U.S. Navy Capt. Kevin Delano says Roswell can speed up training for Navy and Marine pilots this time of year, thanks to the city’s airfield and the area’s good weather.
The commodore of Training Air Wing 4, part of the Chief of Naval Air Training unit, describes Roswell as a “morale boost,” and not only for the welcome signs along Main Street and in some local businesses, although he said those are appreciated.
More importantly, clear skies are helping student and instructor pilots training at the Roswell International Air Center meet their goals at a time that weather conditions at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, often have them grounded.
The Corpus Christi area is prone to fog, low clouds, limited visibility and unpredictable weather during the early months of the year, Delano said.
“We’ve had fantastic weather for the first 10 days we’ve been here,” he said. “It really gives us time to fly consistently. We get many flights out. … It helps us be much more efficient here in Roswell. We aren’t worrying about the weather near as much.”
Navy and Marine student pilots arrived Jan. 20 and will be here until late March, along with 50 instructor pilots and 45 contract mechanics, or maintainers. During the next two months, 100 student pilots are expected, with new trainees coming in as the first trainees complete their primary flight training and progress to another level.
The students — recent college graduates from all over the United States and a group that includes about 12 women — have already taken ground school, but now they are learning to pilot a T6B Texan aircraft as one of the first steps in their military aviation careers.
“They all hit primary as their first opportunity to train on the airplane,” explained Delano. “They go from having pretty much no experience, kind of getting out to the airplane for the first time, until we solo them. They get three solos by themselves. And then we finish them up and then move them up to an advanced trainer.”
Based on their experiences during training and their desires, they either will continue at Corpus Christi for multi-engine aircraft training, head to Texas or Mississippi for jet training, or go to Florida for helicopter training.
Delano said that the training wing aims to do 100 missions a day while in Roswell, Monday through Saturday, from about 6 a.m. until about 11 p.m. Both students and instructor pilots are restricted to about 12 hours of flight time a day. Student pilots typically will do one or two events a day, while instructors will fly two or three times daily.
Delano said a key to training is for students to fly almost every day. When they have to sit out a few days at a time because of bad weather, they tend not to retain as much, he said.
Delano called the situation a “win-win” for Roswell and the training group. Training Air Wing 4 benefits from not only the mild weather but from relatively clear air space and the fact that other airfields are nearby so pilots can practice maneuvers. Meanwhile, Roswell’s traffic controllers are able to train or hone their skills. The Roswell International Air Center also reaps some benefit as the Federal Aviation Administration considers airfield usage when making some of its funding decisions. Local businesses on and off the airfield also see some customers. All told, the Navy training is expected to contribute at least $1 million to the local economy.
AV Flight, a fixed-base operator at the airfield, has been hosting Navy training groups since at least 2010, said its operations manager Cassandra Melendez. The company provides fuel and some office and hangar space.
“It is always a pleasure to have them here,” she said. “They are always very nice and polite. … They just give a lot to the economy whenever they come.”
Although Delano said the group does not have plans at the current time to meet with local civic groups or schools, he isn’t ruling out that possibility. And while the pilots and mechanics stay busy, they do have Sundays for their own pursuits.
“Their primary focus is to be here and fly and train,” he said. “They do have a little window to get out and do some things like hikes, which I heard a few of them mention, or some other things.”
He said he makes it a point to welcome all student pilots to Training Air Wing 4 and is pleased to see that they come from a cross-section of the country and with a strong commitment to their goals.
“I always think one of the more important things to ask them is, why are they here. Why are they part of naval aviation, Marine Corps aviation? It is always interesting to hear their answers. Family legacies. Be a part of something bigger and more important than the average thing. Be out and serve their country. … They are all pretty excited about being here.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.