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VMA-513 prepares, practices precision

By Pfc. Robert L. Botkin | | January 26, 2006

Marine Attack Squadron 513 is taking the time it has prior to its upcoming deployment to Iraq to prepare on station for the conditions it may face there.

One of these conditions is a shorter and possibly narrower landing surface than the pilots are accustomed to landing on.

Named echo taxiway operations, the training focuses on ensuring the pilots are proficient in utilizing the AV-8B Harrier II’s ability to make precision landings on surfaces not necessarily intended for use as runways.

The airfield VMA-513 will be using while deployed has two main runways, both of which run east to west, said Maj. Eric Austin, VMA-513 executive officer and native of Portland, Ore. Because of this, sometimes the crosswinds make it a better idea for aircraft that are able to, such as the Harrier, to land on a taxiway that runs north and south, connecting the two runways.

Echo taxiway was selected for this training because it is approximately 75 feet wide, half the width of a normal runway on the air station, which makes it similar in this respect to the taxiway in Iraq, though still a bit wide, said Austin.

These exercises were an important refresher course, said Capt. Hector N. Carrion, VMA-513 logistics officer and native of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Every Harrier pilot completes similar exercises at their flight training school, but that may have been long ago.

“The Harriers make it easier to come in slower,” said Carrion. “The same things have to be considered -- lining up and any lateral drift you might have due to a crosswind.”

These are some of the same considerations that have to be made when landing on a normal runway, but the margin for error is much less due to how narrow the taxiway is, said Carrion.

“The difficulty gets larger the smaller you make the runway,” said Capt. Carlton Wilson, VMA-513 schedule writer and native of Austin, Texas. “This taxiway is not, in itself, all that difficult, but we put a box on it that simulates a road that is forty feet wide. That makes it a lot more difficult.

“The only thing that makes it more difficult is the perception you get,” said Wilson. “For example, when you’re on a nice big highway, you have no problem going seventy or eighty miles per hour. Well, now let’s put you on a single lane highway and you have a lot harder time going seventy, eighty miles per hour because the lanes are smaller. That’s the way I relate it.”

All pilots with VMA-513 are participating in the training evolution, which runs not only during the day but also at night to complete the simulation, presenting different scenarios for the pilots, said Wilson.

One major issue the pilots have to overcome is the difference in depth perception that accompanies the smaller landing area, which becomes even greater when using night-vision goggles, which have limited depth perception, said Wilson. This is in addition to finding the taxiway, which will most likely be unlit for the training.

Aircraft require certain support to function, and while most aircraft aren’t able to go in every clime and place, staying trained for less-than-optimal conditions ensures that the pilots who fly them are able to take them to the limits of those places they can go.

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