SOUTH CHINA SEA (NNS) -- Sailors and Marines aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) conducted night vision device flight operations, April 12, to maintain pilot and crew qualifications and ensure readiness to support contingencies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
Using night vision devices (NVD), pilots and aircrew conducted takeoffs and recoveries of Navy MH-60S Sea Hawks, assigned to the "Blackjacks" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21, and Marine Corps MV-22B Ospreys, AV-8B Harriers and CH-53E Super Stallions, assigned to the "Ridge Runners" of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced).
Each aircraft brings a unique set of nighttime capabilities to the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
VMM 163's AV-8B detachment officer-in-charge, Maj. Jay Hanson, highlighted the importance of keeping qualifications current and said the multi-mission Harrier is well-equipped to operate at night.
"Maintaining our night vision device qualifications ensures our pilots can leverage all the advantages of flying at night," said Hanson, "which means the ARG/MEU is better prepared to meet a range of missions, from armed reconnaissance to close air support and power projection."
Hanson explained nighttime often presents more favorable conditions for pilots, including decreased air traffic, calmer air, and less radio activity. Yet even with NVDs, the darkness brings challenges that pilots and aircrew members do not have to deal with during daytime flight operations.
"The main challenges are restricted view," said Lt. Kevin Holland, an MH-60S pilot with HSC-21. "During the day you have all your peripherals at your disposal, whereas you lose that when using the NVDs. At night, your approaches, launches, recoveries and all other maneuvers that you normally take for granted, require a lot more effort, but I like the challenge."
Holland explained that pilots have to rely heavily on their aircrew in the limited visibility of night.
"You're seeing a small piece of the pie and they are in the back, constantly moving to give you the bigger picture. That's why we practice now, so we're ready and more comfortable operating at night when we get the call."
Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 1st Class Daniel Lloyd said nighttime operations can present the need for additional precautions on the flight deck as well.
"We always bring our 'A' game, but everyone up there pays especially close attention at night," said Lloyd. "NVDs are critical in maintaining a safe flight deck. Working under NVD conditions brings out the best in people."
Makin Island is the flagship of the Makin Island ARG, and with the embarked 11th MEU and Amphibious Squadron 5, is currently conducting maritime security operations and supporting theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
The 7th Fleet area of operations includes more than 48 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, running from the international dateline to the eastern coast of Africa, and from the Antarctic to the Kuril Islands, Northeast of Japan.
While in 7th Fleet, the Makin Island ARG and 11th MEU will be assigned to Commander, Amphibious Force U.S. 7th Fleet, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force, headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa.
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