Pilot with local ties connects trainer jet to support team at China Lake

Pilot with local ties connects trainer jet to support team at China LakePaul Magaha, a software engineer with the Joint Systems Support Activity team at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, gets his first, up-close look inside of a T-45 trainer jet during pilots’ visit to China Lake on March 16. — U.S. Navy photo by Ron Rodriguez

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By STACIE LAWRENCE

NAWCWD Public Affairs

Nearly 40 members of the Joint Systems Support Activity team at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division weathered high winds for an opportunity to see a T-45C jet and meet two of its training pilots on March 16. While some in attendance had never seen the aircraft in flight, others had never seen it in person at all.

“We started working with PMA-273 for T-45 training about five years ago, so this is fairly new work for us,” said Tina Tretina, project engineer and T-45 block lead for the JSSA. “This was a great opportunity for the developers who support T-45.”

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Alex Johnson and his instructor pilot, Capt. Michael “Jazz” Jordan, were greeted with hugs, handshakes and questions as they spoke with the team and allowed them to climb up and get a closer look inside the cockpit. While the pair had to make a return to Kingsville, Texas, just days later, Johnson, a Ridgecrest native with extensive ties to China Lake, was able to visit with family and friends.

“It’s been awesome,” Johnson said of the visit. “I don’t think a lot of people know that they do the software for the T-45 out here. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to come here cross country and it was really great to be able to meet the team. It’s been a pretty cool experience and I get to see family.”

Stu Johnson, Alex’s father and F-35 Integrated Product Team lead at NAWCWD, noted that both pilots were surprised to learn that many on the JSSA team supported, but had never seen the aircraft.

Alex, he explained, has a feel for what a Software Support Activity does as both he and wife, NAWCWD Executive Director Joan Johnson, have supported SSAs at NAWCWD for years.

He also said that Alex and Jordan hope one day to host some members of the team in Kingsville to potentially participate in future SSA efforts and help them gain a better understanding of the training curriculum.

“Alex, like me, was born and raised in Ridgecrest and grew up watching aircraft fly,” Stu said. “His great grandfather and grandfather were also Marines who served at China Lake in addition to his grandmother, my mom, who served as a civil servant at China Lake. Alex’s aunts, uncles and sisters also serve the military in some form, so his desire to serve comes naturally.”

For a few, the visit held multiple layers of excitement. Lindsey Kinsfather, both a JSSA teammate and former classmate of Johnson’s, was able to make the occasion.

“When I found out that Alex was going to start flying the T-45 trainer jet, I was ecstatic for him,” Kinsfather said. “Not only knowing that he would be flying a jet that I work very closely with, but also seeing how far he has come in his career in just a short time since high school.

“This flight was significant due to the fact that someone who once lived in Ridgecrest chose a career where he could not only become a pilot and fulfill his lifelong dream but also support the warfighter he grew up so closely around.” Kinsfather called the experience “a once in a lifetime event for me and others.”

Story First Published: 2018-04-27