Naval aviation community adapts, executes 'VHook ‘20'

The U.S. Navy’s newest naval flight officer and naval aviators receive their coveted Wings of Gold during a ceremony at the National Naval Aviation Museum as part of the 2020 Virtual Tailhook Symposium Sept. 12.

The Tailhook Association held its first virtual symposium this year, hosted from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, Sept. 11-12. Virtual Hook 2020, dubbed vHook ’20, featured leaders from around naval aviation participating in panels or giving presentations from the museum or via remote links from their homes as viewers watched live online.

The association had planned to hold its annual conference at its usual location in Reno, Nevada, but organizers shifted to a virtual event to comply with Navy policy and CDC guidance on mitigations against the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Tailhook symposium planners converted the National Naval Aviation Museum into a backdrop for discussions around the most urgent developments and trajectory of naval aviation. The association focused this year’s symposium on naval air training with several panels of senior leaders, veterans and association members discussing past, present and future training curriculum, equipment and innovations. The symposium also featured senior leader discussions on the current and future states of naval aviation and its increasingly important role in maintaining credible combat power in a new era of great-power competition.

Vice Adm. DeWolfe “Bullet” Miller III, Commander, Naval Air Forces, and the Navy’s eighth Air Boss, led this year’s Flag and General Officer panel that included Lt. Gen. Mark Wise, Deputy Commandant for Aviation, Headquarters Marine Corps; Vice Adm. Dean Peters, Commander, Naval Air Systems Command; Rear Adm. John Meier, Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic; Rear Adm. Gregory Harris, Director, Air Warfare Division, N98, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations; Rear Adm. Scott Jones, Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve; Rear Adm. Richard Brophy, Commander, Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center; Rear Adm. Robert Westendorff, Chief of Naval Air Training; Rear Adm. Lance Scott, Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group Pacific; and Rear Adm. Alvin Holsey, Director, Task Force One Navy. Among other topics, the senior leaders discussed the carrier air wing of the future.

“I’ll never stop saying it: the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is one of the 11 most survivable airfields in the world,” said Harris. “You put on top of that a flexible carrier air wing, supported by a carrier strike group and all the capabilities that are resident with our flight III DDGs and the rest of our systems, you have an amazing capability that is able to strike at range, at depth and with volume.”

Harris also mentioned how the next-generation air dominance family of systems will enable carrier strike groups to decisively strike targets at range in a contested environment.

Wrapping up the flag panel, Miller reflected on his 44-year career in the Navy through recounting his recent visit to his former ship USS Midway, now a museum ship in San Diego. “Last weekend we rechristened the ship, which made me feel a little old because it was my first ship in the fleet,” he said.

“Standing on my old ship, looking around at all the retired platforms—the A-1 Skyraider, the A-4Es and S3s — naval aviation’s adaptability was right in front of me,” continued Miller. “As our capabilities and platforms evolve, we evolve quickly, and the training has always evolved quickly.” He also noted naval aviation’s audacious and dogged innovation and culture of training excellence.

While the platforms may have changed, “what hasn’t changed is the deep-rooted determination of naval aviation’s Sailors and Marines,” said Miller.

The panel was more emotional this year than usual, because it was the final one for Miller before he retires in October. His fellow admirals and general shared their thanks for his decades of service and passed on well wishes to him and his family.

Many admirals sat on more than one panel. Peters also chaired the Future Readiness panel leading a discussion among Meier, Harris, Russell Blauw, Assistant Deputy Commandant for Aviation, Headquarters Marine Corps, and Rear Adm. Joseph Noble Jr., Commander, Naval Supply Systems Command Weapons Systems Support. The panel focused on new concepts that have provided boosts to readiness over the last year. Meier recounted the success of the commercial-inspired Maintenance Operations Center (MOC)/Aircraft-on-Ground (AOG) cell that has provided incredible value to readiness by turning around long-term downed aircraft. Peters also emphasized the importance of data transparency and reliability to future readiness.

VHook ’20 included three panels specifically devoted to training with one each for past, present and future discussions.

Westendorff summarized the important technological developments for all flight students discussed during the symposium during the Flag and General Officer panel, “Bottom line, CNATRA is using all modern technology so we can increase the capability of our students and their higher fidelity combat aviation skills in the fleet.”

In addition to the many panels and discussions, the virtual conference included a winging ceremony. Virtual attendees watched as two pilots, Lt. j.g. Nicholas Mascaro and Lt. j.g. Thomas Fogwell, and a naval flight officer, Lt. j.g. Christine Walker, received their coveted wings of gold at the National Naval Aviation Museum.

Adm. Mike Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, gave the closing address of the event, opening his remarks with praise for naval aviation’s response to the pandemic. “This virtual event is a testament to the strong, adaptive spirit of naval aviation,” he said.

“It has been a challenging year for our Navy and for our nation,” continued Gilday. “Yet, in every moment, you rose to the occasion. Whether it was strike group extensions, record-setting days at sea, flexing deployment schedules or keeping the training pipeline open, you always remain ready and overhead, keeping America safe and the seas free and open.”

The service chief closed by stating, “Naval aviation will play a vital role and new platforms like the Ford-class carrier, the F35, the Osprey and the MQ-25 will take our Navy and our nation far into the future. As we test and incorporate new technologies, one thing is for certain, we will need that same bold, aggressive spirit of naval aviation to help chart our course.”

The Tailhook Association plans to make videos of various presentation from the symposium available on its website soon.

The Tailhook Symposium is an annual event run by the Tailhook Association — an independent, nonprofit organization supporting aircraft carrier and other sea-based aviation.

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