOC encompasses areas such as equipment, personnel and programs. Not least among them is the requirement for the squadron to be in the physical custody of at least 30 percent of the assigned aircraft.

The transition process for VMFA-314 at NAS Lemoore will last roughly six to seven months, with a large portion of the squadron returning to Miramar in early 2020 to prepare for SFFOC evaluations and inspections happening on-site later next spring. The Black Knights will receive their first aircraft at this time. 

Lt. Col. Cedar L. Hinton, Commanding Officer of VMFA-314, taxis the first Marine F-35C Lightning II after landing at MCAS Miramar, Calif. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dominic Romero)

“VMFA-314’s success would not be possible without the tireless support of VFA-125, the F-35C Fleet Integration Team (FIT) and Commander, Joint Strike Fighter Wing (CJSFW),” Hinton said. “

A factor in VMFA-314’s transition is their familiarity with the F-35 program. While the Navy and Marine Corps F-35C program declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in February 2019, the Marine Corps F-35B program accomplished IOC in July of 2015, exposing more personnel to the program. While the aircraft and many of the qualifications needed for VMFA-314’s SFFOC may be different, the program mindset translates well between the STOVL and carrier variant. 

“The Rough Raider team is already working with VMFA-314’s pilots and maintainers as they make the transition to the F-35C,” said VFA-125 Commanding Officer Capt. Adan Covarrubias. “While many of the pilots and maintainers making this transition have previous experience in operational, test and training F-35B squadrons, the formal introduction to the carrier variant begins here at NAS Lemoore.”

More than 65 percent of VMFA-314 maintainers have F-35B qualifications that can be carried over to the F-35C variant. During their time at NAS Lemoore, the Black Knights will be working with VFA-125 to complete squadron-wide F-35C qualifications and on-the-job training for all rates in preparation for their SFFOC early next year. With regard to training aircrew to meet SFFOC, almost half of the transitioning pilots come from an F-35 background, some even having significant experience in the F-35C.

“The Navy and Marine Corps have a rich heritage of deploying together in carrier air wings and VMFA-314’s transition to the F-35C furthers this warfighting partnership,” said CJSFW Capt. Max McCoy. “The Marine Corps will be critical to deploying fifth-generation capability in Navy carrier strike groups. We’re excited to have the Black Knights at NAS Lemoore and look forward to providing the training and support for their Safe-for-Flight Operations Certification as the first Marine Corps F-35C squadron.”

CJSFW, headquartered at Lemoore, ensures each F-35C squadron is combat-ready and trained in strike fighter and support missions as required by fleet commanders.

Lt. Cmdr. Lydia E. Bock is the public affairs officer for Commander, Joint Strike Fighter Wing.

E-2D: Launching in the Next Decade

An E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20, takes off from USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck during aircraft compatibility testing in January. 
(U.S. Navy photo by MC Angel Thuy Jaskuloski)

When there is a call to battle, it is the first fixed-wing aircraft off the carrier, leading the charge. Once deployed, it is the eyes, ears and brains of the fight, flying high above the battlefield, relaying enemy positions and actions through its advanced radar capabilities, able to keep track of friend and foe. And then, when the mission is over, it is the last fixed-wing aircraft to return, ensuring it maintains surveillance and guaranteeing a safe return for allies.

Some call it the “quarterback of the sky,” comparing it to the team leader on the gridiron, calling the plays to the rest of the team.

“The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is an invaluable asset for the modern fleet as we launch into the next decade,” said Capt. Matthew Duffy, commodore, Airborne Command & Control and Logistics Wing.

While iterations of the E-2 have been around for more than 50 years—the first E-2 was developed and launched in the 1950s—the upgraded E-2D now features an APY-9 radar featuring the most modern and technologically upgraded sensor array to allow the aviators in the E-2D to reliably relay strategic information and data to the fleet in real time.

Capt. Matthew Duffy
(U.S. Navy photo)

The aircraft was most recently upgraded with aerial refueling (AR) capability as well as software with Delta System and Software Configuration (DSSC) 3. With the AR upgrade, the aircraft can remain on station longer, guiding and leading the strike group, while the DSSC-3 release transmits strategic information via data links to the air wing.

“The E-2D is a game changer,” said Capt. Keith Hash, E-2D program manager with the E-2/C-2 Airborne Command & Control Systems Program Office. “The sensors and the technology upgrades we brought to the platform were a two generational leap in technology and capability [compared to the E-2C it replaced]. When it deployed, it provided modern command and control. In fact, it is one of the most modern airborne command and control systems in the world.”

The original E-2 was developed in the 1950s and deployed in the 1960s, Hash said. It has gone through many iterations and lifeforms up until the E-2C, which was deployed in the 1970s. From there, it was transformed and updated on a nearly yearly basis until the development of the E-2D, which began in the 1990s and through the 2000s.

The aircraft is controlled by five crewmembers—two pilots and three naval flight officers sitting in a modern cockpit with digital displays and tactical information. The aircrew is able to take vast amounts of data and information being collected by the aircraft’s radar and sensor technology and relay it to command and control nodes in order for them to make better decisions in confronting a threat or adversary.

“We modernized the radar and the entire interface, changing how the aviators interact with the weapon system and do their job. The E-2D is a modern aircraft with modern sensors, and we’ve changed even the philosophy of how it is maintained,” Hash said.

“In the past, you would have large pieces of electronics equipment that would come out and require support behind it. The way the E-2D is maintained is at a much more modular level. We’ve given our operational Sailors the ability to update and change components, which was previously handled at the intermediate-level. This allows us to have better supportability and reliability of the system as it goes forward,” Hash said.

