USS JOHN C. STENNIS, At Sea (NNS) -- Operating as part of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 embarked aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) during its 2007 deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation are 12 of the Navy's newest and most advanced aircraft: the F/A-18F Super Hornet.
The "Black Knights" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 154 have approximately 250 officers and Sailors to fly, maintain and support the most versatile aircraft aboard Stennis.
Since leaving San Diego Jan. 20, the Black Knights have supported Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and participated in two major exercises in the Persian Gulf.
"We've gone back and forth between OEF and OIF, and the flexibility our squadron has shown has been incredible," said Black Knights' Commanding Officer Cmdr. Michael Donnelly. "I think during this deployment, everybody has gained a huge appreciation for the influence naval aviation has on support and stability to the region."
The difference between the Super Hornet and its predecessor, the F/A-18C, can be seen in the aircraft's extra payload capacity for ordnance, additional fueling tanks and two-person cockpit. As a result, the Super Hornet is routinely scheduled for a myriad of missions, including reconnaissance, in-flight refueling, close-air support for troops on the ground and vital area control around the carrier.
"Our aircraft's flexibility has definitely been our squadron's calling card this deployment," said Lt. John Hiltz, Black Knights pilot. "We're all glad to be able to do a lot of different roles, and flying the newest platform on board aids us in that."
Although the Super Hornet comes with some of the Navy's latest and greatest technology, one of its biggest advantages as a strike fighter aircraft is its capacity for a second crew member, the weapons systems operator.
"The advantage we have is two air crewmen, and it allows us to become very specialized in these missions, particularly the air-to-ground role," said Donnelly, who is a weapons systems officer. "With two people, we can take in more information and process it a little more rapidly than with just one."
Despite the impressive air capabilities of their aircraft, Donnelly described some of the squadron's greatest accomplishments as the crew's individual achievements. He said the Black Knights have had outstanding enlisted aviation warfare qualification participation, the largest on-board college enrollment for a West-Coast squadron and a 39 percent advancement rate on the most recent advancement cycle.
"The whole deployment has been a fantastic opportunity for everybody in the squadron," said Donnelly. "Being able to work as a team and getting to see the progress in these missions and know we're making a difference in the stability here has been a huge benefit to everyone. I really think everyone sees the importance their involvement plays in the region."
As the end of CVW-9 and Stennis' deployment draws closer, VFA-154 continues to fly combat missions in support of OEF and OIF. Their participation in the mission and the ship's support for their crew members while embarked is just one of many good examples of the relationship between an aircraft carrier and an embarked air wing squadron.
For more news from USS John C. Stennis, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn74/.