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Kearsarge Says “Ciao” to Special Guests
January 3, 2019 was business as usual to the flight deck crew of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3). But for the AV-8B Harrier that sped away into the open sky, it was the last leg of a long journey home.
After six months of scheduled maintenance at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, and two weeks of final checks and training aboard Kearsarge, the Italian aircraft, along with its flight crew, returned to Grottaglie Naval Base, Italy.
Italian navy Lt. Domenico Iovino, the designated pilot, carefully tracked the maintenance from Italy and flew to Cherry Point a month prior to finish the renovations and safely return the Harrier home.
“This wasn’t my first time completing this mission,” Iovino said. “I’ve sailed on Kearsarge before, as well as Bataan and Iwo Jima. It’s a nice experience, with some learning points.”
Iovino explained it was critical to complete all of the maintenance before the aircraft was loaded onto the ship due to Kearsarge’s scheduled deployment.
“This particular maintenance must be completed prior to our preflight checks,” Iovino said. “The timeline is tight and we can’t leave the ship waiting, so we have to make sure the jet is ready.”
U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Jerett Fazendine, assistant maintenance aircraft officer assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264, was the liaison between the Italian navy and the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps team.
“We stored their aircraft on our flight line prior to departure,” said Fazendine. “Our maintainers assisted in getting their aircraft fueled and loaded with ordnance. Once the aircraft came out of Fleet Readiness Center, Cherry Point, it was our job to get it safely to the ship.”
The work done beforehand was a complete remodel of the Harrier.
The Harrier was brought in for a periodic maintenance inspection. First, the maintainers wrote up any discrepancies that may have occurred since its previous overhaul. Then the airframe was taken apart, to include removing the motor and wings. The entire aircraft was then updated with new hardware and software, to fit the Italians’ specifications.
“They basically break it down and rebuild it,” Fazendine said.
Performing maintenance on Italian Harriers provides U.S. personnel valuable training that directly pertains to their own aircraft and improves interoperability between the two nations. It also allows synchronization of efforts on the development of weapons systems upgrades and integration, making for a more lethal warfighting capability.
The most rewarding part of the experience for Fazendine was the collective effort to ensure the Harrier was fully prepared.
“They [the Italian crew] are subject matter experts on the entire aircraft,” Fazendine said. “They assisted us in avionics issues with our aircraft. It’s a good integration, seeing how other organizations operate since we don’t all operate the same. Working hand in hand you see different ways to conduct business. That’s the biggest take away for me.”
Kearsarge is on a scheduled deployment as part of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group in support of maritime security operations, crisis response and theater security cooperation, while also providing a forward naval presence.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/naveur/.