An E-2D Advanced Hawkeye assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20 lands aboard USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck. (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Sean Elliott)

Now, with upgrades made to the aircraft to improve radar technology (see page 38) and aerial refueling, the next step is to roll out the upgraded aircraft to the fleet this year.

“In 2020, two fleet squadrons are going to transition to E-2Ds with aerial refueling capability, and that involves air crew training and some aircraft exchanges,” Duffy said. “When this deploys, it’s going to give the carrier strike group and theater commanders many more options with the employability and the concept of operations with the E-2D.”

Duffy said that Jan. 1 marked the start of an important decade for the E-2D, with plans to implement new training approaches, new branding material, as well as new vision and policy statements, all in an effort to reflect the new capabilities of the E-2D. And with this plan rolling out, Duffy said the E-2D will further contribute to fleet readiness.

“We’ve had some challenges in our past, but thanks to the leadership of Vice Adm. [DeWolfe] Miller, the current Air Boss and his staff, Naval Aviation has refocused in a very prudent, methodical way to restore aviation readiness,” Duffy said. “Being smart about how we apply leadership and resources, modernizing our processes and approaches will build and sustain readiness. I’m proud to say we’ve had eight straight months of increasing numbers for mission-capable E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, ready to be employed by any commander.

“Our best days are yet to come. Our best decade is at our doorstep, and the next decade will be one for the ages, with respect to Naval Aviation, but will be the best decade yet in history of the proud E-2 family.”

Rob Perry is a staff writer for Naval Aviation News. 

Acquisition Opportunities for NFOs

Capt. Keith Hash
(U.S. Navy photo)

Capt. Keith Hash, E-2D program manager of the E-2/C-2 Airborne Command & Control Systems Program Office, has been a part of the E-2 community his entire naval career.

“I’ve had opportunities to be a part of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye acquisition from being a test flight officer to logistics, to now the program manager.

“When I was a test flight officer, we were just developing the E-2D on paper. I was part of some of those forums where they were showing us designs and we were saying, ‘That’s going to work’ or ‘That’s not going to work and we need help here.’”

One of his most rewarding roles was to participate in the design of the intercommunication system (ICS).

“When I was an operational commanding officer (CO) on USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in 2012, the E-2Ds came out with us during one of our underways as a part of the operational tests. We had some of the oldest E-2Cs in the fleet along with the brand new E-2Ds.

“I flew on the E-2D as the CO of the squadron. The first time I touched that communication system was amazing, absolutely eye watering. I will always enjoy my few hours of E-2D time, getting to see the aircraft I helped develop.”

Hash has also made it a part of his job to brief the fleet on career opportunities in acquisition.

In addition to competing for training posts or developing and training weapons and tactics, the Navy needs top lieutenants in acquisition to test and inform the designs for future capabilities, he said.

“Acquisition has one of the greatest impacts for future warfighting effects and capabilities to impact our ability to serve our nation. Acquisition is to me, on par with those other key areas for top performers to support our Navy,” he said.  

Written by Andrea Watters

E-2/C-2 Program Office Renamed

The E-2/C-2 Program Office, designated PMA-231, officially changed its name to E-2/C-2 Airborne Command & Control Systems Program Office in October in an effort to better align and serve the E-2/C-2 community.

The name change more accurately reflects the program’s mission to develop, acquire and sustain unmatched command and control aircraft so that the warfighter can win the fight today and tomorrow, said Capt. Keith Hash, program manager.

“Our aircraft launches first and lands last,” Hash said. “No one goes into the sky without an E-2D or an E-2C up there watching and providing command and control.”

The program office received Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development & Acquisition) James Geurts’s approval on Oct. 11 to change the name.

The name change aligns to the current Airborne Command & Control and Logistics Wing (ACCLOGWING) name and the anticipated carrier airborne early warning squadrons name change that took effect Jan. 1, when these squadrons were designated carrier airborne command & control squadrons.

It also reflects the wing commodore’s vision for 2020 and beyond.

“Command and control aircraft will never go away or become irrelevant because command and control will always be necessary to see and hear on behalf of our warfighters,” Hash said. “This name change sets us up for the future of our program and the wing.”

The E-2/C-2 program office supports acquisition and sustainment of the E-2C Hawkeye, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and C-2A Greyhound aircraft platforms. In 2020, the E-2D is expected to require about 50 percent of the program’s attention while the E-2C remains in sustainment and the C-2A continues preparations for sundown in 2024.

Written by Carolyn Smith, who provides communications support for the E-2/C-2 Airborne Command & Control Systems Program Office.  

E-2D Sustainment Pilot Program Created

Department of Navy (DoN) leaders established an enduring and disciplined sustainment management process by approving and launching the first Sustainment Program Baseline (SPB) pilot for the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye in fiscal 2020.

while the Navy achieved the Secretary of Defense’s mission-capable F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft rate at the end of fiscal 2019, maintaining those readiness levels remains at the forefront.

“We are implementing new processes to bring more rigor into our sustainment efforts, and therefore increasing our output to the fleet,” said Sean Burke, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Sustainment). “This sustainment pilot will improve the accuracy of our requirements, funding, performance and governance of weapon system sustainment.”

Sustainment is the management of everything required to enable future readiness; it reaches back through the enterprise from the flight line, across multiple organizations and disciplines, and consumes more than half of the Navy’s budget. To maintain mission-capable rates across the fleet, a highly complex naval sustainment ‘system of systems’ must manage tens of thousands of parts from thousands of suppliers, truckloads of ever-changing technical data, millions of software lines of code and billions in funding must be aligned, finely tuned and actively managed.

