USS ESSEX, At sea --
The scream of the engine grew as the pilot accelerated down the flight deck. As the jet reached the end it soared into the air, quickly gaining altitude and disappearing into the night.
As the next jet pulled forward into position for takeoff, the jet that had just departed was on final approach to land. Nearing the flight deck of the USS Essex (LHD 2), it slowed to a hover less than 30 feet from the deck and smoothly executed a vertical landing, successfully completing its flight.
Marines of Marine Attack Squadron 214, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted carrier landing qualifications throughout the day and into the night, Oct. 1.
“Carrier qualifications are to better prepare the pilot in order to land on the ship,” said Gunnery Sgt. James Parise, the maintenance control chief of VMA 214. “They have to practice and get so many landings in order to get proficient at it.”
Executing vertical landings on the pitching flight deck of a moving ship was a test of the pilot’s skills, but the most challenging part of the exercise was landing during the night.
“Flying at night is definitely the scariest environment I have flown in for sure,” said Capt. Aaron Pridgen, an AV-8B Harrier pilot with VMA 214, 31st MEU. “It’s crazy, especially flying at night with night vision goggles in low light. Night landings test your skills way more.”
Although challenging at times, night landings are just as important for the pilots of VMA 214 to practice as landing during the day.
“Practicing both day and night landings keeps us current for running operations off the ship,” said Pridgen. “That makes us an asset available to the MEU, so that way if they want to run a day or night mission, they can launch the Harriers and we can support expeditionary operations whether that be from a forward operating base or a ship.”
He went on to say landing on a moving ship is a certain skill that VMA strives to maintain. That skill is maintained through completing the carrier landing qualifications.
As the pilots continue to practice and complete the carrier landing qualifications, they are not only building onto their skills as pilots, they are gaining an appreciation for working on and around a ship.
“Operating off of a ship is very demanding on the pilots, the room for error is much smaller than anywhere else, so it requires a lot from everyone of us,” said Pridgen.
Even with how demanding the job is, the Marines of VMA 214 are proud to be aboard USS Essex supporting the 31st MEU.
“I’m glad to be here and I look forward to supporting the MEU over the remainder of this deployment, it’s been a lot of fun so far,” Pridgen added.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.