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By Navy Cmdr. T. R. Tennille
DCMA Boeing St. Louis
Defense Contract Management Agency Boeing St. Louis recently delivered its eighth, and final, F/A-18E Super Hornet to Strike Fighter Squadron 192, or VFA-192, in early April. F/A-18E Super Hornet E320 is the second to last Block II Super Hornet to be produced, with the final Block II aircraft slated to roll out in early May.
The delivery was successfully accomplished through a creative and dedicated DCMA team effort. Due to social distancing concerns, in reaction to the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic, the aircrew did not use traditional commercial air travel, instead working through the contractor and program office to secure a second aircraft to provide chase support and safe return travel.
The flight profile had the two Super Hornets fly formation from St. Louis, executing one refueling stop along the way. Upon arrival at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, the delivery aircraft was dropped off, while the second chase aircraft was prepped to allow both pilots to fly safely home using the aft seat for the pilot of the delivered aircraft.
The receiving command, the Golden Dragons of VFA-192, is in the middle of the traditional Navy work up cycle preparing for their deployment next year. They are slated to start the rigorous pre-deployment training cycle this month and need their full allotment of aircraft — 10 in total. This delivery, along with a similar delivery the previous week, marked the eighth aircraft delivered to VFA-192 from the production factory in St. Louis over the past year, and completes their 10 aircraft requirement.
“These last two deliveries were critical in ensuring our success moving forward in [our] Optimized Fleet Response Plan, in preparation for our upcoming deployment. The final two brought us to our RBA (ready basic aircraft) of 10 Strike Fighters, ensuring mission readiness to conduct sustained combat operations against the enemy,” stated Navy Lt. Michael Cashen, the maintenance material control officer for the Golden Dragons.
This statement was echoed by Navy Capt. Paul Filardi, the DCMA Boeing St Louis commanding officer and an F/A-18 weapons system officer. “It is so important for DCMA to continue to deliver aircraft and products to the fleet, even under these unusual circumstances. Working across the agency and with the program office, we've developed safe and effective ways to both keep our aircrew safe and get the much needed assets out into the field.”
Multiple additional aircraft from across the agency were also delivered within the same week, including two AH-1Z Vipers, two UH-60M Black Hawks, two F/A-18D Hornets, and two F-35A Lightning II aircraft. These deliveries also required creative problem solving for the travel involved, to include military air travel requests, chase aircraft and pre-positioning of rental cars.
The Vipers, an upgraded version of the Marine Corps Cobra attack helicopter, were delivered from Bell Textron in Amarillo, Texas, to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267 based at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. The delivery aircrew requested travel assistance through the Joint Operational Support Airlift Center, and they were supported by a military return flight on a UC-35 Cessna Citation.
“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures and each of these commands, like others across the agency, have risen to that occasion during these COVID-19 travel restrictions,” said Navy Capt. Ryan Batchelor, DCMA Aircraft Operations director. “I asked each of the agency delivery crews to think outside the box and use their honed critical thinking skills to come up with creative solutions that balance the need for operational squadrons to receive aircraft with the health and safety of our delivery crews.
“The solutions involving chase aircraft, or utilizing other military units to provide DCMA delivery crews safe passage back to their home base, allow delivery crews to avoid potentially risky hotel stays and commercial air flights while still completing the mission,” Batchelor continued. “This aligns with DCMA’s motto of ‘Mission First and People Always’ and is a testimony to the agility and flexibility of the agency and other military units during these challenging times. In all, 36 different aircraft have been delivered to the fleet under COVID-19 travel restrictions, meeting many urgent operational needs.”
Marine Corps Col. Victor Argobright, DCMA Bell Textron commanding officer, said it’s critical to get the aircraft to the fleet for both readiness and support of real-world operational requirements.
“The creative thinking of the Marines and the [Aviation Program Team] in Amarillo enabled us to complete our mission on time while mitigating the risk and exposure to COVID-19,” Argobright said. “It’s this type of ‘can do’ attitude that we need to succeed in times like this.”
The F/A-18E/F Block II production line is winding down with the projected delivery of the final aircraft, E322, to Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia, later this month.
“The importance of the next Block II F/A-18E delivery cannot be understated,” said Filardi. “When we deliver the final lot 42 F/A-18E it will mark a major milestone for the F/A-18 line which included a run of over 600 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers in the Block II configuration.”
After the final delivery, the production line will then begin rolling out Super Hornets for the Kuwaiti Air Force and then transitioning to provide upgraded Block III F/A-18E/F’s, incorporating Advanced Crew Stations, and improved avionics such as Large Area Displays.
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