By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alan Gragg, Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group Public Affairs
USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, At Sea (NNS) -- Pilots assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2 have trained rigorously over the past year, preparing for their turn to support Operation Enduring Freedom.
CVW-2, which is part of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, uses a four-level qualification system for strike fighter squadron (VFA) pilots to improve their mission readiness.
The qualifications are earned through various strike fighter weapons tactics flights, where the F/A-18 pilots learn each role of a pilot in a VFA squadron, said Lt. j.g. William Dann, assigned to the Bounty Hunters of VFA-2.
The four-level qualification process begins when a pilot graduates from the Fleet Replacement Squadron and is designated as a Level 1 pilot. During Level 2, a pilot checks into a unit and learns the roles of a combat wingman. Upon meeting those requirements, a pilot moves on to the combat lead training for Level 3.
Level 3, the combat lead, is where pilots take responsibility for a section of two aircraft. This level encourages pilots to further develop their leadership skills, by giving flight briefs to other pilots they will fly with, and requires even more preparation for their mission, said Lt. Cmdr. David Whitmer, assigned to the Vigilantes of VFA-151.
Level 4 is a step for pilots who have completed the combat lead requirements and can begin learning the responsibilities of leading a division of four aircraft.
"Before you move on to your next command, the goals is to have Level 4 complete, because that makes you a lot more useful to wherever you go next," said Dann.
Dann, who checked into VFA-2 in August, began his Level 2 qualifications and credited his squadron mates for getting him up to speed with the training and ready for deployment.
"I think they wanted to make sure I got all the right training first, specifically what we'll be doing in combat," said Dann. "Those are emphasized a lot more."
Each command's training officer is responsible for making sure each pilot is meeting their qualifications. senior pilots, who are qualified evaluators, grade the junior pilots and pass on useful information from their experiences.
"It's great that we have a lot of people in the squadron who have been on combat deployments before," said Dann. "They are the best sources for information. Most of them are Level 4 complete. They've done all this, and been through it before. Pretty much every flight you go on, you'll have a guy who has this level of experience and qualification."
The training frequently goes beyond the domain of the individual squadrons, and requires cohesive teamwork from the entire air wing.
For one squadron to qualify their pilots, other CVW-2 assets are used as mock adversary aircraft, simulating combat scenarios.
VFA-2, VFA-151, the Kestrels of VFA-137 and the Blue Blasters of VFA-34 represent the strike fighter squadrons assigned to CVW-2. The air wing is embarked aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), as part of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group.
The strike group is on a scheduled deployment to the
7th Fleet area of responsibility, conducting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. U.S.