CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -
An AV-8 Marine Corps harrier can make spectacular landings on the deck of an aircraft carrier and in the middle of a field, but they don't work alone and need support from personnel on the ground.
Marine aviator Lt. Cory Simmons talked about his ground duties, telling 10News, "Once they come over I-5 over there, that's the time they lose sight of the pad, so it's a good bit of work. I put myself and a guy off over here on the edge of the taxiway to help me know when they're lined up, fore and aft, left and right. Once the pilots come in, they can't see the pad at all until about 50 feet, so they're descending 150 feet before they see it."
Aviators on the ship or the ground guide them in, making use of equipment like an automated weather observation system.
Cpl. Sean Keagy, a Marine Corps meteorologist, set it up.
"It collects temperature, wind speed, wind direction, lightning sensor. It's got a ceilometer for cloud heights. There's also there's a visibility marker. We usually like to have at least one next to the airfield; if we can we put three remote sensors at about a 50 mile radius to paint a picture of the atmosphere around us."
Col. Michael Hough, who has been overseeing the Pacific Titan exercise, said, "The planes come in, land here vertically. They taxi by and you see in the distance, they'll taxi down, get fuel here. We re-arm here and taxi down and we take off."
A portable aluminum landing strip and runway was erected just a few hundred yards from the coast.
"In an airliner, you take off on 8,000 feet of runway; here you take off with the harrier in 1,500 feet," said Hough.
There’s a lot of force beneath a harrier as it lands. Simmons said it can get tricky.
"We're creating a whole lot of dust and a whole lot of wind and any of this kind of stuff, if we were to come out over the rocks right now, that would come right back up into the intake and it can just shred the motor and that's not particularly good," said Simmons.
No harriers flying on this Thursday, as there was too much cloud cover. Earlier, the maneuvers led to many motorists stopping to watch or take pictures.
Motorist Paul McEneany told 10News, "I'm driving down the freeway and I look off in the right and I see this jet that should be going thousands of miles an hour and it’s just hanging there in the air. Then the dust started to kick up a little bit and that baby just started to float down and I knew I had to stop and just see what's going on. This is phenomenal, what a bird. That's just beautiful."