U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike) hosted future pilots for their first carrier qualifications (CQs).
CQs are an instrumental part of the naval aviation training process and the first time these prospective pilots will execute an arrested landing on an aircraft carrier.
While they are trained extensively in simulators and ground landings, this is the first time the pilots are faced with the very real circumstances they will someday encounter during combat missions.
They must pilot their T-45C Goshawk training jets into their first “trap,” a term for when a jet’s tail hook successfully catches the ship’s arresting cable.
To earn the qualification, the pilots are graded on 10 traps and four “touch-and-gos,” where they touch down on the flight deck and immediately take off again.
“We go through about a year and a half of training, and this is the culmination of that,” said Lt. j.g. James Botzer, a pilot-in-training assigned to the “Eagles” of Training Squadron (VT) 7 attached to Carrier Training Wing (CTW) 1. “It’s a little nerve-wracking. There are a lot of things you just can’t train for, such as the boat moving, winds, and keeping yourself calm.”
“Initial CQs are something you remember for a lifetime,” said Lt. Winston Likert, who has been an instructor for nearly two years, attached to the “Redhawks” of VT 21, but underway as an instructor with Ike to assist carrier qualifications. “I remember first seeing the carrier from 10 miles out, flying in, and thinking ‘I’m going to land on that?’ In preparation, students do about 350 landings in a carrier box painted on a runway, so it should be fairly familiar to them. But, there is just something different when you take away all that land, and replace it with sea surrounding a floating, moving object.”
Likert said the training has gone unusually well, with the flight deck still in prime condition following the ship’s deployment and the weather conditions favorable for training expediting the entire process. Upon gaining this qualification, the pilots face two more phases and only a few months of training before finally earning their wings.
“It minimizes the amount of time these young future pilots are on deck getting tired or getting in their own heads,” Likert said. “The quicker we can get them through and back to the beach, the better.”