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Navy pilots back in Roswell

Navy instructor pilots and Navy and Marine trainees will have flown about 700 sorties by the time this year’s training wraps up Thursday. Standing near the T-6B Texan II aircraft at the Roswell Air Center are, from left, Commander Ahren Thornton, Ensign Max Barrowclough and Lt. Commander Jeffrey Laird. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The Roswell skies and airfield offer “efficient flying” for Navy instructor pilots and their trainees, so two squadrons from Training Air Wing 4 are back to get in as many training flights, or sorties, as possible in a short period of time.

According to Commander Ahren Thornton and Lt. Commander Jeffrey Laird, members of Squadron 28, their group and Squadron 27 will fly about 50 missions a day for 14 days — through Feb. 13 — as they use the Roswell Air Center for part of the primary pilot training young Navy and Marine officers undergo before advancing in their instruction.

Laird explained that it is not just the weather that brings the squadrons here from their home at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, each winter, but numerous other factors such as long runways and the light traffic at the airfield and in the skies.

“It is very efficient flying for us,” he said. “We can be in the air quickly and doing maneuvers for a long time. A lot of other places, it takes a lot of time just to get into the air.”

He also added that typically pilots can see the ground 75% of the time, which helps them with the various maneuvers and skills they need to learn. The weather in Corpus Christi this time of year, Thornton said, can be fogged in four to five days a week.

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The Training Air Wing 4 presence — which this year includes 30 trainees, about 20 instructors and a crew of mechanics — means a boost for the airfield and local hotels, restaurants and businesses.

Thornton and Laird said that they appreciate the extra effort and overtime that Roswell Air Center employees, Federal Aviation Administration air controllers and AV Flight employees put into making their training go as smoothly as possible.

But for trainees such as Ensign Max Barrowclough, originally from San Diego, California, the time in Roswell means enhanced training.

“It is going well,” he said. “It is a lot of fun to fly every day. You get really good really quickly. And everything is real close here. It is five minutes to get where you are going, so you can get a lot done.”

The trainees are flying east toward Artesia and do “touch and go’s at the Artesia airport. Laird said the training includes not only landings, but acrobatics, navigation training and map reading, and instrument training. Trainees work basically “around the clock,” every day of the week, either flying or preparing to fly.

They need about 43 training events before they can go to the next level. Barrowclough said that could be helicopters, marine security or jet fighters for him, depending on future training spots and his aptitude and preferences.

Having so few days in Roswell this year, the instructors don’t expect to meet with youth or college groups as they had time to do last year, when they were in Roswell for more than two months. But they were scheduled for a “meet and greet” with local officials on Monday afternoon.

Thornton said that Training Air Wing 4 hopes to return every year and typically knows in November or December if the budget will allow for that.

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