MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- Strike Fighter Squadron-102 from Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., recently arrived here for a two-week training session.
The unit is a conversion squadron that recently phased out the F-14 "Tomcats" for the FA-18E/F "Superhornet" attack fighter jets.
According to Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gamache, VFA-102 assistant operations officer, the squadron is currently getting pilots qualified for aircraft-carrier landing. The squadron has a follow-on assignment of supporting an aircraft carrier's flight deck certification. Additionally, the pilots are practicing air-to-air combat in the desert's clear skies.
"We came here because Yuma has good weather and good ranges. Since we've arrived, the support has been excellent," said Gamache.
The "Diamondbacks," as VFA-102 is known, came here for training due to adverse weather conditions in Lemoore, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Priebe, an aviation structural mechanic. Too many training flights had to be cancelled due to fog, and Yuma not only had the right weather conditions but was the only place that could accommodate the units' approximately 160 personnel.
Compared to the F-14, the FA-18E/F is a dream to work on, according to Petty Officer 2nd Class Jorge Gonzalez, an aviation ordnanceman. The plane is easier to work with, larger than the F-14, more maneuverable, has the same amount of weapons stations and can handle a wider variety of ordnance.
VFA-102 was required to re-qualify as a unit when it converted to the new plane, said Priebe, an aviation structural mechanic. All inspections were passed and the last few months have been devoted to training the pilots.
"We've been operating at a high tempo," he said. "But the whole squadron has stayed ahead of the pace and we're ready for anything."
"I've been working on airplanes for eight years now and this is my 4th squadron," Gonzalez said. "This squadron has a high level of camaraderie and communication, and if we're called to help in the efforts overseas, we're ready to go in a heartbeat."
Unit members are enjoying their stay in Yuma, said Priebe.
"I like the weather and the facilities here," he said. "I was impressed by the gym and the base theater. The bar here is much better than the one at (Naval Air Station Lemoore)."
"We'd like to thank (Marine Corps Air Station Yuma) for allowing us the chance to train here," Gonzalez said. "It's always nice to see other bases than just the one you serve at."