NAS LEMOORE — The Sidewinders of Strike Fighter Squadron EIGHT SIX (VFA-86) recently returned to Naval Air Station Lemoore (NASL) after participating in a Flight Deck Certification (FDC) for USS GERALD R. FORD (CVN-78) in support of Carrier Air Wing THREE (CVW-3) and Carrier Air Wing SEVEN (CVW-7). Commissioned July 22nd of this year, USS Ford is the Navy’s first in a new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. VFA-86 conducted flights in conjunction with CVW-3 and CVW-7 while operating from NAS Oceana, Va.
This was the first FDC executed by CVN 78 since its commissioning last July. This certification ensures that the ship’s flight deck, as well as the Sailors who facilitate flight operations, can safely launch and recover aircraft. The certification consists of at least two days of flight operations. The flight deck is required to complete 50 arrestments on the first day and 110 arrestments on the second day, 40 of which must be at night. The flight deck personnel also respond to multiple, simulated day and night emergencies throughout the certification to include aircraft hydraulic malfunctions and loss of brakes.
VFA-86 pilots began preparations for this detachment Oct. 9 by executing Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) flights at NAS Lemoore in order to refine their carrier landing proficiency. Each pilot was required to complete multiple day and night FCLP flights. Additionally each pilot executed simulator events focusing on emergency procedures that could occur while airborne or on the flight deck. Before carrier flight operations began, Sidewinder pilots and maintainers also received multiple flight deck familiarization briefs explaining the differences between CVN 78 and the traditional Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.
Sidewinder pilots also received special training on the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) as well as the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) system. CVN 78 is the first aircraft carrier to utilize the new launch and recovery systems. This certification marks the first time operational fleet squadrons have used the new launch and recovery systems. Flight operations onboard CVN 78 were completed the first week in November 2017.
Overall, the Sidewinders re-qualified nine pilots encompassing 59 arrestments, 66 catapult launches, and the execution of more than 60 flight hours in support of the certification. Sidewinder pilots furthered the Navy’s comprehension and use of the newly developed Precision Landing Modes (PLM) of the Super Hornet and their applicability to USS Ford approach requirements and arrestments using the AAG.
The overall Sidewinder leadership is extremely proud of the hard work and dedication put forth throughout this successful detachment, and the VFA-86 team is honored to have been part of this mark in history onboard the newly christened U.S. Naval warship.
VFA-86 proudly flies and maintains 10 F/A-18E Super Hornets with a force of 13 pilots and more than 200 Sailors.