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Navy’s best student pilots to train in the Southwest skies

Commander James Norris and Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Shanahan climb into a new T-6B Texan II for its first flight from Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Nov. 27, 2012.

CARLSBAD -- Good weather and clear skies make Southeast New Mexico an appealing location for training the top U.S. naval aviation students.

Approximately 75 student naval aviators and 30 flight instructors based out of Pensacola Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Florida will make Southeast New Mexico their home through March. They were at Carlsbad's Cavern City Air Terminal, landing training flights out of Roswell.

This part of the state is no stranger to Navy operations; Las Cruces and Roswell have hosted operations for Navy flight students from Corpus Cristi, Texas, for several years.

Three squadrons from Air Wing 5, with 25 planes, will operate out of Roswell. The young men and women will learn to handle sophisticated flight equipment, the first step in what are promising military careers, according to Pete Blades, Lt. Col. in the U.S. Marine Corps and flight instructor.

"It's a huge responsibility," said Blades. "We're not only preparing them to become pilots, we are preparing them to become leaders."

The primary flight school trains Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviation students; each is expected to complete several flights with instructors and solo.

"It's fast," said 1st Lt. Tyler Schumaker, U.S.M.C., a student aviator. "So fast, as you work through systems, the instructor is already there making corrections." But, according to him, having an instructor to guide you through challenges is part of the process of mastering the required skill set.

Shumaker was flying with Navy Lt. Ian Fisher, a seven year veteran of piloting military aircraft.

"It's a huge responsibility to prep them to perform well," Fisher said. The two were flying a two-seater propeller plane known as the T-6B, dubbed 'Texan'. It's a $6 million classroom which can go approximately 265 miles per hour and features ejection seats. Each plane in the squadron will make about four flights daily.

Operations will continue in southeast airspace until March 15 with flights using small airfields in Carlsbad, Artesia and Hobbs according to Blades.

It's the first year that Southeast NM has hosted NAS Whiting Field Pensacola men and woman and if all goes well Blades said future operations are a definite possibility.

"This year was more about proving the theory that it's cost effective," Blades said, as budget remains a concern for all military operations.

The Navy selected New Mexico airspace based on historical meteorological data, but the weather provided a slight surprise with last weeks snowfall. But, Blades said, not only has the weather been mostly accommodating, the people have been welcoming of their presence as well. He expects the rest of the operation to run smoothly, baring further delays by the traditional winds that sweep through the area in early March.

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