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Navy pilots finding a way to fly through pandemic

Altered schedules and more precautions keep them airborne
flight operations
Posted at 9:52 AM, Jun 23, 2020

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, but it hasn’t slowed down the mission of Naval aviators in Hampton Roads.

That’s the message from Rear Admiral John Meier, Commander of Naval Air Forces Atlantic.

“I’m enormously impressed with the resiliency of our Sailors working through this environment.”

Meier spoke with News 3 anchor Todd Corillo Monday from the flight line at Naval Air Station Oceana while visiting the Gladiators of Strike Fighter Squadron 106.

Recently, VFA-106 certified pilots for carrier qualifications on the Navy’s newest active aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford.

It’s a ship Rear Admiral Meier is familiar with, having served as Commanding Officer of the Ford before commissioning.

“It is exciting to see the progress on Ford. After some early delays in the program, she’s made tremendous strides here in terms of schedule and performance. [That includes] the Advanced Weapons Elevators which the crew is now operating and during her last at sea period actually loading ordnance, putting it on aircraft, flying it off, and taking it off and taking it out to the training ranges for our pilots to train.”

The Navy has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with outbreaks on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Kidd sidelining those ships for a time.

Leadership is now working across the sea service to balance continuing operations with slowing the spread of the virus.

“All of our commands in the Navy are going through some form of mitigation to minimize the spread and impact of COVID. What we’ve seen here in our shore commands in particular is that they are able to adjust their work schedules such that they can continue to fly and continue to do the necessary training,” Meier said.

“When we do have positives, and we’ve had a number of positive cases, we make sure we identify through contact tracing who they may have been in contact with, and then we isolate those Sailors as well,” he added. “So far we’ve been very successful in that regard and are continuing to meet all of our production and training goals.”

Managing the pandemic and operational demands of the Navy has required coordination, teamwork, and diligence from all stakeholders.

“It is imperative that we operate and that we train, and we prepare for war on a daily basis in how we train our folks. All of us pray that war never comes, but it’s is imperative on us to continue to do that even in challenging times with COVID right now,” Meier explained.

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