MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
Marine Attack Training Squadron 203 trains pilots to operate a 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing asset Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf named as one of the seven most important weapons of the Gulf War – the AV-8B Harrier.
Four of the Corps’ newest aviators began training Feb. 11 to become the next generation capable of providing close-air support to ground troops from the cockpit of the storied jet.
Since then, the student pilots have worked in classrooms learning about the aircraft functions, basic procedures and immediate action drills and in simulators preparing for the challenges of actually getting “behind the stick” of the muscular war bird.
“Emergency immediate actions are vital,” said Capt. Jacob Pruden, an instructor pilot with VMAT-203. “They need to be instinctive; the students need to know it before an incident occurs. That is why we go over them so many times before they enter the simulators, let alone get inside the real bird.”
After two weeks of ground training, the students began utilizing the Harrier simulator. Inside, the students execute basic flight maneuvers such as takeoffs, landings, hovering and aerial flight patterns, said Pruden.
The students train for two hours during each simulator flight, executing each task until it becomes second nature, said Jerry W. Fitzgerald, a Harrier contract simulator instructor.
“These first few flights in the simulators are irreplaceable,” said Fitzgerald. “In these simulators, the students learn the skills that will make them a safe pilot and will save their lives in the case of an emergency.”
The simulators enable instructors to replicate nearly every possible emergency a Harrier pilot could face without ever actually endangering the pilot, said Fitzgerald.
As they progress, some find that the very capabilities that make the Harrier an indispensible asset to Marine expeditionary operations, poses a tough new challenge, but it’s one they must master.
“The vertical takeoff and landing in a Harrier is the hardest thing we have learned to date,” said 1st Lt. David C. Hawkins, a replacement pilot with VMAT-203.
With steady progression though, instructors expect the students to succeed.
“This course as a whole is a constant crawl, walk, run and sprint movement,” said Pruden.
Over the next few weeks, the students will work on perfecting basic skills, testing their knowledge and make their first live flight with a pilot trainer in the TAV-8B Harrier, a two-seated training aircraft.
Editors note: This is the first story in a monthly series about the VMAT-203 Harrier Pilots Course.