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Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic
Gerald R. Ford Carrier Qualifications Support F/A-18 Pilot Production
by Petty Officer 2nd Class William Spears
21 December 2020
NORFOLK, Va. --
Since March 2020, the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) has assisted five Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) carrier qualification (CQ) detachments, qualifying 86 F/A-18 strike-fighter pilots to immediately enter fleet operations.
As the only aircraft carrier regularly available on the East Coast this year, Ford has proved an invaluable asset to the "Gladiators" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 and the "Greyhawks" of Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 120, qualifying 84 pilots from their ranks this year.
VFA-106's latest CQ detachment concluded Dec. 7. The squadron's Commanding Officer, Capt. Dan Catlin, said these CQ opportunities are critical to strike fighter production.
"Carrier qualifications in the FRS mark the culmination of two years of rigorous training for naval aviators who will move on to the fleet to serve in front-line strike-fighter squadrons," said Catlin. "The positions they will fill in Fleet squadrons are critical in the sense that these squadrons, when embarked, constitute the leading edge of national power projection and warfighting capability. By proving they have the mental discipline and skill to consistently and safely landing an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet on an aircraft carrier, day and night, demonstrates they are ready to take on this tremendous responsibility."
In addition to the FRS detachments, Ford also enhanced strike fighter pilot production by qualifying 114 student naval aviators (SNA) assigned to Chief of Naval Air Training Command (CNATRA). Capt. J.J "Yank" Cummings, Ford's commanding officer, attributes the success of these CQs to the proficiency of the ship's crew and their ability to operate Ford's state-of-the-art Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG).
"Through the hard work, grit, and professionalism of our Sailors and officers, we continue to prove that EMALS, AAG, and this innovative aircraft carrier design works," said Cummings. "Independent Steaming Event (ISE) 14 was the smoothest underway in the ship's history. Not only were we able to qualify 39 student naval aviators and 16 FRS pilots, we also set a new single day record of 170 arrested landings and 175 catapult shots in only 8.5 hours, that's 20 traps and hour, and if we had more daylight we could've easily made 200. Our salty flight deck Sailors and the not so salty student naval aviators worked as a team to make it happen. It brought a wicked smile to my face watching them set this new record."
During ISE 14, Ford conducted 840 catapult launches and arrested landings with EMALS and AAG, bringing the ship's total to 6,399.
SNA CQ consists of two day touch-and-gos and ten day arrested landings per pilot. FRS pilots must complete two day touch-and-gos, 10 day arrested landings, followed by two night touch-and-gos and six night arrested landings. Both events are the culmination of many months of rigorous training.
"The ability to take off and land on carriers is what separates Naval Aviators from traditional pilots," said Rear Adm. Robert D. Westendorff, chief of naval air training. "The at-sea experience that USS Gerald R. Ford provides is an invaluable resource that I'm deeply thankful for. This training is the bridge for CNATRA students to go from student naval aviators to warfighters poised to execute the nation's defense strategy."
The success of CQ hinges on the integration between the Ford crew and the FRS and CNATRA detachments that embark for each ISE. With nine months of collaboration as evidence, Catlin believes the Ford team truly enables VFA-106's mission to carrier qualify aviators to take the fight to any potential adversary around the globe.
"My squadron is always eager to get underway with the Gerald R. Ford team," said Catlin. "The professionalism, dedication, and technical mastery this phenomenal team displays in every aspect of underway operations are impressive. No challenge is too great for the remarkable Sailors who make the Gerald R. Ford one of the finest ships in the Fleet. We're already very much looking forward to our next underway with Team Wolverine!"
Ford is in port at Naval Station Norfolk for a scheduled window of opportunity for maintenance as part of her Post-Delivery Test and Trials phase of operations.
For more news from USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), visit www.dvidshub.net/cvn78 or find us on social media. Twitter: @Warship_78; Facebook: @USSGeraldRFord; Instagram @cvn78_grford
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