MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- Pilots with Marine Attack Squadron 223 continued integration training with the crew of the USS Kearsarge Jan. 20, building the squadron’s proficiency for operations at sea.
The squadron, which is scheduled for deployment as part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit later this year, coordinated with the Kearsarge to complete the initial qualifications for flight operations underway, giving the squadron’s naval aviators hands-on experience to sharpen their vital skills.
“Our mission during the training was to give the ship personnel their initial qualifications with the AV-8B Harrier,” said Capt. Will Mahoney, a naval aviator with VMA-223.
Each pilot slated to deploy with the 26th MEU took part in the training. Each aircraft completed multiple day and night landings on the Kearsarge during the qualifications, according to Mahoney.
Harriers provide combatant commanders with close air support, air-to-air combat and sea-based force projection capabilities, said Mahoney. The ground work for future operations as part of the Aviation Combat Element with the 26th MEU begins during initial qualifications, he said.
“Our squadron takes every opportunity to hone our landing abilities, especially aboard an aircraft carrier,” said Mahoney, a native of Athens, Georgia.
Landing a Harrier on a moving amphibious assault ship from the rear is one of the most important skills pilots must master, according to Capt. James Pollard, a naval aviator with the squadron.
“Harriers have the unique capability to perform vertical landings,” said Pollard, a native of Atlanta. “When approaching an aircraft carrier the pilots have to transition from flight to a vertical hover, which can be dangerous, especially at night or in a low light environment.”
Training aboard an assault landing ship is critical for the squadron as it continues to prepare for future operations and deployments, according to Pollard.
“As a squadron we train regularly to keep proficient,” said Pollard. “There is nothing better than practicing the skills and techniques in the actual environment in which we will be operating.”