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Royal Navy flier wows crowds at US Navy airshow

Royal Navy flier wows crowds at US Navy airshow
25 September 2019
Fleet Air Arm fast jet action in the skies of the eastern USA in the autumn of 2019.

But wait. These aren’t F-35s Lightnings. And there’s no HMS Queen Elizabeth in sight.

But while the UK’s future flagship makes her way down the Eastern Seaboard ready to embark the stealth fighters of 617 Squadron and their Fleet Air Arm/RAF air and ground crews, fellow British naval aviator Lieutenant Joe Mason has been wowing hundreds of thousands of people in Virginia.

The Brit is on exchange with VFA-106 – 106th Strike Fighter Squadron, better known as the Gladiators – who feed the US Navy’s Atlantic carrier fleet with trained fast jet pilots and weapon systems operators (the US Navy’s equivalent of observers in the Fleet Air Arm).

Every six weeks, upwards of a dozen pilots/WSOs arrive at the Gladiators’ home of Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, a short distance from the US Fleet’s principal east coast base in Norfolk.

And over the next nine months aviators like Lieutenant (pronounced ‘loo-tenant’ on the other side of the Atlantic) Mason helps to turn them into fully-qualified airmen and women nine months later, qualified to operate from 100,000-tonne US flattops by day and night.

The Brit is an F/A 18 Super Hornet pilot and instructor with the Gladiators – and on his second tour of duty in the States flying the mainstay of US Navy carrier operations.

He was invited to fly with his comrades during the F-18 Air Power Demonstration flypast as Oceana opened its gates to the public for its two-day annual air show.

After touching down on the runway, the Brit – aided by his colleague Lieutenant Andy ‘Handy’ Werhan USN – unfurled a White Ensign as the pair taxied the £25m aircraft to a halt on the standings.

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