Naval aviators and naval flight officers from NAS Patuxent River hosted a group of 12 Midshipmen from the Capital Battalion Naval ROTC during a visit to the air station Nov. 7.
The Midshipmen — students from George Washington, Georgetown, Howard, and Catholic Universities — were selected for the excursion based on their interest in naval aviation and a desire to earn a commission as either pilots or naval flight officers.
“Some have expressed an interest in flight test and wanted to learn more about that as well,” said naval aviator Cmdr. Jake Williams, executive officer of the George Washington University Naval ROTC unit, who served as chaperone and admitted he “wouldn’t miss an opportunity to be close to naval aviation.”
The purpose of the trip was to give the Midshipmen a rare opportunity to speak directly to members of the developmental and operational test communities and see firsthand some of the aircraft and places they have learned about in the classroom.
The day’s agenda included a morning Pilot Q&A panel session, allowing for questions and answers that would help the Midshipmen walk away with greater insight into the career paths in which they are interested.
“We expected them to ask about flight school and what it’s like to go from college graduation commissioning to being a pilot to getting into a squadron,” said Cmdr. Ken Sheffield, Pax River Air Operations officer, who helped coordinate the event. “Instead, they asked a lot of questions about the operational and developmental test world and how flight testing gets done. That was a pleasant surprise for our panelists Lt. Cmdr. Topher Chapelle from Test Pilot School; Lt. Cmdr. Jocelyn Liberg, PMA-242; and Lt. Jillian Lewis and Lt. Samantha Sofge with VX-1.”
The panelists described their own experiences and what they’ve learned along the way; what worked and what didn’t.
“Another real benefit was that we were able to carve out enough time to have breakout sessions with individuals in smaller groups to interact face-to-face and help them understand what’s ahead of them,” Sheffield added. “And three out of four panelists being female pilots was a great example for the female Midshipmen.”
Later in the day, following a safety briefing from a crew chief who explained what to do in the case of an emergency or unplanned water landing, the Midshipmen were broken into groups of four and taken out for an orientation flight in an MH-60S helicopter flown by Pax River Search & Rescue pilot Lt. Wendy Zehner and co-pilot Lt. Elise Luers. After an aerial tour of the base, they flew out over the Chesapeake Bay and above Calvert Cliffs before returning to the airfield. They also toured Air Operations and visited the radar room, where they were able to ask more questions. Unexpectedly, they encountered a flu-shot clinic along the way, and a number of them took advantage of the opportunity.
Afterward, feedback from the Midshipmen and Williams was positive.
“The Midshipmen really enjoyed themselves and were grateful for the chance to get up close to naval aviation and experience just a glimpse of all it has to offer,” Williams said. “They also loved getting to speak at length with experienced pilots, NFOs and aircrewmen. Overall, they were impressed and would love to return to see more. We received warm welcomes from the base XO and the rest of our hosts and I could not be more thankful for the opportunity they provided. This was not my first visit to Pax River, and I’m always struck by just how much happens on this base.”