A key component of the pilot process is identifying specific performance requirements for supply, repair, support equipment, engineering, trainers, maintenance and technical data unique for the E-2D that enable fleet squadrons to achieve readiness. The SPB identifies and governs complex interdependencies and refines resource allocation risks across the sustainment system.

Capt. Keith Hash, E-2/C-2 Airborne Command & Control Systems program manager, and Capt. Matthew Duffy, E-2 Wing commodore, have worked closely together to address readiness issues. The E-2D SPB takes their partnership to a new level, with a weapon system focused sustainment document submitted by the fleet commander and the program manager.

“We welcome the SPB and its processes of setting specific comprehensive requirements and regularly measuring performance across the span of product support providers,” Duffy said. “This will ultimately generate more readiness and provide additional [full mission capable] Advanced Hawkeyes ready for the high-end fight.”

Traditionally, the fleet has reported mission capability, but under SPB, Duffy and Hash will also report quarterly on the performance of the sustainment system to their approved requirements directly to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Assistant Secretary Of The Navy Research, Development & Acquisition and Commander, Naval Air Forces.

The DoN anticipates the SPB concept to evolve as they mature and refine the process and expand the use of SPBs. The Marine Corps has developed and submitted their first SPB pilot for the H-1 program.

Shirley Franko is with the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Sustainment). 

Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Nathaniel Massey, left, and Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Anyssa Medina do a phase inspection on an E-2D Hawkeye attached to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 121 in the hangar bay of aboard aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Garrett LaBarge)

NAWCAD Lakehurst Expands Additive Manufacturing Facility

Engineers conduct Bead on Plate trials on the Optomec CS-800 DED System at NAWCAD Lakehurst.
(U.S. Navy photo)

Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst is supporting Naval Aviation readiness and sustainment through the growth of its advanced manufacturing capabilities, with the recent expansion of its (AM) facility.

The AM team at Lakehurst acquired three new machines for their facility in 2019 to increase production capacity and speed in support of the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and the fleet.

“This facility expansion strengthens NAWCAD Lakehurst as a powerhouse in metal-based additive manufacturing,” said Kathleen P. Donnelly, NAWCAD Lakehurst executive director. “Our team is at the tip of the spear in using emerging technologies to increase readiness and sustainment for our Sailors and Marines, and it’s exciting to see how they continue to revolutionize navy manufacturing.”

Engineers with the Advanced Manufacturing/Prototype Engineering Branch at NAWCAD Lakehurst use the Sciaky EBAM System to fixture a part.
(U.S. Navy photo)

NAVAIR is exploring the use of AM to create aviation parts and tools that would not be possible through traditional manufacturing techniques and to sustain parts that are no longer available in the supply system.

AM, commonly known as 3D printing, is the process of joining materials such as polymers and powdered metals, layer upon layer, to make objects from 3D model data inside a machine using a laser or electron beam. It can decrease manufacturing time from weeks or days to hours and be used on complex geometries that cannot be built using traditional manufacturing methods, said NAWCAD Lakehurst Advanced Manufacturing Technology lead Kyle Cobb.

NAWCAD Lakehurst opened its unique metal-based AM facility in 2015 with a metallic Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) system and a team of four people. The team was a part of NAVAIR’s successful flight of the first safety-critical AM part in July 2016 on an MV-22B Osprey.

The Lakehurst team has now grown to more than 20 engineers and produced more than 76 AM builds totaling more than 250 parts to evaluate the use of metal-based additive manufacturing to address warfighter needs. 

“It’s a paradigm shift in how we do business, because it removes the traditional boundaries we have when we’re thinking about designs,” Cobb said. “Now you’re enabled to effectively generate your design based on the actual requirements versus your ability to make the item. AM opens up a whole new world of opportunity.”

An engineer at NAWCAD Lakehurst operates the controls of the Optomec CS-800 DED System.
(U.S. Navy photo)

The three new machines include an Optomec CS-800 Directed Energy Deposition (DED) AM System, Sciaky Electron Beam AM (EBAM) System and the NSI X5000 Computed Tomography (CT) NDI X-Ray System.

The DED AM system allows the team to repair larger items with complex geometries that previously would have been salvaged or scrapped, including critical engine components that are expensive to replace.

The Electron Beam system can repair large objects in a timely fashion with little waste. It uses a wire-feed system with an electron beam to lay materials with a much higher rate of deposition, saving time and money.

The Repeatable Release Holdback Bar (RRHB) affixed in the NSI X5000 CT X-Ray System.
(U.S. Navy photo)

The CT X-Ray system expands the AM facility’s reverse engineering capabilities and enables engineering investigations and failure analysis without disassembling components and losing valuable information.

“Often times we don’t have the data rights to legacy components that were designed 30-40 years ago,” Cobb said. “As we continue to extend the life expectancy of each platform, we need to support more and more parts. This machine will allow us to capture the internal and external geometry so we can perform reverse engineering, which often feeds the additive process.”

The system also brings scanning services in-house, reducing contracting and shipping costs.

“These three systems will result in a tremendous increase in capability and will have an immediate impact to the warfighter,” he said. “We’re working so hard and so fast that you don’t really notice all the evolution and the progress we’ve made, but when you take a step back and realize we’ve just gained this amount of equipment in this amount of time and trained all these people, I think it’s really impressive.”

Allison Murawski is the public affairs officer for Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Lakehurst. 

Old Bird Teaches Test Pilots New Tricks

Smoke belches from one of “Panchito’s” radial piston engines during a warm-up prior to a flight
at the USNTPS. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Lagasse)

Over the course of their 11-month program, students at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland, have the unparalleled opportunity to fly a wide array of aircraft—from the latest strike fighters to the oldest airplane in the Navy’s inventory.

