Support our mission
 
Lance Cpl. Kaleena N. Sedillo, an ordnance technician from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 225, hooks a 1,500-foot cable to the back of an F/A-18D for tow-banner training at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Tuesday.
Lance Cpl. Kaleena N. Sedillo, an ordnance technician from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 225, hooks a 1,500-foot cable to the back of an F/A-18D for tow-banner training at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Tuesday. (John S. Rafoss / U.S. Marine Corps)
Lance Cpl. Kaleena N. Sedillo, an ordnance technician from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 225, hooks a 1,500-foot cable to the back of an F/A-18D for tow-banner training at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Tuesday.
Lance Cpl. Kaleena N. Sedillo, an ordnance technician from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 225, hooks a 1,500-foot cable to the back of an F/A-18D for tow-banner training at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Tuesday. (John S. Rafoss / U.S. Marine Corps)
An F/A-18D takes off during tow-banner training at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on Tuesday. During the training, one jet tows the banner while four others make chase, firing M61 A1/A2 Vulcan cannons at the banner target.
An F/A-18D takes off during tow-banner training at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on Tuesday. During the training, one jet tows the banner while four others make chase, firing M61 A1/A2 Vulcan cannons at the banner target. (John S. Rafoss / U.S. Marine Corps)
Ordnance Marines spread out a target banner during tow-banner training at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Tuesday.
Ordnance Marines spread out a target banner during tow-banner training at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Tuesday. (John S. Rafoss / U.S. Marine Corps)

The crews of the four F/A-18D Hornets flashing over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, well off Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni’s coastline, had one of those jobs that might be simpler to describe than to do.

“Imagine trying to toss a dart through a 6-inch ring moving 500 mph from 10 feet away while you are upside down and under the crushing force of seven times the force of gravity,” said Maj. Gregory I. Smith, assistant aviation mechanics officer with Fixed Wing Fighter Attack Squadron 225.

Welcome to “banner-tow” training, or as Smith called it, “the absolute hallmark of a fighter pilot.”

During banner-tow training, one aircraft flies with a banner — the target — attached by a long cable while four other aircraft fly a circular pattern around it, shooting at the banner, Smith said.

Aerial gunnery is among an air crew’s most difficult tasks, he said, adding that the speeds involved, the thin margin for error and need for split-second timing make it a “very intense experience, every single time.”

The jets shooting at the banner carry about 400 target practice rounds fired through the Hornet’s internal M61A1 Vulcan cannon, he said.

Mounted in the aircraft’s nose, the cannon has six barrels that fire either 4,000 or 6,000 rounds per minute — live rounds for this training — or about 100 rounds per second.

Banner-tow training takes place far off the coast in an area clear of surface vessels. A safety officer uses visual monitoring and electronic sensors to ensure the area remains clear.

“Aviation is inherently dangerous,” said Gunnery Sgt. Justin C. McCormick, the squadron’s ordnance supervisor. “However, through much planning all unnecessary risks are avoided.”

Despite all the advances incorporated into the F/A-18, Smith said, “we train for the worst-case scenario” — as if all previous attempts to kill the enemy have failed.

“We learned the hard way in Vietnam that it can and does come down to outflying your opponent in a close dogfight, putting your sights on his aircraft and ending it with a gun kill,” he said.

Iwakuni fighter aircrews try to practice banner-tow firing “as often as possible,” Smith said.

Even so, he called this week’s training, slated to continue Wednesday, a “rare opportunity … and it’s invaluable.”

Migrated

stars and stripes videos


around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up