Thread: China Lake
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Old 19th Feb 2019, 06:17
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Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Here, there, and everywhere
Posts: 681
China Lake

A very brief story from one pilot about his experiences there. Please feel free to add more from your own experiences......

Question: What is it like going ...... into the cutting-edge flight testing environment with VX-31 "Dust Devils" at NAWS China Lake?"

"VX-31 was a fantastic experience. I learned a ton, met some great people, played with some cool toys and feel very fortunate to have experienced all that. When I was at VFA-122 (Super Hornet West Coast RAG) I decided to transition to the AEDO (Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer) community. AEDO's are essentially the acquisition workforce of the USN. My reasons for deciding to transition are numerous and varied, but the big drivers were better career progression opportunities (for me), better foundation of experience from which to draw from when seeking post-Navy employment/career, and an assessment that the transition would benefit our family life. I won't lie, it was with no small amount of trepidation that I made the jump, as I really had no desire to come out of the cockpit and I knew that only about one third of AEDO billets are flying billets.

As a non-Test Pilot School graduate, I had no idea I could get a VX slot, so I was tickled pink when the Detailer offered me the VX-31 position. China Lake is an interesting place. From a living stand-point, there is not a lot to do there compared to city living, unless you are a desert rat and like to ride ATVs/motorcycles etc. HOWEVER, if you are willing to make a little bit of an effort, the opportunities are endless. You are two hours from Los Angeles, three and a half hours from San Diego, four from Vegas, four from wine country and the coast, five to six hours from San Francisco, three from Mammoth Mountain and world class skiing, and maybe an hour from top notch camping and hiking etc.

VX-31 was an interesting squadron from the get-go, with Hornets, Super Hornets, Harriers, SAR (Search and Rescue) helos, Cobras, several other support aircraft and a few UAVs all under one roof. With different aircraft come Naval Aviators with different experiences and the "culture" they bring back from their communities. Awesome to merge all that into one team.

VX-31 is by definition a Weapons Developmental Test Squadron, which sounds as cool as it is, and NAWS China Lake is about the best place in the world to have a squadron whose main mission is to test weapons. The ranges are right there and the flying is awesome. On the Hornet/Super Hornet side of the house, we did a lot of software development basically testing out software upgrades - software for the aircraft, for the radar and for the weapons. I got to drop weapons that for sure I will never see again, and some that may never make it to the fleet.

One of my favorite missions we did there was Tomahawk chase. We had 4 or 5 crews that were Tomahawk chase qualified and we would basically fly out over the Pacific to where the ship or submarine launching the Tomahawk was and escort the missile as it flew its mission, which culminated in the ranges at China Lake. The WSO has a little box in the back of the jet that allows us to take control of the missile in case it veers from its pre-programmed path or malfunctions in any way. This was an important mission as we obviously can't have an explosive telephone pole sized missile running around on its own over the populous areas of the central coast of California. Fun mission because it was good flying and well, the Tomahawk looks really cool up close in flight. We also executed this off the east coast, where we based out of Eglin AFB, shots were fired off the east coast of FL, and we jumped in the back of an F-15 or F-16 to chase it. Cool stuff.

Other than the 7-8 live missile shots/bomb drops I did, my favorite flying memories are the Tomahawk missions and the shear number of different aircraft I got to fly while there: FA-18D/FA-18F/F-15E/F-16C/AH-1W Cobra/T-39. I also had the opportunity to qualify as a Scan Eagle (small UAV) Mission Commander, so I learned a little about that world, and I was a qualified co-pilot in the T-39, which we used for test support.

By far the coolest hop I did from a pure fun factor was my AH-1W Cobra familiarization flight with "Plarg." In the Cobra the co-pilot sits up front (which was cool for me since I'm usually in the back), and of course it flies low and although not fast compared to a jet, pretty fast for your speed-rush baseline. Plarg and I whisked through the mountains and valleys, he let me fly probably 90% of the time and it was just awesome to fly that warfighting machine!"

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