SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) returned to San Diego Oct. 20 following a successful week of carrier qualifications for Training Squadron (VT) 4 off the coast of Southern California.
Bright orange and white training aircraft were a familiar sight on the flight deck of the Navy's newest aircraft carrier as the ship played a vital role in the training of the next generation of naval aviators.
"Carrier qualifications are just the first stage on the way to building a carrier aviator," said Cmdr. James Hineline, Ronald Reagan's air boss. "We start with something simple like these training planes and build to something more complex."
Hineline, a former commanding officer of the "Golden Eagles" from VT-22 based out of Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, said he understands firsthand the importance of this week of events.
"The students go out to the ships to do aircraft carrier qualifications about once every six weeks," explained Hineline. "They usually do the training a total of eight times a year. That goes along with all the other land-based training and classroom work they have to do."
Hineline said that most of the student pilots will ultimately become carrier aviators. But for that to become a reality, they must first undergo an intensive training regimen.
"Carrier qualifications are the last line in their student training," said Hineline. "So, it's either qualify or don't qualify."
Hineline added that the pilots will be taking a lot away from this week.
"Whether it's good experiences or bad, it has been a learning experience, and they will all be able to improve on their mistakes during their next round of carrier qualifications," he said.
Student aviators said they looked forward to the opportunity to land on an aircraft carrier for the first time.
"I was pretty excited when I took off from base," said Lt. j.g. Frank Parisi. "Once I got up in the air I was fine, until I saw the carrier. That's when I started to get nervous again."
As training continued throughout the week, the student aviators said they were able to get over the initial anxiety of landing on an aircraft carrier and concentrate on improving their skills.
"It builds your confidence a lot," said Parisi. "There's really no training that we can do on land that will ultimately prepare us for this. We just have to go out there and do it."
Hineline said he can still remember the first time that he landed on an aircraft carrier more than 20 years ago.
"I remember the first time that I made a touch-and-go on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier," said Hineline. "It was like 'holy smoke,' I just landed on an aircraft carrier. It was a very exciting experience and something I will never forget."
Comissioned in 2003, Ronald Reagan is the Navy's newest Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier.
For related news, visit the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn76/.