Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pilots Qualify Aboard USS Enterprise

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeff Atherton, USS Enterprise Public Affairs

USS ENTERPRISE, At Sea (NNS) -- New pilots assigned to the "Gladiators" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 and the "Greyhawks" of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 120 conducted their first flight deck qualifications aboard aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) Dec. 6-14.

After several years of classroom instruction and training, the pilots made their first approaches to Enterprise during Fleet Replacement Squadron carrier qualifications while underway in the Atlantic Ocean.

"The training starts with six weeks of aviation preflight indoctrination training followed by six to eight months of primary flight training," said Lt. David Eshelman, an F-18E Super Hornet pilot.

Following this training, the Navy will assess its needs, and the pilots will be placed in programs for further training to fly jets, helicopters or propeller-powered aircraft.

After many hours of training and practice, the pilots are ready to land their aircraft on board Enterprise for the first time.

"Just being on [Enterprise] is a great experience," said Eshelman. "The legacy of this ship is awesome. Guys launched from here and flew combat missions into Vietnam. That is our history."

The qualification requires 10 daytime carrier landings, six nighttime landings, two "touch-and-go" approaches during the day and two at night.

"The hardest part about landing on an aircraft carrier is... everything," said Marine 1st Lt. Derek Heinz, an F-18C Hornet pilot.

"You don't realize you are landing until you are stopped on the wire," said Heinz.

Both Eshelman and Heinz said they were awestruck the first time they approached a carrier at sea.

"When I came though the clouds, the first thing I saw was the huge wake the ship was leaving," Eschelman said.

"I saw the ship and said 'I can't believe I'm going to land on that,'" said Heinz. "It's smaller than they said it would be."

Heinz said in all of the chaos of landing on a carrier, he relied on his training to succeed.

"Training is hard," said Heinz. "I just let the training take over when I get out here."

Both pilots have been pleased with their experience aboard the Enterprise.

"I have been really impressed with the ship," said Eshelman. "It is awe inspiring to see this massive aircraft carrier with a crew of professionals working toward the same goal."

"It is a really rewarding experience to be on the Enterprise," said Heinz. "After all of the training, it is great to be on the boat. I can't wait to come back out here."

The Greyhawks, flying the E-2C Hawkeye and the C-2A Greyhound, are required to complete a process similar to the Gladiators in order to qualify.

The qualifications for the F-18E, E-2C and C-2 are similar, but the C-2 is only a daytime flight aircraft and only has to satisfy the daytime requirements.

Qualifying in an E-2 or C-2 requires exact precision.

"The wings are so big, you have to make sure you are on the center line," said Lt. Chuck Cline, a pilot with VAW-120. "You only have about five feet of space on either side of the wings."

Flying the E-2 at night adds another degree of difficulty.

"Night qualifications are the most difficult," said Lt. Thomas Clark, a naval flight officer with the Greyhawks. "It is like trying to hit a moving target that only has a few lights on it."

The Greyhawk crew is proud to be able to qualify aboard the Enterprise.

"It's like coming back home," said Clark, who has served on the Enterprise before.

"It is fun to say that we carrier qualified on the Enterprise, because we know the history of the ship," said Cline. "There is a bit of pride to say we carrier qualified on this ship."

During the course of the underway training period, Enterprise conducted 997 arrested landings, qualified 92 pilots and certified the flight deck.