By Lt. Eric Scott
The "Big Red" of Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP) 19 have been hard at work over the last month with the arrival of their first aircraft in November and the qualification of their first aircrews in early December. These two accomplishments mark significant milestones on the road to VUP-19's first operational deployment, currently scheduled for mid-2018.
The month of November saw the delivery of the first MQ-4C Triton aircraft to the fleet, with VUP-19 receiving the aircraft at Naval Base (NB) Ventura County, California. The aircraft and associated maintenance support will be located at NB Ventura County, while aircrew and information technology support personnel will remain aboard Naval Air Station Jacksonville (NAS Jax).
While the maintenance personnel in California have been busy becoming accustomed to their new aircraft, aircrew members have been working diligently to become familiar with their new platform. The first week of December marked the qualification of VUP-19's first aircrew, completing an in-depth course teaching operators how to control the aircraft and its sensors through all mission sets.
Cmdr. Benjamin Stinespring, VUP-19 commanding officer, expressed his excitement about the milestone saying that, "The qualification of these operators and the arrival of our aircraft mark one of the most important steps toward reaching the squadron's safe for flight designation, and Triton's early operational capability."
The introduction of Triton to the fleet will provide the Navy with the ability to conduct round-the-clock intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance flights across the globe. This capability will give commanders and Sailors at sea an unprecedented capability to see their area of operations like never before.
"Operating this aircraft requires a completely different mindset from an operator's perspective," said AW1 Pete Aarons, one of VUP-19's newly qualified mission payload operators and a prior electronic warfare operator on the P-3C Orion aircraft.
"The area that we can cover, and the interchangeability between operators gives this system more capability and flexibility than anything I had experienced in my previous platform."
VUP-19 is a dual site command, with personnel located at NAS Jax and NB Ventura County. In the near future, Sailors from VUP-19 will be forward deployed to sites around the world in support of Triton operations. The first deployment for VUP-19 is scheduled to Guam in 2018.
Ultimately, VUP-19 will be operating aircraft simultaneously in the 4th, 5th, and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility.