Capt. Pete Nette, commanding officer of Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP), shared his experiences as a Navy pilot with young aviation enthusiasts of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Charles Composite Squadron on July 7. Nette discussed some the unique aspects of flight operations on aircraft carriers and shared videos that presented how it all looks from the deck and from the cockpit.
CAP is the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force; established in 1941, the CAP participates in aerospace education, emergency services and a cadet program for young people ages 12 through 21. The cadet program promotes aviation knowledge, leadership training, physical fitness, ethics and offers participants the opportunity to achieve scholarships. Cadets can also earn credit toward officer status or receive advanced enlisted rank if they decide to join the Air Force.
Charles Composite Squadron leadership, which includes senior cadets, began the meeting with a formation and continued with Capt. Carlos Montague, commander of Charles Composite Squadron, discussing the cadets’ recent test scores and a quick lesson on how cadets should use the chain of command.
Capt. Dennis Chappell, deputy commander of Charles Composite Squadron introduced Nette and added to the lesson by quizzing cadets about Navy rank structure. “I like Navy aviators,” he said. “They’re really cool and they think in three dimensions. They have a really tough job.”
The cadets, whose enthusiasm for all things aviation was contagious, already knew a thing or two about the C-2A Greyhounds and ES-3A Shadows Nette piloted.
“It’s an arrested hook cargo plane,” said Chris O’Connell, cadet commander and a soon-to-be college freshman, describing the Greyhound. “It’s like a C-130 for carriers.”
The cadets knew a little less about the role of the Shadows. “It was electronic reconnaissance, like an Air Force RC-135,” said Nette. “It listens and picks up signals. It was a carrier-based platform and it could also give gas. It had four seats and was ejection seat equipped. Everybody [could be out] in less than a second.”
But the topic that dominated the meeting is how Navy aviators and their shipmates manage the complicated, white knuckling process of flight operations on a carrier. “[Nette] logged 2850 hours and 430 arrested landings on 18 different aircraft carriers,” said Chappell. “I’ve had the opportunity to be out on carriers a couple of times with operations going on and live ordnance. It’s one of the most exciting things you could possibly see in your life.”
Nette presented some harrowing videos of Navy pilots taking off from and landing on a pitching aircraft carrier. He described the mechanics of the steam catapults that launch aircraft from the deck, as well as the precautions pilots take in case they fail. “Every time you go off the catapult, you’ve got to go full power in case it breaks,” he said.
Most important of all, at least when it comes to avoiding having to employ those high-powered ejection seats, was the teamwork of all involved. Bringing all the moving parts together successfully requires immense coordination that extends well beyond pilots themselves.
Nette also described one of the perks of operating on an aircraft carrier, namely, almost always being able to take off and land into the prevailing wind. That is not always the case for Air Force pilots who take off from land runways and must at times contend with crosswind.
In between videos, Nette discussed some of the ways a young person could prepare for a career as a Navy pilot by “keeping your options open” and focusing on higher education. “I got an electrical engineering degree,” he said. “My buddy got a nursing degree; another got a history degree,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter as long as you have a passion.”
Nette encouraged the cadets with dreams of becoming a pilot to pursue them. “No matter what service you join, flying is fun.”
On that point, several cadets were already in full agreement. O’Connell already has pilot license and wants to fly F-15s in the Air Force. He spoke highly of the skills and knowledge he gained as a member of Charles Composite Squadron. “I got leadership skills that I couldn’t get anywhere else,” he said. “I don’t know where you can get that kind of leadership training. In [school] classes you have a teacher and in sports you’re just playing sports. Here you have an actual chain of command. Everybody has their responsibility.”
O’Connell added that the mentoring he received as a member of the North Point High School Junior ROTC was also valuable and he puts those lessons to use at the Charles Composite Squadron. “When you get older you have to develop younger cadets,” he said. “I had a lot of I hope that I was a good leader in my year and a half as the cadet commander here. I learned a lot about taking care of my people. If they’re not progressing, I’m not a good leader.”
Per Nette’s advice, however, he keeps his aviation goals flexible. “I want to be an Eagle driver, an F-15 pilot,” said O’Connell, who weighs being a fighter pilot with the flight hours that come with less glamorous platforms, such as tankers.
During the videos, Nette talked about the finer points of landing on a pitching carrier deck and showed cadets what the process looked like during daylight and nighttime operations. Later, cadets and squadrons leaders examined the flight gear Nette brought to the meeting, asking him questions about flying for the Navy and in general. Some wanted to fly fixed-wing aircraft; others were considering flying helicopters.
When Nette played a video of the Navy’s X-47B unmanned aerial system (UAS) conducting flight operations from a carrier, he received questions about the future of manned flight. “This is the future. one day, hopefully not too soon,” said Nette.
After members of the squadron thanked Nette and presented him with a certificate of distinction, the group chatted about all things aviation.
While all of the cadets gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for Navy aviation, many members of the group maintained a fierce loyalty to the Air Force.
“The Navy is a good choice, if that’s your thing,” said O’Connell, smiling. “Growing up in the Air Force it couldn’t work for me. Landing on those wires, I guess that’s cool. The problem is they have to live on that boat for months at a time.”
No matter. The camaraderie and friendly competition among those who fly in defense of the nation has been a defining feature of U.S. military aviation as long as anyone can remember. The process of passing on that heritage to the next generation continued unabated over cake, soda, stories and smiles.