MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. --
Marines often watch as F/A-18s take seconds to gain enough speed for flight, but do not see the hours of preparation flight crews take before pilots climb into an aircraft.
For a flight that lasts around an hour, the crews take three to four hours of preparation the day of the flight to ensure safety precautions are taken.
“Accidents happen on relatively simple flights,” said Royal Air Force Flight Lt. Paul Littlejohn, a pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101. “Because of the nature of aviation, it’s unforgiving of error.”
The squadron’s operations section generates the flight schedule, assigns flights and tells crews what kind of training they will be conducting.
Each training mission is led by a flight lead. He prepares a consistent plan that includes information such as available space.
The lead then assigns tasks to other flight participants. Examples of tasks are finding weather restrictions, updated notices on airways and areas, and if the aircraft can carry the ordinance allotted. Crews will also create products that are specific to flights, such as imagery of a target area, according to Capt. Matthew Klobucher, a weapons and sensors officer with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121.
Two hours prior to flight the crews have a mission brief which takes them step-by-step through the training. They discuss how they will proceed, where they are flying, who they need to talk to in the air, the call signs of all involved and the position, altitude, distance and speed of the aircraft.
One hour prior to flight the crews begin to “step,” or walk to maintenance control. The crews review paperwork explaining every part of the aircraft maintenance Marines have examined and worked on. The crews then take custody of the aircraft from maintenance, and are responsible for anything that happens to the aircraft afterward. The pilots and weapons and sensors officers walk to the flight equipment section to suit up into gear.
The gear includes three main components, according to Capt. Michael Miklos, a pilot with VMFA(AW) -121. The first thing the crew members put on is an anti-g suit that raps around the legs. The suit keeps blood flowing to the brain to keep pilots conscious during increased g-force maneuvers, explained Miklos. It’s automatic and hooked up to the actual jet. As the F/A-18 descends, the suit adjusts to allow blood flow.
Crew members then put on a parachute harness and a survival vest, explained Miklos. The parachute harness is made of nylon webbing that distributes shock across the body in case of ejection. The survival vest holds equipment in case anything goes wrong and the crew has to eject. Some examples are a life preserver, water flares, a compass, matches, an oxygen regulator and a radio.
After crews finish with all the gear, they begin their walk to the aircraft. Pilots and WSOs also look the aircraft over for any problems such as loose panels, oil and fuel leaks. The plane captain, an enlisted Marine, is in charge of making sure the aircraft launches safely. Crews then switch jet engines and systems on 30 minutes prior to flight to make sure everything looks and sounds right. Then they check the flight control system and tactical system to make sure everything is properly configured.
They also inspect the radios and transponders, which send out signals letting everyone know who is who, according to Klobucher.
Following the final preparations, the crews taxi their aircraft to the take-off point and begin their training.
Although the preparations require many hours, pilots and WSOs take the time to do everything needed to ensure they continue training safely.