Photo Information

An F/A-18 "Hornet" belonging to Marine Attack Training Squadron 101, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, sits on the flight deck of the USS John C. Stennis after being used to conduct carrier qualification training by the fleet replacement pilots, Dec. 10. The pilots trained day and night to complete course requirements. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin)(Released)

Photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

‘Sharpshooters’ set sights on USS John C. Stennis

14 Dec 2009 | Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

Pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 completed the carrier qualifications portion of their course and came one step closer to graduating from the Fleet Replacement Squadron while training aboard the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), Dec. 7 through 14.

Throughout the week, pilots took turns taking off and landing aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier as it circled many miles off the California coast.

“The Marine Corps and Navy both have a long history of launching aircraft from carriers, more than 70 years,” said Maj. Joseph J. Porrazzo, the carrier qualifications phase officer in charge with VMFA(T)-101, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force. “Carrier landings and takeoffs are just two more things that make the Marine Corps expeditionary. Every Marine Corps and Navy F/A-18 pilot does this.”

More than a month before the pilots set their Hornets on deck, they practiced simulated carrier landings at sites such as Naval Air Station El Centro, San Clemente Island and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar until the maneuvers became second nature.

“Even with all of our field carrier landing practice you can’t replicate landing on a ship,” said Capt. John Q. Dinh, a fleet replacement pilot with the “Sharpshooters.”

“The ship’s deck pitches up and down and side to side while we approach. Landing can be 18 seconds of sheer terror.”

The pilots made 10 day-landings and at least six night landings with only their instruments and the lights on the 1,092-foot deck to guide them. A yellow light source with two sets of green lights called the datums, located on the left side of the ship’s flight deck, provided a reference point and helped bring them in safely.

The instructor pilots made remarks and critiqued their piloting skills with each attempt at landing.

To make sure the pilots are performing to the standards of the course, the instructors watch their landings and takeoffs and record them in a pass book, explained Capt. Brent W. Stevens, an instructor pilot with the squadron. Afterward, the instructors go over the day’s flights and show them what they did right and what they need to work on.

With more than a month to complete their course work, the pilots will continue training aboard MCAS Miramar. One day, when Marines on the ground need close-air support, these pilots can confidently strike from a carrier.