Rare air-combat training success for Iwakuni squadron

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan  — 

Imagine being upside down in the cockpit of a roaring jet flying 500 miles per hour. While in this acute state, you are shooting at a massive tow banner at a couple thousand feet away. The speeds involved, margin for error and split-second timing make target practice a very intense experience every single time.

That’s what training was like for pilots from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (All-Weather) 225, a MCAS Miramar unit assigned here as part of the six month unit deployment program, during high air-to-air gunnery training here Dec. 19-21.
      
“In tow banner training, one aircraft flies with a target banner attached to a long cable while four other aircraft fly a circular pattern around the banner and shoot at it,” said Maj. Gregory I. Smith, VMFA(AW)-225 assistant aviation mechanics officer.

“We don’t get to shoot the gun in an air environment very often,” said Capt. Kirk J. Bush, VMFA(AW)-225 pilot and native of The Dalles, Oregon. “Being able to do this type of training allows us to train like we fight.”
      
While high in the skies over the Sea of Japan, the pilots took chase and used the banner for target practice for the M-61A1/A2 Vulcan 20 mm cannon.
      
“Shooting the gun is amazing,” said Bush. “It gets your heart beating.”

During the shootout, each pilot received 400 rounds to blaze through the banner, even though the Vulcan cannon is capable of shooting 4,000 to 6,000 rounds per minute.

“Very few aircrews that squeeze the trigger don’t have a smile creep across their face as they hear the cannon go off,” said Capt. Richard J. Allain, VMFA(AW)-225 flight officer and native of Niceville, Fla.

The training not only helped out the aircrews in the skies, but also Marines on the ground.
      
Every morning of the exercise, ordnance Marines on the ground attached the 1,500 foot tow cable to the back of the leading aircraft.

“One of the hardest parts is cable assembly,” said Gunnery Sgt. Justin C. McCormick, VMFA(AW)-225 ordnance supervisor. “You have to check every portion of the cable to make sure it is perfect. We have to make sure the tow banner doesn’t fall off or breakaway on take off.”

Once the banner was attached and checked, the aircraft took off dragging the tow banner along the runway.

“It’s cool to be able to watch the tow banner make it off the runway,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Krenz, VMFA(AW)-225 ordnance technician and native of Boise, Idaho. “It’s gratifying to see something you work on actually do what it is supposed to do.”
      
Once the adrenaline rush went away, the Marines went over everything that happened and considered the training a success.

“The exercise was a safe and successful evolution,” said Allain. “The aircrews were able to fly the pattern and employ the weapon system effectively.”

“Being able to see the banner come back with bullet holes is very motivating,” said Krenz.

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