Sunday, October 11, 2009

US Navy Fighter Pilot in Fleet Week Speaks of Afghanistan Flights

Landing on a carrier ship at night after a mission in Afghanistan is the most difficult part of a flight operation, said US Navy fighter pilot Lieutenant Erik Kenny.

He was on board the San Francisco Belle dinner cruise ship yesterday with two other pilots as part of Fleet Week, the city's annual naval extravaganza. The pilots were there to mingle with the 1,000 passengers who had paid for a champagne lunch and the opportunity to watch the Blue Angels air show from out in the bay.

Lt Kenny was the narrator for the show - although it was cancelled after just one fly-past because of fog and low cloud - and was accompanied by his wife, Maria, and three-year-old twin daughters, Sophie and Lucy.

As a navy pilot, he has seven-and-a-half-years experience and flies the F-18 Hornets, similar to those of the Blue Angels. He has also seen two deployments in Afghanistan where the missions are long and arduous.

'On deployment, the missions that we do are six hours long.We fly in over Pakistan,' he said. Once in the country, the pilots are there for three to four hours.

'That flight from the carrier to Afghanistan is like flying from Seattle to San Diego,' he said. 'After we've been there for four hours, we have to come back and land on the ship at night and that is the hardest thing to do.

'It takes us two-and-a-half-years to learn how to do that and it's a continual learning process, no-one's ever perfect at it.'

Of Afghanistan, he said, 'It's what we have trained for for our entire career, to help in whatever mission the military has set for us.'

The highlight, he said, is that 'we get to talk to the guys on the ground when we are flying, we get to talk to them on the radio. Sometimes they just want us to help them out, check things out.'

Lt Kenny sums up the value of his work simply as this: 'Guys are getting shot at, hopefully we can save some American and Coalition Forces' lives.'

As we were speaking, various passengers came up to shake his hand and thank him for his courage and all that he was doing for the country.

His wife, Maria, said, 'I'm in awe of him. I ask him every day, "how do you do that?!"

'What he does is truly unbelievable. I'm very proud of him.'

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