USS Gerald Ford aircraft carrier prepares pilots for deployment

The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) concluded its first-ever Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) carrier qualifications (CQ) for Naval aviators while underway in the Atlantic Ocean, April 4. “For the first time ever, this ship conducted carrier qualifications for two fleet replacement squadrons and generated readiness for the fleet,” said Capt. J. J. Cummings, USS Gerald Ford’s commanding officer.

USS Gerald Ford aircraft carrier prepares pilots for deployment NORFOLK, Va. (September 9, 2019) – An E-2D Hawkeye being received by the “Greyhawks” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 120 completes landing procedures at Naval Station Norfolk Monday, September 9, 2019. This is the first E-2D Hawkeye with aerial refueling capability to join the fleet, increasing the Navy’s battlespace awareness and integrated fire control — both from the air and the sea. (Picture source: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nikita Custer)

The mission of the FRS is to train pilots, naval flight officers and maintainers on the specific front-line aircraft they have been assigned to fly. Some pilots may be training for current and upcoming deployments, where they will relieve currently-deployed pilots serving in fleet squadrons. USS Gerald Ford is currently the only carrier operating on the East Coast available to qualify pilots. USS Gerald R. Ford is a first-in-class aircraft carrier and the first new aircraft carrier designed in more than 40 years. The ship is underway conducting an independent steaming event in the Atlantic Ocean.

The CQ included both day and night flight operations, and required the ship and her crew of more than 2,600 Sailors to work in unison with Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 and Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 120 around the clock to help the squadron pilots successfully complete the final stages of their training. During carrier qualifications, an FRS pilot must develop and hone the demanding skills needed to take off and land fixed-wing aircraft on an aircraft carrier, performing many tests for the first time, including landing on a ship at night, relying on the systems and personnel on the ship to safely guide them to the flight deck.

In order for FRS pilots to qualify and advance into a fleet squadron, the pilot must successfully complete two “touch and go’s” with 10 day landings and two ‘touch and go’s” with six night landings aboard an aircraft carrier. On Ford, they found a crew that was eager to assist them in achieving that most critical set of steps.

Fourteen pilots qualified from VFA-106 and another 13 qualified from VAW-120 during the CQ period. The squadrons registered a combined 425 catapults (launches) and 495 traps (arrested landings) during their time aboard Ford. Strike Fighter Squadron 106 (VFA-106), also known as the "Gladiators", is equipped with F/A-18 Hornets and F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 120 (VAW-120) is equipped with E-2 Hawkeyes and the C-2 Greyhounds.