PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (NNS) -- Lt. Cmdr. Tom Hole, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 Carrier Suitability department head at Naval Air Station Patuxent River has one goal when flying field carrier landing practices (FCLPs) -- getting his aircraft to land on and take-off from a simulated carrier landing deck, hitting it perfectly every time. There isn't a carrier to practice on when Hole is flying FCLPs here, so the naval air station's runways are his simulated landing areas where he and all Pax River test pilots practice their FCLPs, also known as touch and goes or "bounces."
Practicing FCLPs provides Hole with crucial real-life preparation before going out to the carrier, so the training is just as critical and the timing, altitude and speed still need to be perfect.
"FCLPs are the foundation of carrier aviation," Hole said. He has flown F/A-18s for 12 years and completed 2,500 FCLPs throughout his aviation career. "Before any naval aviator, no matter how senior, goes to the boat, he must complete several FCLP periods at the field. A new pilot might need 12 to 16 FCLP periods before going to the boat, where a more senior pilot might only need four FCLP periods, but all pilots do them. They are the most realistic training we can get except the runway is 10,000 feet by 200 feet wide, versus a carrier deck that is only 700 feet by 100 feet."
Field carrier landing practices are a series of touch-and-goes, which are observed by a landing signal officer who grades and critiques each landing. When the aircraft then goes out to the carrier, an LSO also grades every landing and touch and go on the carrier, whether on a training or overseas deployment. A normal FCLP consists of about eight to 12 touch-and-goes and lasts about 45 minutes. Usually, two to four aircraft fly during an FCLP.
"If you do the math, four airplanes with 10 touch-and-goes each equal 40 touch-and-goes in 45 minutes," Hole explained. "That's a lot higher rate than non-FCLP periods, which we usually run here at Patuxent River." Hole said there are some differences between FCLPs and touch-and-goes, however, especially those flown at NAS Patuxent River.
"The normal landing pattern at Patuxent River is 1,000 feet above ground level, but when we do FCLPs, the pattern is lowered to 600 feet," Hole explained. "The approach to landing at the ship is a remarkably precise evolution, so the airspeed, altitude and power are all precisely choreographed in order to arrive behind the ship within an acceptable window to land on the deck."
FCLPs require aircraft to fly at 600 feet versus 1,000 feet because it is so important to get that real-life training. This may account for some neighbors seeing aircraft flying lower than usual and therefore, experience more noise.
"FCLPs are concentrated periods of touch and goes, but each period is limited to 45 minutes and we typically schedule only two periods per day," Hole said. "Also, whenever we conduct FCLPs, we try and get the word out to the surrounding communities to keep them aware of our operations, especially those that are not routine to NAS Patuxent River."
A toll-free Noise Disturbance Hotline has been established. That number is 1-866-819-9028.
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