Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christian B. Martinez

PACIFIC OCEAN – On the flight deck, the hazards of powerful winds, jet exhaust and aircraft landings are ever present in Sailors’ minds. Among the many sounds that form the chaotic symphony on this battlefield of aviation, one stands out from the rest. A deep, rhythmic hum of dual propeller blades is heard, reminiscent of a swarm of angry bees. There is no need for Sailors to turn their heads to know that a Golden Hawk is nearby, looming over smaller aircraft with talons that can run through anything that gets too close.

Though they are not strike fighters, the E-2C Hawkeyes from the Golden Hawks of Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 112 embarked aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) conduct a different class of aviation warfare.

“Put simply, we are the quarterback of the sky,” said Cmdr. Matthew Duffy, commanding officer of VAW-112 Squadron, from Kenilworth, Ill. “We are the dispatchers; we are the airborne Command and Control node. We can see it all before the fighter aircraft can see what their targets are going to be.”

Established April 20, 1967, VAW-112 progressed through two variations of aircraft before advancing into today’s E-2C Hawkeyes. Through the years, the E-2A and E-2B varieties were flown and eventually retired as upgrades to the structure, equipment and systems were made. The end result created a key player in modern battlespace management.

“We help communicate the right information to the right places and the right people,” said Lt. Xerxes Herrington, a VAW-112 pilot, from Roundhill, Va. “The data and intelligence we provide affects the entire chain of command and assists the admiral in making decisions.”
One of the methods used to collect that data is the ability of the Golden Hawk to project what it sees throughout the strike group. Known as Cooperative Engagement Capability, this technology allows the E-2C to share its radar range with Naval assets ashore and afloat, and can even be shared with other U.S. military branches during coordinated evolutions.

“We have the ability to merge the air and surface pictures of the strike group and expand its horizon,” said Herrington. “We can also create communication paths between our forward-most fighters and the warfare commanders, who need to make decisions based on what those assets are doing.”

Due to its multifaceted and complex system, the Hawkeye operates with a five person crew. There are two pilots and three navigators to manage the equipment during flight. Without constant maintenance and upkeep on that equipment, they would not be able to accomplish their primary mission.

“Aviation Electronics Technicians and Aviation Electrician’s Mates work on the wiring and troubleshoot the systems that power the signals between them,” said Master Chief Aircraft Maintenanceman Steve Hone, from Layton, Utah. “Some of them will come from other platforms and may recognize some of the equipment on the Hawkeye, but it will be on a much grander scale.”

Beyond operational application and training, there is a culture of mentorship and comraderie throughout the ranks. Pilots end meetings with a shout of “G-Hawks!” while junior Sailors learn what it means to lead and teach other crewmembers.

“There is so much on this platform you can learn about, but it is still entertaining after two and half years,” said Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Jared Schinse, from Boise, Idaho. “I know that if I continue to learn and apply these skills while teaching new Sailors, it can be a very fulfilling experience.”

The ships comprising the John C. Stennis Strike Group (JCSSG) are participating in a Group Sail exercise designed to develop coordinated capabilities.

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