Learning at Mach 1.8.
Waiting for the signal to take off was adrenaline-inducing; the anticipation of the flight ahead was exciting all by itself. But nothing compares to when the pilot puts the jet into full throttle and you’re slammed to the back of your seat as the pilot shoots the jet out of the gate. It’s something I’ll never forget.
This flight was the culmination of my experiential learning component for my major in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences (ATMOS), where I decided to do a career-focused internship at Naval Air Station Lemoore, in California. It took a week of intensive training to prepare my fellow midshipmen and I to ride “rear-seat” in an F/A-18F Super Hornet.
Getting Ready to Fly
Before we could get a chance to fly, however, we had to do safety training, specifically designed for the type of jet we were going to be in. The first thing we learned was the configuration of the backseat, such as the ejection seat which has seven individual straps to keep you firmly secured to the seat in case you eject from the jet. Simply riding in the Super Hornet has hazards, such as G-LOC, which stands for “G-Force Induced Loss of Consciousness.” As the name suggests, this causes passengers to lose consciousness due to the force of gravity outweighing your body’s ability to pump blood to the brain. We learned the Anti-G Straining Maneuver (AGSM) to combat this.
We then had to learn post-ejection safety and maneuvering techniques, such as how to untangle our parachutes and how to inflate our life vest in the event of an ejection over water. Lastly, we had to be medically cleared for flight activity. Now, we were ready to fly.
Flying With The Squadron
I was assigned to the Strike Fighter Squadron 122, the primary training squadron on base. The two-seat squadrons are designed to instruct Naval Flight Officers whose primary job is to ride full-time in the backseat of a two-seat plane, like Goose in the movie Top Gun. Because instructors would sometimes fly solo, the other Midshipmen and I had the opportunity to hop in the back. I was lucky and managed to get multiple flights in the F-18 jet, my first occurring only three days after I completed my initial training.
After takeoff, the jets do a “G-warmup,” where you pull seven G’s for a few seconds in order to familiarize your body to the rigors of naval aviation. Once the pilots have finished their training for the day, they are allowed to show off their flying skills. The pilots call this “raging,” and during this time we did some barrel rolls, quick turns, and low-level flying.
The Naval Search and Rescue Team
After my F-18 flights, I was able to do additional training with the Naval Search and Rescue team, SAR for short. I did two helicopter rides with them. During the first ride, I was assigned to be the “victim” of a car accident, where I was deposited into a hard-to-reach ravine for the SAR team to pull me out of. I was hoisted out of the ravine by helicopter, and to speed up the evacuation process, the helicopter began to travel forward before I was fully secured in the cabin. This meant I was flying through a valley, dangling from a helicopter, at high speed.
The second helicopter ride was much less thrilling. We flew to another base in Salinas, California. The Search and Rescue team were required to be stationed there while the F-18s were doing training events over the ocean, because the Salinas base is closer to the ocean and allows for a faster response time in the case of an accident. Once the F-18 training was over, we were allowed to return to the Lemoore base.
Flight Simulator and METOC
The naval aviators in training use a flight simulator several times a week because they need the practice, but don’t get to fly actual jets every day. I was allowed to go into the flight simulator and experience what it was like to not just ride in the F-18, but to pilot it as well.
Ultimately, while the life of a fighter pilot or flight officer is very enticing, I am still comfortable with my decision to be a Meteorologist and Oceanographer (METOC) for the Navy. I’m commissioning as an officer this spring, and my time at Naval Air Station Lemoore has helped me grow more confident in my decision to join the navy, and the career path I have in front of me.
Editor’s note: The Experiential Learning component is required for all ATMOS majors. You can help fund thrilling and educational experiences like Luke Reuschel’s by making a donation to ATMOS undergraduate education.