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Gunnery Sgt. Marion Phelps, quality assurance chief and crew chief with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 161 “Greyhawks”, watches as aircraft participating in field carrier landing practices land aboard the USS Essex, May 15. The Greyhawks provided two MV-22B Ospreys for the training. With help from an Osprey from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 165, they were able to keep their qualifications current while helping the Essex’s crew earn new qualifications.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher Johns

Back to their roots: Greyhawks prepare for service at sea

22 May 2014 | Lance Cpl. Christopher Johns

Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 161 “Greyhawks” performed field carrier landing practices with Sailors aboard the USS Essex in preparation for an upcoming deployment together, May 15.

Marine Corps units begin the return to their amphibious roots: trading in hot desert sand for open sea.
 
As these units transition focus to deployments with Marine Expeditionary Units they need to hone their maritime skills, such as landing aboard a ship’s flight deck.
 
The Greyhawks provided two MV-22B Ospreys to help maintain pilots’ landing qualifications. All the while, the training helps the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship’s crew earn new qualifications with help from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 165 as well.
 
“I’ve done this training twice before,” said 1st Lt. Mike Miersma, an MV-22B Osprey pilot with VMM-161 and a Dallas native. “We do this kind of training so that we can do normal operations on the ship. We need to be able to make it back on to the ship in different kinds of conditions perfectly every time.”
 
Perfection is the key while landing aboard the vessel’s flight deck. Although it may seem large, an aircraft with the wingspan of an Osprey needs to land just right to avoid damaging the ship’s superstructure, regardless of conditions or circumstance. 

Pilots and crews first spend time practicing in simulators and practice simple landings before taking on what Miersma describes as a sometimes overwhelming task.
 
“The experience is nerve-racking, just because of how close you are to the super-structure,” said Miersma. “You’re still well prepared for the mission because you fly it in the simulator first. We also have a more experienced pilot at the helm with us so that they can take control if they feel they need to, but as you land again and again, you gain some confidence and start to really get better at it.”
 
Miersma also described the progressive training process. At first, pilots land on the flight deck. Then, they specify the manner in which the aircraft should land at a specific location aboard the deck. Eventually, they can touch down with their landing gear in the painted boxes where the aircraft is to be staged.

Pilots work toward perfection with each landing practice, but they aren’t alone in the aircraft.

“The main thing we’re doing in the back is maintaining aircraft clearance,” said Gunnery Sgt. Marion Phelps, quality assurance chief and crew chief with VMM-161, and a Troy, Mo., native. “We’re the pilots’ eyes and ears in the back. We keep the pilots honest by letting them know what’s going on around them. This aircraft is one big, crew-served weapon, so we all have to work in unison to get the job done.”

There is more to be done in preparation for any missions coming their way as their deployment comes closer.

“Over the next few months we’ll probably ramp up how often we do these kinds of trainings,” said Phelps. “Depending on what’s going on in the world, we have to be ready to put troops in the back of our aircraft and get them on target as quickly as possible.”

Phelps described that mindset as his unit’s primary mission for the deployment. These Marines are training to answer the call if the world needs them.

3rd Marine Aircraft Wing