But for many students, one of their most memorable flight experiences is fly “Panchito,” a World War II-vintage B-25J Mitchell medium bomber, courtesy of the Delaware Aviation Museum.

For 16 years, Larry Kelley, Panchito’s owner and the museum’s executive director, has been visiting Patuxent River twice a year to allow test pilot school students to take turns flying the aircraft in a variety of configurations. Kelley said that Panchito allows students to grapple with handling characteristics that are dramatically different from other types of aircraft.

Larry Kelley, Panchito’s owner and co-founder of the Delaware Aviation Museum, stands in front of his B-25 Mitchell at the USNTPS. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Lagasse)

“There are no boosted controls, no nose-wheel steering and no computers,” Kelley said. “This is all what’s called ‘arm-strong’ flying. However strong your arms are is all the boost you’ve got.”

Lt. Col. Rory “Pikey” Feely, USNTPS Commanding Officer, explained that Panchito is part of the USNTPS Qualitative Evaluation (QE) program, through which USNTPS contracts with a number of aircraft operators as a way to broaden the experience of test aviators and flight-test engineers.

“Aircraft in the QE program are chosen for their ability to reinforce key learning objectives being taught in the curriculum,” Feely said. “The QE program also supports the staff instructors because an aviation engineering mindset needs continuous fostering over a career. Hence, USNTPS encourages staff participation in as many QE flights as possible.”

The benefit of spending several hours in the cramped flight deck of the bomber, relying on analog “steam gauges” instead of the latest all-digital, fly-by-wire cockpits, is that students get a unique opportunity to test their adaptability.

“The aviators who come in here do not spend their entire career flying one particular type of airplane,” said Kelley, one of three pilots approved to fly Panchito as part of the QE program. “They’re leaving here to go into a test environment. For a test pilot, adaptability becomes very important.”

In Panchito, which the students have nicknamed “PB&J,” students not only practice takeoffs, landings, cruising flight and turns; they can also try other maneuvers in the test program such as stalls, Dutch rolls, sideslips, spirals and phugoid oscillations.

“It’s very difficult for someone to do anything that they’ve only heard described and never seen,” Kelley explained. “So on that first landing, we’re dance partners on the controls. You need a partner who’s going to take the lead. When I was learning swing dance, it was that way. You get a dance partner who is a professional, who knows the dance, and they take the lead, and then—bam—all of a sudden, you can nail it.”

As a bonus, the flight is a memorable experience for the pilots and engineers. Kelley always reminds students that they are stepping into the shoes of many young B-25 crews who routinely left an envelope on their bunk to mail home in case they didn’t make it back from a mission.

Marine Corps Maj. Hugh Anderson, a student at the USNTPS, looks out of the pilot’s seat of  Panchito after returning from a test flight to assess the airplane’s handling characteristics. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Lagasse)


The Delaware Aviation Museum has been running a B-25 pilot-in-command and second-in-command training program for five years. The course includes ground school as well as on-the-ground and in-flight instruction in the aircraft. Dozens of pilots have gone through the course, but Kelley said that test pilots are in a class by themselves.

“What separates this level of professionalism from, say, an amateur general aviation pilot is that the next time they fly the airplane, they can generally replicate their experience,” Kelley said. “And that’s part of what this school is all about—getting these pilots to the level to where they can take that brief and translate it into a flight and get the data the engineers need.”

“I’m just in awe of what these guys and gals do,” he said.

Although Kelley has been flying for just over 50 years—22 of them in Panchito—mastering the B-25 was a struggle for him. In contrast, the best natural B-25 pilot he’s ever seen was a USNTPS student who handled the airplane like a veteran from the moment she first strapped into the left-hand seat.

“She was so short we had to put cushions behind her to be able to reach the rudder pedals,” Kelley recalled. “From the moment we left the chocks, though, it was like she had grown up in the airplane.”

“Her call sign was ‘Duke,’ because they said she walked like John Wayne,” Kelley added.

Following her graduation from USNTPS, “Duke”—Marine Corps Lt. Col. Nicole Aunapu Mann–went on to serve as an F/A-18 test pilot in Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 before being selected as one of eight members of Astronaut Group 21 in 2013. Today, Mann is currently training to be on the first crewed flight of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station next year.

“The pilots who have made it to this level in their career, it’s not happenstance that they’re selected for this school,” Kelley said. “Their adaptability is faster. Things go wrong in test programs, so you’ve got to make certain that you have the best of the best.”

Paul Lagasse is a communications specialist with Naval Air Warfare Center.

Aviation Museum pilot Calvin Peacock prior to a training flight at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS). (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Lagasse)

F-35 Rapid Response Team Takes Repairs on the Road

When issues arise with an F-35 Lightning II, the F-35 Rapid Response Team (RRT) stands ready to get the jet back in the fight.

 “Anything that happens outside the depot—for the Navy, Marines or Air Force—anywhere around the world, they call us and we can deploy these RRT team members at a moment’s notice,” said David Thorpe, F-35 branch head at Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) where the team is headquartered.

The RRT consists of expert, cross-trained artisans who hold journey-level, expert status in at least one trade, and a skilled worker-level status in others, Thorpe said.

“The team is like a maintenance and repair special operations force,” he said. “The concept is that we can send fewer people and they can help each other do the work.”

For example, a recent RRT mission to Edwards Air Force Base, California, called for a dedicated low observable (LO) coating technician and a painter plus the removal of a large panel not designed for removal under normal maintenance action, Thorpe said.

