29 June 2011

Visit to VFA-106

I recently spent quality time with the “Gladiators” of Strike Fighter Squadron ONE ZERO SIX (VFA-106) – the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) for our Hornet and Super Hornet pilots and aircraft. With 1,500 Sailors, Marines and Civilians and over 100 aircraft assigned to it, VFA-106 alone is larger than the air forces of many small and medium-sized nations. The Gladiators’ mission is to train Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 replacement Pilots and Naval Flight Officers to fly the Navy’s front-line strike fighter; a process that culminates with qualifying to land on our aircraft carriers as the graduation exercise.
I kicked off my visit by meeting with the Gladiator leadership team (CO, XO and CMC) who briefed me on the unique characteristics and challenges that come with running a squadron of this size.
The squadron CO, CDR Scott "Sack" Knapp,
and I in front of the VFA-106 Centennial of
Naval Aviation commemorative jet
I was then given a tour of the Super Hornet simulator where we reviewed emergency procedures, cockpit layout and “switchology” in both the front and rear cockpits. My time in the simulator was followed by flight gear fitting where I had the opportunity to spend time talking with some of our Parachute Riggers (PRs) – a truly impressive group of Sailors who really know their stuff. After a thorough pre-flight briefing, the squadron CO, CDR Scott “Sack” Knapp, and I strapped in to our F/A-18 and taxied out.

Departing from the Roman Empire
On take-off, we launched as a section with an F/A-18E configured as a tanker and piloted by our wingman, LT Meagan "Vargus" Flannigan. Once we arrived in the working area (W-72 just off the Virginia coast), we completed a tanking evolution and I was then exposed to the entire performance envelope of the Super Hornet. We proceeded to the Navy Dare Bombing range and NAF Fentress where we worked some low altitude maneuvering and then made our way up to Fentress into the Field Carrier Landing Pattern to get a couple of looks at the ball and the associated traffic pattern. Finally, we returned to NAS Oceana followed by a full-stop landing and flight debrief.
Mission complete!
My visit to the squadron and flight in the F/A-18 was a great opportunity to experience firsthand the superior capabilities that the Super Hornet brings to the Fleet. The Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar installed in a two seat F/A-18F, with an Advanced Crew Station, provides our Navy with a level of airborne combat capability unmatched by any nation in the world. The increased payload, range and “bring back” (combination of weight of fuel and ordnance the aircraft can land with on the carrier) coupled with the improved defensive countermeasures and reduced radar cross-section, gives the Super Hornet a distinct tactical advantage across the many missions tasked to a Carrier Air Wing team.
Professional Gladiator Parachute Rigger (PR) Team
As impressed as I was with the Super Hornet, I was doubly impressed with the men and women of VFA-106. Much like I talked about with VAW-120 and the E-2D, it’s easy to take for granted all the hard work that goes into getting our Sailors and aircraft ready to deploy for operations in the Fleet. I very much enjoyed the opportunity to talk with and learn from all the VFA-106 Sailors and directly observe how each of their individual jobs contributes to the overall mission of the squadron. From the ground crew, parachute riggers (the world’s best!!) instructors and pilots to the mechanics who work shifts on the weekends to keep the student pilots flying during the week, the VFA-106 Sailors are a truly impressive group.
My visit was certainly time well spent with some of the very best Sailors in our Navy.
All the best, JCHjr

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think those black shoes look better with the flight suit!! Admiral, thanks for keeping in touch with the deckplates and sharing your impressions with your readership--your hallmark. You certainly take the prize as the most engaging 4-Star blogger. V/R Jonah