By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Barnes
For the first time in six years, the U.S. 6th Fleet Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) and Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28 conducted in-port flight operations in Gaeta, Italy, Sept. 23, 2019.
The in-port flight operation coordination included Mount Whitney, Naval Support Activity (NSA) Naples, HSC-28, Italian Navy, Italian Air Force, Italian coast guard, Centro Operativo Interforze, and officials from the city of Gaeta.
“We are very thankful to the Italian authorities for giving us this opportunity to reestablish our air born logistics operations,” said Capt. Cassidy Norman, commanding officer, USS Mount Whitney. “Going forward, this will allow us to use this capability to greatly expand the logistics capabilities of the Mount Whitney.”
During the operations, a MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to HSC-28 conducted multiple takeoffs from the flight deck of Mount Whitney, enabling pilots the opportunity to practice ship landing evolutions.
“The process of setting up in-port flight operations has been in the works for several years,” said Lt. Cmdr. Alex Harrell, officer in charge, HSC-28 Detachment One. “It requires submitting our request at an annual Joint Military Conference (JMC), where we work with our Italian counterparts to discuss our current operations and promulgate our desired operations for the next year. We are extremely grateful to the city of Gaeta for allowing us to pursue this evolution.”
Lt. Cmdr. Kyle Alcock, officer in charge, NSA Naples Detachment Gaeta, reinforced the importance of working with Italian hosts to improve interoperability.
“We received outstanding support and guidance from the Italian Base Commander here in Gaeta, Corvette Comandante Francesco Brengola,” said Alcock.
The process of landing in-port versus at sea brought some interesting challenges to the flight crew of HSC-28.
“The differences of approaching a ship in-port vice at sea predominantly has to do with the relative winds that are provided over the flight deck. At sea, the ship has the capability to turn the ship and position the winds in a more optimal direction for landing on board,” said Harrell. “Another unique factor when landing pier side is maneuvering the aircraft for its approach to avoid obstacles or minimize its impact on the surrounding property… we take precautions to avoid overflying personnel, boats, and structures at low altitudes, which, in turn, results in a different approach than when underway at sea.”
The capability to conduct in-port helicopter operations on the Mount Whitney provides a unique set of capabilities for future operations.
“We now have the opportunity to conduct a medical evacuation if ever required,” said Alcock.
Mount Whitney, forward deployed to Gaeta, Italy operates with a combined crew of U.S. Sailors and Military Sealift Command civil service mariners in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.