USS Gerald R. Ford Commences Second Round of Carrier Qualifications

The U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) commenced its second round of carrier qualifications (CQ) for Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) pilots on May 10.

Ford, operating at-sea at the same time as four other U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, is conducting its fourth independent steaming event (ISE) since commencing an 18-month Post Delivery Test and Trials (PDT&T) phase of operations in November 2019.

While underway in the Atlantic Ocean, Ford will conduct FRS CQ with pilots from Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 117 and VAW-120, and Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106.

Ford is the only CQ asset regularly available on the East Coast this year. The aircraft carrier concluded its first-ever FRS CQ for Naval aviators on April 4. 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.

“Our crew is tough and has adapted quickly to the acute changes we’ve made to our operating procedures and day-to-day life onboard — their resiliency, their grit allows us to get underway and accomplish the mission,” said Ford’s Commanding Officer, Capt. J.J Cummings. “Getting underway knowing that our crew will be generating readiness for the fleet, along with the four other carriers at sea, is extremely rewarding. We are also proud that several of these aviators who carrier qualify on our ship will be heading over the horizon soon to join deployed carriers throughout the world.”

The “Wallbangers” of VAW-117 are set to mark a milestone while aboard Ford as they complete CQ requirements to transition from the E-2C Hawkeye tactical airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft to the new E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. VAW-117’s transition will take the Navy past the 50 percent point, making the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye the new baseline platform for the community.

E-2D Advanced Hawkeye
An E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, assigned to the “Greyhawks” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 120, prepares to land on USS Gerald R.Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck during flight operations May 10, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman 3rd Class Zachary Melvin)

“The E-2D is our latest and greatest aircraft that has a lot of good equipment and a really good radar that’s going to allow us to see our enemies at distances that we really haven’t seen before,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jeremiah Caldwell, a pilot assigned to VAW-117. “The training process for us is about three years just to get to the fleet, so we are here aboard Ford training fleet aviators that are making the transition from the Charlie to the Delta.”

With two days of CQ, Ford has completed 237 catapult launches and 244 Advanced Arresting Gear landings, meeting all daily objectives. Following Super Hornet FRS CQ, Ford will begin CQ for Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) student naval aviators and instructor pilots, continuing critical training to U.S. aviators to execute fleet missions from and at sea.

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78)
File image of U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) conducting high-speed turns in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Connor Loessin/Released)

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