Thunderbolts return home with flying colors

18 Dec 2000 | Sgt. Will Price

    The "Thunderbolts" of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 teamed up with the "Rough Riders" crew of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, to conduct carrier qualification training.

The T-bolts struck the deck of the aircraft carrier with one main purpose -- to get their pilots qualified for shipboard operations.

"We have many new pilots in our squadron," said MGySgt. Thomas E. Simmons, VMFA-251 maintenance chief. "This was a great experience for them."

To set the stage for the evolution, the Thunderbolts conducted Field Carrier Landing Practices (FCLPs). Fleet Carrier Landing Practices have a simulated aircraft carrier landing zone painted on the Air Station's airstrip. 251's pilots practiced their landings and takeoffs for three weeks prior to boarding the carrier. However, most of the squadron agreed that there is no substitute for the real thing.

"We get to train on land all the time," said Capt. Lance Lewis, VMFA-251 pilot, "but nothing can compare to the hands-on experience we got this week." With so many new pilots in their midst, VMFA-251 sent an experienced maintenance crew to offset the inexperience that would be in the air.

"We specifically chose support people who have been on board a ship before," said. Simmons. "Now was not the time to start training new guys on the flight deck, with new guys in the air." Those "new guys in the air" seemed to handle the situation with flying colors, even though many admitted to having mixed emotions when it came to launching from and landing aboard the aircraft carrier.

"Landing during the daytime, the ship looks like a postage stamp in a football field, it's scary, but its still fun," said Capt. Jim Theisen VMFA-251 pilot, "at night, when it's pitch black, the real butterflies start. "Imagine someone puts a stamp face down in an empty warehouse, turns all the lights out," he continued, "and then asks you to run full speed, find the stamp, then pick it up by licking it!"

The hornet pilots also received some valuable training hours at the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) platform. The pilots rotated in to help guide their brethren onto the flight deck by radio transmission.

"This is serious business," said Cpl. Tim McEathron, VMFA-251 jet engine mechanic, "Every time we all come home alive, it's mission complete."

"Everyone from the ground up did a real solid job," said Maj. Thomas Clark, executive officer for the Thunderbolts. "We look forward to working with Roosevelt and her crew again, as our work-up for the Med cruise intensifies."

The F-18A squadron is scheduled to depart for the Mediterranean Sea, on a six-month deployment, at the end of 2001.