MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- Plane captains are considered the critical liaison between the pilot in the cockpit of an F/A-18 Hornet and the organized chaos that is characteristic of life aboard the deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. It’s a job reserved for only the most qualified and competent enlisted Marines in a squadron.
Amongst the elite group of plane captains for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, one Thunderbolt continues to excel and go above and beyond the call of duty.
Lance Cpl. Brian Howley, a T-Bolt plane captain, assists in pre-launching jets daily and conducting debriefs with pilots after sorties primarily, but also assists in the maintenance efforts before and after the daily flight schedule. Howley has mastered approximately 64 hand-and-arm signals that allow him to communicate with the pilots, despite the constant roar of jet engines.
“Not only does one have to go through the training, but our Military Occupational Specialty is the only MOS that has to go before a board to qualify as a plane captain,” said Staff Sgt. John McCroy, a powerlines flight deck controller. “That’s a big accomplishment. Lance Corporal Howley has done that and has proven time and time again that he deserves to be a plane captain.”
According to McCroy, being a plane captain on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise is more intense than being land-based back in Beaufort, S.C.
“You have to be on the swivel 100 percent all the time,” said McCroy. “You have to watch for the jets, check the chains, and deal with different safety hazards and issues.”
For pilots like Capt. Daniel Berzack, they rely on the plane captain to help complete their mission.
“We are launching these missions, so there’s a lot of stress,” said Berzack. “When I walk up to the jet and see Lance Cpl. Howley, I know he has looked over the jet to his best ability and in his opinion, there is nothing wrong with it and we’ll be ready for the launch.”
Howley, a native of Seymore, Conn., knew he wanted to join the service and joined the Marine Corps Dec. 27, 2004, in the aviation field. On Aug. 24 of last year, Howley joined the Thunderbolt team, assigned to the powerlines section. Howley has since qualified to be a plane captain, a job he has held for the past five months.
“Sometimes it’s stressful working within the squadron and other times it’s not,” said Howley. “VMFA-251 is a good, hard-working squadron with great pilots and maintainers.”
Howley enjoys working with his shop just as much as he does with the entire squadron itself.
“Powerlines is a good shop and the non-commissioned officers are dedicated to their job,” said Howley. “They teach young Marines - such as myself - very well. They are constantly pushing you to keep learning more about the aircraft and being consistent with your job.”
According to McCroy, working with Howley has been a unique experience. Despite his relatively junior rank, Howley has proven himself to be the shop’s go-to guy.
“From my experience, as a lance corporal you need to have knowledge. He seems to absorb knowledge, and after that, he already knows what’s happening,” said McCroy. “He’s more familiar with the flight deck than I am. I tend go to him to learn some things.”
According to Berzack, Howley is the most motivated and professional plane captain on the flight deck.
“All of our plane captains are awesome, but Howley for some reason does that little extra. His sense of urgency, his attention to detail, and his motivation getting the jets ready and prepped in time has always impressed me.”
Howley does not only leave a good impression on the pilots he works for, but he receives the same feelings from the Marines who work alongside of him.
“He knows how to relax but also knows how to get things done and works hard to get it done,” said Pfc. Wesley Moody, a powerlines Marine.
McCroy added that not only do other Marines around Howley respect him, they can rely on him.
“He tries to advance his knowledge as much as he can,” said Moody. “From what I’ve seen, he works well with everyone.”
“I would have to say it’s a privilege to have him working for me,” said McCroy.
Although being on an aircraft carrier does not leave much free time, Howley is known to still conduct himself as a professional Marine on and off the job.
“Outside the Marine Corps in his spare time you’ll find him studying and acquiring more knowledge,” said McCroy. “He recently took the Marine of the Quarter board. You won’t find him just sitting around or laying in his rack.”
This deployment marks Howley’s first in the Corps, and he is looking forward to the different countries that the squadron will visit and the port calls they will make to see the different cultures and lifestyles. He also looks forward to continuing work here on board USS Enterprise.
“He has the best attitude,” said Berzack. As I walk up to a jet, it makes me more excited knowing that he took care of my jet. He’s got a positive attitude on everything. He’s out there sweating, dirty and covered in dirt, but he’s always happy to do his job.”