MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC -- More than 300 Marines and Sailors from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 embarked aboard the USS Harry S. Truman for a two-week deployment this week.
The Silver Eagles will be conducting sustainment training for carrier surge operations while they are deployed aboard CVN 75, in the Atlantic Ocean.
“A surge-ready carrier is either getting ready to deploy for its six-month cruise, or has just returned from its six-month cruise,” said Lt. Col. Rauenhorst, the executive officer for VMFA-115. “The surge status means that they are prepared to conduct combat operations at a moment’s notice.”
As part of Carrier Air Wing Three during at sea periods, the squadron is required to maintain a sustainment period, which means they must keep their training and proficiency requirements current to remain deployment-ready, according to Rauenhorst.
“(The Tactical Aircraft Integration Plan) of Marine Units requires that carrier-based squadrons be prepared to deploy with their Carrier Air Wings if the situation arises…” Rauenhorst said. “The sustainment training ensures that the squadrons embarked onboard Navy aircraft carriers remain proficient in day and night landings, as well as being capable of conducting strike warfare, air warfare and surface warfare missions from sea-based operations.”
In order to prepare for their deployment aboard the Truman, VMFA-115 pilots will be conducting Field Carrier Landing Practices aboard the Air Station every night until departing for the Truman, according to Capt. Jason Morgan, a pilot for VMFA-115.
“We fly at least once a day, and the schedule has shifted so that we work mostly noon to midnight,” Morgan said. “(FCLPs take place) mostly at night. It makes the pilot focus on his instruments more than during the day when he has the ground and horizon to reference.”
The FCLP training is conducted to ensure pilots will be able to make safe landings onboard carriers, but there is a big difference between landing on the flightline and a flight deck, according to Morgan.
“There is only a couple hundred feet to land on, unlike 10,000 feet of runway,” Morgan said. “You must land your jet precisely within a 60 foot area.”
In addition to a smaller margin for error, there are several things that make landing on a carrier an added challenge for pilots, according to Rauenhorst.
“…the ship’s angled deck makes lineup more of a challenge, as the pilots have to constantly correct for the movement of the ship,” Rauenhorst said. “And depth perception at night (and during low visibility) makes spatial disorientation more susceptible.”
There are several moving pieces in the ship environment that make time a critical part of proficiency in carrier operations, according to Gunnery Sgt. James Park, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the VMFA-115 powerline shop.
“The work tempo is faster and more confined than that of an airfield,” Park said. “Aircraft and personnel are in closer proximity to each other and there are a lot of moving parts. You have to ‘keep your head on a swivel,’ as they say on board the ship.”
Safety is the main goal for carrier operations, and training is paramount because several aircraft are being launched and recovered in a very short period of time, according to Rauenhorst.
“The ultimate goal is for safe and expeditious launch and recovery of the aircraft, in order for maintenance personnel to turn the aircraft around for the next launch window,” Rauenhorst said. “The flight deck is not open all the time for launches and recoveries. There are hard schedules for launches and recoveries in order to re-spot aircraft on the flight deck, load ordnance and turn the carrier to stay within the carrier operating area.”
The Silver Eagles have had a busy schedule since returning from a six-month deployment to the 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility in support of the Global War on Terrorism, and show no signs of slowing, according to Rauenhorst.
When the squadron returns from the carrier, they will have a change of command, a deployment to Naval Air Base El Centro, Calif., to support a Combined Arms Exercise, and then they will be preparing for another deployment aboard the Truman.
The current deployment, and the training the Silver Eagles have completed to prepare for it, will help the squadron face the challenge of maintaining proficiency in every shop and level of ‘115, according to Rauenhorst.
“VMFA-115 has had a large turnover since its deployment return in April,” Rauenhorst said. “The goal is not only to increase the proficiency of its pilots, but also to gain valuable experience for its Marines working in maintenance and S-shops.”
It is important for these Marines to gain familiarity with flight deck operations, especially since some have never worked them before, according to Rauenhorst.
The increased operational tempo, and changes that have taken place within the squadron have been difficult at times, but the Silver Eagles have handled themselves well, according to Park.
“As Marines, we want to go the extra mile to make sure we are the best at what we do,” Park said. “The flight schedule does pick up a bit, but we can handle it.
“The squadron has (also) undergone a few changes with the receipt of a few new airplanes and some small personnel changes. But, as always, we are ready to do what Silver Eagles do best; and that is be the tip of the spear.”