The F-35 Rapid Response Team is a highly skilled team of cross-trained aircraft maintenance professionals headquartered at Fleet Readiness Center East. (U.S. Navy photo by Heather Wilburn)

The repair involved a Navy Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 9, DET Edwards, aircraft and the team’s performance impressed leadership at the DET, said Lt. David Quant, the unit’s maintenance officer.

“Our squadron has worked with numerous contractor and depot-level teams and the F-35 RRT left a very positive and lasting impression. It was obvious to us that the RRT was a group of hand-selected individuals who possessed the right level of experience and motivation,” he said. “The team even went above their scope by assisting our Sailors with regression checks and the installation of panels.”

Not only did the RRT get the job done, they managed to do it within their planned time frame—an especially big win for a repair that had yet to be performed. And while this aircraft was not a forward-deployed asset—like the majority of the aircraft repaired by the RRT—meeting that repair schedule on a test aircraft is important to help the Navy realize Initial Operational Capability and system demonstration and development dates, Thorpe said.

Written by Heather Wilburn, a communications specialist with Fleet Readiness Center East Public Affairs.

New Operating Model Transforms Supply

NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support (NAVSUP WSS) has aligned and modernized core business practices and introduced a new Operating Model (Op Model) to evolve supply support to the fleet.

Three integrated weapon systems teams (IWSTs) piloted the initial Op Model concept in early 2019, and in April it was established across all aviation and maritime platforms. The pilot involved physically co-locating IWSTs with contracting divisions, which allowed for better balancing of competing priorities and enabled cross-functional collaboration between those divisions.

“We are making sure that we are in alignment with the Naval Sustainment System-Aviation initiative to work more efficiently, and we have done some internal process improvements to ensure we are mission ready,” said Rear Adm. Duke Heinz, commander, NAVSUP WSS. “Our new Op Model is enabling us to be more proactive, collaborative, accountable and action-focused.”

The model provides NAVSUP WSS with a new, more structured cadence of engagements and a variety of innovative digital tools to complement these sessions. The model is comprised of three parts: Production Standups (PSs), Readiness Acceleration Boards (RABs) and Readiness Focused Stand-downs (RFSs).

PSs are daily, action-oriented meetings held with working level subject matter experts from an IWST, contracting team and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). The teams use a PS Tracker tool that combines various data sources to provide visibility and updated information on priority unfilled customer orders (UCOs) and purchase requests, enabling a more productive discussion of high priority parts and contracting status. PS meetings drive action to the RAB and RFS.

The RAB serves as an escalation path for issues that cannot be resolved in a PS. It is a forum for NAVSUP WSS and DLA senior leadership to address the hard issues and overall IWST health using the RAB Dashboard tool, which combines key performance metrics and action items. The combined PSs and RABs leads to enhanced business performance by highlighting and solving some of the oldest and most complex issues.

“Our goal is to increase transparency and velocity in decision making, and have solution-focused communication at all levels,” said Capt. Mike York, director of aviation operations, NAVSUP WSS. “Having leadership involved and engaged in the RABs has empowered our inventory managers and contracting specialists to become more innovative in their decision making and think outside the box.”

In addition to PSs and RABs, IWSTs run reoccurring health checks through RFSs, where stakeholders form a tiger team to brainstorm and solve specific issues affecting readiness.

Teams have tackled many issues such as reducing ghost casualty reports (CASREPS), identifying past due vendors and reallocating retail stock. By getting all the experts in the same room, reoccurring issues are resolved much quicker. Data analysts are also heavily involved in RFSs to ensure solutions are actionable and sustainable.

To date, the Op Model has proven to be an effective new business practice. NAVSUP WSS has realized several improvements in readiness metrics, to include reductions in high priority backorders, CASREPS, UCOs and contract administrative lead-time as well as an increase in mission capable aircraft.

Written by Jenae Jackson, a NAVSUP WSS Public Affairs’ deputy director. 

Logistics Specialist (LS) 1st Class Manny De Jesus, left, takes inventory of supplies aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) . Right, LS Seaman Recruit Ramel Quattlebaum does inventory in supply support aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64).

Grampaw Pettibone

Gramps from Yesteryear

March-April 2000

A Canyon Catastrophe

A flight of two F/A-18 Hornets was on a two-fold training mission: one part dissimilar air combat training (DACT) and the second, low-altitude training. The day before, the squadron executive officer had briefed the fliers on the hazards of low-level flights and covered flight through canyon areas, emphasizing the danger of such flights close to the ground.

One pilot was the lead, under training, while the wingman was the mission commander. The DACT portion of the mission was completed without incident. Subsequently, the lead pilot determined the flight did not have sufficient fuel to return to base as briefed, which meant curtailing the low-level route. To conserve fuel the leader flew along the initial portion of the low-level route at 5,000 feet and 250 knots. When the low-level route intersected the canyon portion of the flight, lead descended into the low-level environment.

The mission commander lost sight of the leader as the flight commenced the route. Approximately one minute later, the mission commander observed a bright flash ahead and low on the canyon’s left wall. The flash then changed to what was perceived as a fireball followed by thick black smoke. The Hornet had crashed. The pilot was killed, the aircraft destroyed.

Investigators determined that the F/A-18 struck the canyon wall about 75 feet from the edge of a sloping ridge line in a high-G, high-angle-of attack, right banked turn. There was no evidence of engine or systems failure, nor any sign of an ejection attempt.

Grampaw Pettibone says…

Shouldn’ta happened, but it did, so learn from it. The lead pilot’s Hornet was in a hard right-hand turn within the confines of the canyon walls, and he either didn’t see the ridge line approaching or did not realize his flight path was below it. It’s also possible that he became aware of the ridge line too late to avoid it.

