NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- An F/A-18E Super Hornet lets out a burst of exhaust, rippling and shimmering like the hot Middle Eastern air it once flew through. But when it lands, the jet, belonging to the Gunslingers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 105, touches down not on their "home air field" - USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), currently undergoing maintenance at a nearby shipyard - but at Naval Air Station Oceana.
The eight aircraft that make up the squadron operate from early in the morning until long in to the night. While in the maintenance phase of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP), the Gunslingers have turned their attention from leading strikes toward training and maintenance.
"When we're out in the Arabian Gulf and operational, there's a certain amount of inherent danger that comes with the job," said Cmdr. Erik Stinson, VFA-105's executive officer. "Back at shore we can maintain a peace of mind and truly focus all our attention on training safely and efficiently. Now is our chance to get our crew and our equipment healthy."
Upon returning from deployment in 2016, the 14 pilots and more than 200 crewmembers of VFA-105 changed their mission and focus. Back in Oceana, there are opportunities to do intensive maintenance on jets and assign experienced crewmembers to other squadrons needing more expertise.
"We're definitely not as lethal as we were on deployment," said Lt. David Klotz , a pilot assigned to VFA-105. "The good thing is we don't have to be. As a squadron, you're in a constant rotation of either being the best trained and most capable, or having plenty of time to work on baseline skills, training and maintenance. We've passed on the torch to the next set of pilots but we never forget that this downtime is setting the tone for the next deployment."
Free from the concerns of being on deployment, the crew is able to run a fine-toothed comb through all aspects of squadron life. While on deployment, the Gunslingers have the responsibility of providing airpower as needed by commanders. This double-sided obligation means that if even one jet isn't ready to fly, the entire air wing feels the burden.
"The work we're doing now may not look as detrimental, but a missed maintenance check now could mean a jet is down on deployment," said Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Corbin Hunt. "We're ensuring that we don't cause more work for ourselves down the road. This is our chance to take our time and do it right."
While the pace has slowed, the down time for VFA-105 will soon draw to an end. Over time, the Gunslingers will begin to ramp up the training. Instead of focusing on baseline qualification, the crew will work harder and faster to become as mission ready as possible. They will fly more and point their aircraft back to the seas.
"While it's nice to have a break and be able to rest and recover, I think we're all getting antsy to get back out to the fight," said Lt. Brian McNamara , a pilot assigned to VFA-105. "Soon it will be our turn to be the most senior qualified and that's when it's the most fun."
VFA-105 is part of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3, the air warfare commander for Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 10, also known as the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group.
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