One of my "bucket list" dreams, a dream that will sadly never be fulfilled, is to experience taking off and landing on an aircraft carrier. The concept has fascinated me since childhood. It is one thing to take off from a modern aircraft carrier, to be flung, as it were, like a stone out of a slingshot, engines firing full blast, leaving the solidity of the carrier deck into the ethereal lightness of sky where an aircraft settles into the environment it was made for…but to land again on that deck…ah, there's another thing altogether.
We have all probably seen videos taken from the cockpit of a Navy or Marine Corps fighter jet approaching, setting up for landing, and coming in for a landing on what appears to be a moving postage stamp in the middle of the vast ocean. This is where the real flying skills of our Navy and Marine Corps pilots come to play. This element of flying a carrier-based Marine Air Wing F/A-18 Hornet is chock-full of potential disaster, but it is, and has always been, the absolutely essential skill to master in line with the very meaning and purpose of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
Jimmy Doolittle's Army Air Corps B-25s, which undertook the raid over Tokyo a mere four months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, only had to take off from the rising and falling deck of the USS Hornet in April of 1942. As improbable and risky an adventure as that was, those pilots didn't have to learn how to land on that deck again, for, among other reasons, it would not have been possible…at all!
But for today's U.S. Navy and Marine Corps pilots, the carriers that they are attached to are their homes when they are on deployment missions. They are launched out on their missions from those carrier decks and they return to them for fuel, rearmament, and maintenance. It is their home base. The real skill, then, is to be able to bring those multi-million dollar, highly advanced and sophisticated fighter jets home, to land them efficiently on the deck of that aircraft carrier that is pitching and rolling on the open sea.
To master the complex intricacies of landing a modern F/A-18 Hornet or an EA Growler on one of these modern Nimitz-class or Ford-class carriers takes lots of practice. In line with this, the Marine pilots of Carrier Wing 5 will be flying to the island of Iwo Jima from the Marine Air Station at Iwakuni, Japan, this week to practice the art of carrier landings in preparation for the upcoming summer deployment of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). The USS Ronald Reagan has been homeported at Yokosuka, Japan, the homeport of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet, since December 16, 2022. She is the centerpiece of Carrier Strike Group 5, to which Marine Carrier Wing 5 is attached.
Pilots from Carrier Wing 5 will undergo 10 days of training on the Island of Iwo Jima. They will fly at least 6 sorties, practicing touch-and-go landings during that time. Three of those sorties will be done during the day and three at night. Junior pilots will do more extensive training and may complete as many as 12 or more touch-and-goes per sortie.
Iwo To landing strip: Carrier Wing 5 practices, noise concerns, new site planned on Mageshima Island.
NAS Whidbey Island: EA Growlers, touch-and-go landings, occasional noise complaints.
US Navy and Marine Corps pilots excel in skills. "Bravo Z!" and "OooRah!"