Would it have helped if the flight had practiced low-level maneuvers over less hazardous terrain before descending into the canyon environment? Maybe. The investigators did conclude that the lead pilot had insufficient low-level flight experience for operating in a canyon area. Plus, he hadn’t had enough rest before the mission. He was an extremely motivated aviator but considered by some to be overconfident. Not a good combination for pilots flying high-performance aircraft fast and close to Mother Earth.

Seniors in the chain of command, including the mission commander, could have exercised better judgment in handling the preparation for this flight.

Naval Aviation Focuses on Maintaining Readiness

An E/A-18G Growler and an F/A-18E Super Hornet launch from the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).  (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Janweb B. Lagazo)

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the Program Executive Officer, Tactical Aircraft Programs, Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan serves as the lead for the engineering reform pillar of the Naval Sustainment System-Aviation. In his column below, he summarizes some of the process improvements that are designed to sustain readiness.

By Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan, PEO(T)

A week ahead of the Secretary of Defense and Air Boss’s deadline, we surpassed an incredible milestone in Naval Aviation in September exceeding 80-percent mission-capable (MC) F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers. That’s more than 341 Super Hornets and 93 Growlers ready to fight the fight at a moment’s notice.

We have proven to ourselves, our nation and our adversaries that we can surge in a time of need. But our work’s not done.

This feat was achieved by all hands—from maintainers on the deck plate to senior leaders—working together to achieve the same goal using the six pillars of the Naval Sustainment System-Aviation (NSS-A) initiative to identify and swarm the issues that kept our MC rates lower than 80 percent. With NSS-A, we put the right people in the right places, equipped with the right parts and the right processes and empowered them to achieve the mission.

Naval Aviation has always been focused on readiness, but our Super Hornet MC numbers hovered around 250-260 for nearly a decade. That doesn’t mean we weren’t combat ready, Naval Aviation always answered our nation’s call, but those numbers were not where we wanted them to be. With the current increase in readiness numbers, we have increased our lethality and survivability response.

We have institutionalized many processes that will continue to improve readiness, and we are doing things better. NSS-A efforts have been about challenging ourselves to work more efficiently.

The success of the NSS-A is a product of years of lessons learned and a culmination of the hard work of many individuals throughout the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE). We brought in aviation experts with demonstrated proficiency in improving efficiency, effectiveness and performance from the commercial aircraft industry. By collaborating and implementing their best practices, we have decreased turnaround times for maintenance, improved efficiencies at Fleet Readiness Centers (FRCs) and delivered parts to the fleet faster.

We also set up an environment that allowed open communication among the stakeholders, which allowed everybody to bring the brutal facts necessary to find the root cause of why we were not getting aircraft in a MC status.

I want to summarize some of these changes in each of the pillars that will sustain our MC rates for years to come.

Maintenance Operations Center (MOC)/Aircraft-On-Ground (AOG) cell: One of the best industry practices we implemented was establishing an MOC/AOG cell. This cell built strategic partnerships across Naval Aviation communities, focused on getting aircraft up faster instead of focusing on departmentalized internal metrics. This single-decision entity had all the enabling functions and organizations present to make decisions on a daily basis, and all were focused on the same goal.

Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) reform: Within the FRCs, we’ve created elite-level organic facilities that have adopted proven commercial practices to maximize quality and cost efficiency while minimizing cycle times.

Organization-level reform: The NAE refocused and balanced demand with optimal maintenance performance close to the flight line by empowering petty officers to oversee aircraft throughout the inspection process.

Supply chain reform: We are making sure that the right parts are at the right place at the right time by having various stakeholders form a single accountable entity responsible for the end-to-end material process. Naval Supply Systems Command, Weapon Systems Support continues to improve the supply chain with more responsive contracting, supplier integration, enhanced customer presence and improved collaboration with the Defense Logistics Agency.

Engineering and maintenance reform: We have developed an engineering-driven reliability process that improves how systems are sustained throughout their life cycle. Reliability engineering is another industry best practice applied through the establishment of a Reliability Control Board (RCB). Through the RCB, we identify the top degraders in a single list and strategically align activities throughout the NAE to prioritize and put the right people, parts and processes in place to address them.

Governance, accountability and organization: We have a single point of accountability for sustainment with the infrastructure to better support fundamental changes. The governance pillar identified issues that each pillar was having, and then swarmed, crushed the barriers and moved forward.

These six pillars impact all aspects of the maintenance process and require the expertise, experience and support of each and every member of the Naval Aviation team. We have aligned how we communicate and focus as one on the end game by identifying and solving the issues that limited our number of MC aircraft.

Keep in mind that while we were making these changes, we were continuing to fly, deploy and respond to national tasking. Some of the changes were truly a cultural shift, which took time to implement fleet-wide, but once the parts and processes were in place, we saw readiness improve steadily.

These cultural shifts are becoming the new normal for the fleet and the workforce, all of whom have bought into industry best practices. Embracing and continuing to improve our processes remains key to maintaining a MC rate of 80 percent or more.

Achieving the goal for the Super Hornet and Growler fleets was just the beginning. Now, our focus is on keeping those readiness numbers where we need them to be while improving readiness and safety for each type/model/series.

While the initial focus of the NSS-A was on the Super Hornets, we have already applied it to the E-2D fleet and have seen an MC rate increase of more than 10 percent in three months. We will continue to implement the NSS-A best practices across the NAE.

With the best practices implemented under NSS-A, we have the tools and visibility to gauge our sustainment efforts daily—so if they aren’t working, we will readjust and swarm the problem areas to maintain our sustainment levels.

