MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. --
ABOARD THE USS ENTERPRISE – Flying an F/A-18 Hornet is no simple task. But imagine flying a jet with no lights, radar, communications or navigation.
The avionics technicians for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 and Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 86 play a vital role in ensuring successful combat missions are launched and recovered aboard the flight deck of the USS Enterprise.
“We help give the jet purpose,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Wisnefski, an aviation technician for the Sidewinders of VFA-86. “Without avionics, the aircraft is just a single-seat passenger jet.”
The avionics shops allow the Hornets to be war fighting machines. They are responsible for several key components that enable the jets to fly combat missions.
“We handle communications, (Global Positioning Systems), flight control, lights and weapon systems,” said Cpl. Santiago Abril, an avionics technician for the Thunderbolts of VMFA-251.
In addition to ensuring the jets’ electronic systems are functioning properly, the avionics Marines and sailors have the fast-paced duty of troubleshooting aircraft minutes before launching off the flight deck.
“Sometimes you only have five or ten minutes to fix a problem – sometimes even less than that,” Wisnefski said. “If you can’t get it fixed, the jet won’t fly and there are (service members) on the ground counting on that jet.”
Being able to effectively troubleshoot problems prior to a launch, the Marines and sailors have to learn exactly what they are looking for.
“Becoming a good troubleshooter just takes experience,” Abril said. “The more experience you have, the faster you are.”
And troubleshooting from a flight deck can be a much different task than doing it at the Air Station.
“Being here, you are literally inches away from other jets,” Wisnefski said. “The constant heat and close quarters definitely make it a challenge.”
In addition to the tight spaces on the carrier, getting proper working equipment as well as personnel on the flight deck in a timely manner can sometimes be difficult.
“It can be hard to get parts from one place on the ship to another area quickly,” said Petty Officer 1st Class William Nesterak, the leading petty officer of the Sidewinders avionics shop. “Instead of simply walking pieces of equipment onto the flightline, you have to haul them up three flights of stairs to the flight deck.”
“You are running all over the place to make sure each jet is ready to launch,” Abril said. “Sometimes you need to be at the front of the ship in seconds and you are all the way at the back.”
At times, the avionics Marines and sailors can have a very stressful job, but at the end of their shift, they are satisfied with the work they do.
“Without our job, the pilot couldn’t successfully get ordnance on target,” Abril said. “You need all the electronic systems to provide quality air support for those troops on the ground.”
“The satisfaction of jets getting launched successfully is why I like my job,” Wisnefski said. “You watch a jet launch that you just fixed in a minute and a half – now that’s a great feeling.”