San Diego, California - Fixed wing Fleet Replacement Squadron pilots and T-45C Goshawk training jet pilots completed carrier qualifications aboard aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) April 9.
Forty-eight student Naval aviators from the "Eagles" of Training Squadron (VT) 7, the "Tigers" of VT-9, the "Redhawks" of VT-21 and the "Golden Eagles" of VT-22 launched and recovered from the Carl Vinson over a three-day period.
Additionally, pilots assigned to the "Sharpshooters" of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101, the "Flying Eagles" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 122, and the "Gladiators" of VFA 106 also completed carrier qualifications aboard Carl Vinson.
"You have qualified pilots in the fleet fulfilling their missions, but they're ready to rotate out to shore. They need new junior officers to come out and replace them; that's our job out here - to qualify so we can relieve them," said Ensign Andrew Johnson of VT-7.
Marine 1st Lt. Benjamin Smith of VT-9 out of Meridian, Mississippi, was one of the pilots who completed his carrier qualifications with the T-45C.
"We could be stationed on a carrier one day, so one of the most important things to do is to land on a carrier. We each had to complete four touch-and-go's and 10 traps," said Smith.
During carrier qualifications, a pilot must develop and hone the demanding skills needed to take off and land fixed wing aircraft on an aircraft carrier.
"It's a lot different than a runway," said Marine 1st Lt. Danny Sorrelos, also of VT-9. "Runway length generally isn't an issue for us; you don't have to be as precise. You don't have as many environmental issues constantly changing. In the field, we're worried about crosswinds coming from different directions, but here, the ship makes the wind. The ship is moving away and there's very little room for error. "
Sorrelos, whose squadron trained in El Centro, California before arriving on Carl Vinson, said he had more factors to consider to land aboard the carrier. Each time he landed, though - a total of 10 traps to meet his requirement - he felt a surge of pride. Soon he would be able to take the watch.
"It's an amazing experience, but it's important that we keep an eye on the end game so we are ready to project power abroad," said Johnson. "We get so wrapped up in individual flights. You may be focused on one specific aspect of flying but you realize at the end of the day, you need to be trained to get out to the fleet and replace those pilots who are getting ready to go to shore."
Making an arrested landing on board Carl Vinson was a stepping stone toward wings of gold for the visiting pilots, and brought them one day closer to being designated a Naval aviator.
"For these student pilots, seeing a carrier for the first time and actually getting to land on it is something they'll never forget. They can brag to their parents, friends and families about it," said Cmdr. Nicolas Marusich, Carl Vinson's air operations officer. "The training is critical because we're continuing the legacy of naval aviation. We're here helping these student pilots transform into Naval aviators."
Smith, Sorrelos and Johnson will need to complete the training cycle with their VT squadrons before receiving their wings. They will then transfer to a Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) to train on a specific fleet aircraft before taking their places in the fleet.
While Carl Vinson completed 1,416 total arrested landings during the underway, the ship and crew also completed damage control proficiency exercises, weapons qualifications and engineering drills.