VX-31 Operation Darken Skies features rare three-aircraft flight

By LT. CHRIS “OSLO” WEBSTER Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 31

Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 31’s Search and Rescue Department recently conducted a rare three-aircraft training flight known as “Darken Skies.”

The operation normally demonstrates a unit’s ability to fly all of its aircraft at one time.

“The opportunity to conduct such a flight is rare because of maintenance, operational and administrative limitations such as extended maintenance inspections and aircraft availability.”

The squadron’s leadership supported the rare event, which Lt. Cmdr. Kris “Ichabod” Dickson, SAR program manager, called “an unprecedented and resoundingly successful training opportunity.”

Consisting of all three of VX-31’s MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters, the event demonstrated the unit’s maximum capacity and capability as a SAR team.

The members involved were granted the opportunity to work on formation flight proficiency, multisearch unit tactics and high-altitude-landing-zone proficiency in fitting several aircraft into a single confined area.

“It was absolutely the culmination of maintenance coordination, training demand, and operational flexibility,” said Lt. Jimmy “Solo” Hong, one of the aircraft commanders.

“We won’t have all three MH-60s in an ‘up’ status very often, so I thought it was important to let the SAR team practice multiship operations,” said Cmdr. A.J. McFarland, VX-31 commanding officer.

“The event was good for morale and more importantly offered a training opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.

“Also, all six of my active H-60 pilots — five out of six SAR aircrewmen — were able to participate, and the maintenance department was proud to be able to supply three ‘up’ helicopters for the event. It was a professional, well-planned and safely executed evaluation.”

Story First Published: 2013-04-17