By Kaylee LaRocque

NAS Jacksonville Public Affairs Officer

Several families living near Outlying Landing Field (OLF) Whitehouse, were invited to the airstrip to learn about pilot carrier qualifications May 10.

The Scarborough and Ellis families are willing landowners who allowed the Navy to purchase easement/development rights to their property near OLF Whitehouse following the guidance of a multi-year agreement that the Navy has with the City of Jacksonville.  

This effort falls under the Department of Defense's Readiness and Environmental Integration (REPI ) Program. The REPI Program is a key tool for combating encroachment that can limit or restrict military training, testing, and operations. The program protects operational and training missions by helping to remove or avoid land-use conflicts near installations and addressing regulatory restrictions that inhibit military activities. 

The REPI Program is administered by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. A key component of the program is the use of buffer partnerships among military services, private conservation groups, and state and local governments, authorized by Congress. These win-win partnerships share the cost of acquisition of easements or other interests in land from willing sellers to preserve compatible land uses and natural habitats near installations and ranges that helps sustain critical, at-risk military mission capabilities.  While REPI's primary mission is to protect military readiness, REPI also benefits the environment by conserving land near military installations and ranges.

"The willingness of private citizens like the Ellis and Scarborough families allows NAS Jacksonville to prevent encroachment of the Navy's facilities and installations," explained Matt Schellhorn, NAS Jacksonville community planning liaison officer. "Encroachment is any external factor that inhibits military readiness, including but not limited to the growing competition for land, airspace, waterfront access, and frequency spectrum. Incompatible land uses can significantly impact critical, at-risk military mission capabilities at different scales over time."

NAS Jacksonville Executive Officer Capt. Michael Connor hosted the group as they watched Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 120 pilots conduct carrier-landing qualifications. VAW-120 is the Navy's fleet replacement squadron for carrier airborne early warning squadrons flying the E-2C Hawkeye and fleet logistics support squadrons flying the C-2A Greyhound aircraft.

Connor, a former F/A-18 pilot, explained the importance of the training at OLF Whitehouse. 

"Everything they are doing today - the pattern altitude and distances is exactly how flight operations are conducted on an aircraft carrier. These evolutions are very precise," he said. "This evolution is called, field carrier landing practice. Before aircrew can report to a carrier, they have to fly a number of simulated carrier landings based on their flying experience. About 40 percent of these landings will be during the day and 60 percent at night."

He also stressed the challenges of carrier landings. "Obviously, landing on a ship is very difficult, especially when it's moving in rough seas and at night," said Connor. "So we use these training periods to prepare for landings at sea. That's why OLF Whitehouse is so valuable. We don't have a dense population out here so the pilots can practice the same altitudes as they would fly from a ship and they can practice night time landings in a realistic environment."

The group was quite excited to witness the landings and learn about OLF Whitehouse flight operations. "I love when they are flying out here. It's like my own private air show," said Lisa Scarborough.  Participation of these patriotic families is important because our nation's readiness depends on ensuring our installations and ranges provide realistic training and effective weapon systems testing. 

"If military installations are to remain active and contributing economic participants in their communities, the installations must have the space necessary to successfully accomplish their test and training missions," said Schellhorn. 

VAW-120 landing signal officers grade, analyze and debrief the pilots on every pass they conduct on the field during the training evolution. As the pilots complete their training with VAW-120, they are assigned to one of the Navy's operational E-2 or C-2 squadrons based at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu, California or Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.