Congratulations to the NAE on exceeding the goal and thank you for getting us there. As we move forward, it’s important to remember that we still have work to do—we now have the equally challenging task of sustaining these efforts.  

Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan is a native of North Carolina.  He graduated from North Carolina State University and was commissioned in 1986. He was designated a naval flight officer in 1987. Gahagan is a 1991 graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Class 101, Naval Air Station, Patuxent River. He graduated from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1997 with a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering.

Gahagan’s fleet assignments include Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron One One Five (VAW-115), the Liberty Bells, and the E-2C Hawkeye Fleet Replacement Squadron, VAW-110, the Firebirds.

His acquisition assignments include Naval Air Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, E-2C Hawkeye/C-2 Greyhound class desk officer, AV-8B Harrier Weapon Systems Program Office (PMA-257) integrated product team lead, E-2/C-2 Program Office (PMA-231) integrated product team lead, and Air Anti-Submarine Warfare, Assault and Special Missions Programs (PEO(A)) operations officer.

Gahagan has also served at Patuxent River with the Force Warfare Aircraft Test Directorate and as the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) commander’s flag aide.   His ashore command assignments include Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Twenty chief test pilot and commanding officer, PMA-231 program manager, and Air Warfare Mission Area/From the Air Program Office (PMA-298) program manager.   His previous assignment was as NAWCAD commander and assistant commander for Research and Engineering, Naval Air Systems Command.

Gahagan’s personal decorations include the Legion of Merit (three awards), Meritorious Service Medal (four awards), the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (two awards).

He is an aerospace engineering duty officer and a graduate of the Defense Systems Management College Advanced Program Management Course and the U.S. Naval War College.

Gahagan assumed responsibilities as Program Executive Officer, Tactical Aircraft Programs in September 2018.

New Tools Developed to Mitigate Physiological Episodes

U.S. Navy photo-illustration by Fred Flerlage

Since the Physiological Episode Action Team (PEAT) has ruled out several causes of physiological episodes (PEs), they are developing tools to improve aircrew awareness and address maintenance-related issues.

Over the past six months, we have had significant success in driving the rate of PEs down. We have accomplished this by making extensive use of data analytics to identify sub-performing system components before they fail thereby preventing PEs in the first place. And when a PE does happen, we have equipped aircrew with tools to help them recognize onset and then mitigate the situation, ultimately ensuring safe recovery,” said Rear Adm. Fredrick Luchtman, Navy lead for the PEAT.

Several types of hypoxia trainers are in development. For example, the Aviation Survival Training Center (ASTC) Jacksonville (JAX) began training with a new, mask-off hypoxia trainer in July that will be used for all Navy and Marine Corps designated aviation personnel flying in multi-place non-ejection aircraft (story on page 22).

The Aircrew Survival Training Center at Naval Air Station Pensacola is demonstrating the newest hypoxia-awareness device for Naval Aviation—the On-Demand Hypoxia Trainer (ODHT) (story on page 23).

Engineers, scientists and medical professionals have ruled out contamination and other potential factors, such as electromagnetic exposure, and found no singular gross contributing factor. However, other factors may play a role in PEs such as maintenance-related issues.

To address this, the Hornet Health and Readiness Tool (HhART), uses data analytics to examine data points from multiple aircraft systems to predict when a system could fail. The computer program is already showing great success in preventing Environmental Control System malfunctions, predicting potential PE-causing aircraft, and has the potential to improve maintenance in other systems as well.

Since PEs happen when two very complicated machines—a naval aircraft and a human body interact asynchronously—teams of engineers are working on how to improve the aircraft and teams of medical professionals are studying the human system.

Physiological monitors are being developed and tested to record and measure what precisely is happening to the human body in different flight conditions.

Researchers across the country are working with aircraft cabin simulators to study how bodies react at different pressure changes. Flight surgeons are trained to handle PEs, so when aircrew do experience significant events, they are treated quickly and effectively.


Since 2017, the phenomenon of PEs has been Naval Aviation’s No. 1 safety priority.

PEs occur when aircrews experience physiological symptoms, which may impair their ability to perform cockpit duties, and can result from many factors, including normal operations in the highly dynamic operating environment, systems malfunctions and various human factors. Symptoms can range from dizziness to degradation of cognitive function, and they pose serious risks to aviators and maintainers.

The PEAT was created in 2017 with personnel and resources from the Naval Air Systems Command, Commander, Naval Air Forces, the Bureau of Naval Medicine and Surgery and the fleet. With the support of experts from industry and NASA, the team coordinates the work of engineers, physiologists and data analysts to employ a methodical, data-driven approach to devise and field best practices and procedures that mitigate the problem while developing long-term solutions.

Using a rigorous root cause corrective action (RCCA) analysis process, the core teams for F/A-18 Hornet, Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and the T-45 Goshawk training jet determined in 2018 that the onboard oxygen systems showed no contamination. The air was unaffected by asphyxiates, carbon monoxide or other contaminants.

The teams reached that conclusion after a 16-month effort analyzed 21,000 samples taken across 11 sites from aviators’ breathing gas, ground sampling and blood analysis. An independent panel of aeromedical professionals evaluated roughly 1,800 compounds and determined that none of the compounds played a role in any PEs.

While great progress has been made, there are thousands of people from more than 50 organizations including DoD, government, industry, academia, medical and research facilities, along with international partners who continue to focus on keeping aviators safe, so they can focus on the mission.

Written by Andrea Watters, editor of Naval Aviation News magazine.

New Mask-Off Hypoxia Training Delivered

Aviation Survival Training Center (ASTC) Jacksonville (JAX) began training with a new, mask-off hypoxia trainer in July that will be used for all Navy and Marine Corps designated aviation personnel flying in multi-place non-ejection aircraft.

The Normobaric Hypoxia Trainer (NHT) supervisor, communicates with Sailors during training in the newly operational NHT at Aviation Survival Training Center Jacksonville, July 22. (U.S. Navy photos by MC2 Nick A. Grim)

Capt. Theron Toole, then Commanding Officer, Navy Medicine Operational Training Center, and Capt. Leslie Kindling, officer in charge, Naval Survival Training Institute in Pensacola, visited ASTC JAX to observe an initial training session with the newly mission-capable Normobaric Hypoxia Trainer (NHT).

“The NHT provides the most realistic hypoxia training for these aircrew members,” said Kindling, who oversees the Navy’s eight ASTCs.

The NHT simulates the reduced oxygen levels experienced in a depressurized aircraft at altitude, allowing the aircrew to practice their emergency procedures while experiencing the signs and symptoms of hypoxia.

Hypoxia is caused by a lack of sufficient oxygen at the tissue level in the body leading to performance degradation. Symptoms of hypoxia include light-headedness, dizziness, tingling, euphoria and decreased visual accuracy. Training aircrew to recognize the symptoms helps ensure they can take action before progressing to potentially life-threatening situations while in an aircraft at altitude.

“I really felt the effects more this time around, especially feelings of disorientation and difficulty breathing,” said Aircrewman (Mechanical) 2nd Class John Booker, who was taking the hypoxia training qualification for the third time. Aircrew are required to take a refresher course every four years.

The NHT at ASTC JAX is the first operational trainer of its type in the fleet and has replaced the low-pressure chamber that was decommissioned in February 2017. Sailors assigned to ASTC JAX have been at the forefront of implementation and operational testing for the new trainer since its inception in summer 2018.

“As a staff, ASTC JAX became 100-percent qualified in only 18 working days, on top of the already established training schedule,” said Chief Aircrewman (Avionics) Scott Counselman, ASTC JAX leading chief petty officer. “Nothing has been dropped or moved. We began operational testing late last July, and the ASTC staff has been learning new operating procedures, assisting in writing standard operations and safety procedures, and conducting risk management analysis.”

The NHT attempts to simulate pilot and aircrew activities at altitudes greater than 24,000 feet so aircrew become aware of signs and symptoms of hypoxia. (U.S. Navy photos by MC2 Nick A. Grim)

Counselman said once the testing was complete and the procedures validated, the staff qualification process commenced and proceeded at a rapid pace, leading to the introduction of the device to refresher Naval Aviation Survival Training Program classes in July.

With the ASTC JAX NHT now fully functional, the staff will work with the remaining seven ASTCs. Located in Norfolk, Virginia; Cherry Point, North Carolina; Whidbey Island, Washington; Miramar, California; Pensacola, Florida; Lemoore, California; and Patuxent River, Maryland, the ASCTCs are scheduled to become fully operation by summer 2020.

Written by MC2 Nick A. Grim with Naval Air Station Jacksonville Public Affairs.

Hypoxia Trainer: Breath of Fresh Air at Tailhook

Navy Lt. Chris Gilg explains the operation of the On-Demand Hypoxia Trainer (ODHT) to Air Force Capt. Mike Grimmer at the Tailhook Association Convention in Reno, Nev. The ODHT is designed to provide a mask-on breathing experience that is similar to what military aircrew use in flight. (U.S. Navy)

Physiology experts were on hand at the annual Tailhook Association Convention Sept. 5-7 providing a demonstration of the newest hypoxia-awareness device for Naval Aviation—the On-Demand Hypoxia Trainer (ODHT).

Hypoxia is a condition in which the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply and can adversely affect aircrew if they are not properly trained to recognize the symptoms of air hunger.

All naval aviators and aircrew must complete refresher physiology training at least every two years and must familiarize themselves with potential hazards in flight including decreased levels of oxygen.

“The ODHT is great because it reduces oxygen levels and gives the user the feeling of difficulty breathing,” said James Netherland, an electrical engineer for the new system that helps train aircrew.

Lt. Chris Gilg, a naval aerospace physiologist at the Aircrew Survival Training Center at Naval Air Station Pensacola, said the ODHT changes the game when it comes to recognizing hypoxia hazards while in flight.

“We expect aircraft to perform in a certain way,” said Gilg. “When it doesn’t, however, there is a chance that hypoxia can set in; we can train aircrew to be able to recognize the symptoms in themselves and others.”

At Tailhook, attendees volunteered to breathe through a mask that delivers reduced oxygen concentrations like those they would expect to experience at altitude, and then provided feedback that designers will consider in the continued development of the ODHT.

“Bringing the system to Tailhook, we get to network with the aviators and to allow them to test this new device,” said Gilg. “It’s important for them to see there is work being done to make the training more realistic, with the on-demand system here.

“We’ve also been training students with it and based on the reliability it’s shown thus far, and the feedback that we’ve gotten, this system is what it actually feels like to breathe in the aircraft,” he said.

During Tailhook, the team ran hypoxic profiles with 17 aviators to gain feedback on the system. In general, the aviators reported that the ODHT provided a breathing experience that was similar or slightly smoother than the inhalation and exhalation feel in their aircraft.

In some instances, the aviators specifically noted that they could not detect a noticeable difference between the breathing experience on the device and on the jet.

Several aviators reported that the ODHT provided a better experience than the current training device, the Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device.

The ODHT is in the testing phase and the Navy is hoping to see it fully implemented in 2021.

Written by Naval Aviation Enterprise Public Affairs.

The Flagship Publication of Naval Aviation