SPECIAL UNIT PROFILE

Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 1-Star Lifters

Elite Navy/Marine unit uses 2 Gulfstream IIIs and 3 G550s to carry top leaders around the world.


Operations Officer Lt Cdr Eddie Pilcher is on his 2nd VR tour, having previously flown Boeing C40s with VR59.

In other cases, VR1 can go from mission request to launch in as little as 4 hours, as for example when VR1 transported Navy divers and their gear to assist in recovery efforts following the Aug 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse. Last summer, VR1 transitioned from an inhouse trip planning system to Jeppesen Dispatch Service.

Sehrt describes the move as an easy one, and says that it has not only reduced workloads for the operations department and for the pilots, but accelerated the decision making process. "Jeppesen is familiar with the military and what our needs are," he says.

The company has provided first-class support, adds Sehrt, who describes the transition to Jeppesen Direct as "wonderful." Cdr Broc Chambers (USN) is the current XO. Like Artman, he was commissioned in 1990 and became a naval aviator in 1992.

Chambers has 4600 hrs TT, all fixed-wing (spread fairly evenly between the Beechcraft T34C, Boeing C40, Douglas DC9 and Lockheed P3). As XO, Chambers personally screens each pilot (checking fitness reports and flying competence, interviewing current and former COs) before issuing a green light for transfer orders to VR1.

An experienced multiplatform instructor pilot, Chambers was the Fleet evaluator and model manager for the C40. He served in the Pentagon as transport aircraft requirements officer for the Director Air Warfare before joining VR1 in Jul 2008.

Former CO Cdr Rob Lee (USN) has 5300 hrs TT, all fixed-wing (2550 hrs in the Lockheed C130, 1250 hrs in the P3, and the remaining 1500 hrs in the C20/C37). Lee left VR1 in Sep 2008 at the end of his command assignment and joined the Pentagon, where he serves as asst dir mobilization, Reserve Affairs-a post he expects to occupy for 2-3 years.

"The thing I miss the most is working with the people," he says. "It's the camaraderie, the esprit de corps." Cosharing VR1's mission, aircraft and support structure is the Commandant's Flight Detachment-a Marine Corps organization. Lt Col Marc Sehrt (USMC), who joined VR1 in late 2007 on a 3-year assignment, serves as the senior marine.

His 21 years of service include 4 years (1997-2001) with the Presidential Helicopter Squadron 1 (HMX1) at NYG (Quantico MCAF, Quantico VA) and 2 years as the C20G CO at HNG (Kaneohe Bay MCAF, Oahu HI). Sehrt's 4700 hrs TT include 1000 hrs in the C20G and over 500 hrs in the C37B. He is also qualified as an overwater instructor pilot.

Lt Jim Baldwin is VR1's maintenance material control officer. As contracting officer representative, he is also responsible for contractor logistics.

The sharing of duties between marines and sailors makes for what Sehrt calls "a small amount of friendly rivalry." But he notes, "Integration has done wonders. The rivalry continually sets the bar higher and makes us better pilots."

Beyond that, as Artman remarks, "Separate chains of command working together for a common purpose make it an 'A' game for all involved." Sehrt's responsibilities include ensuring that training activities maintain required combat skills concurrent with raising operational efficiency.

He also oversees the professional and personal development of all marines assigned to the detachment. "This is a great job," says Sehrt. "One reason to join the Marine Corps is to take that leadership and transfer it to the next generation."

Training and safety

All crew initial training takes place at FlightSafety Intl (FSI) ILG (Wilmington DE) and SAV (Savannah GA). C37 pilots complete a short syllabus to attain proficiency, and are normally considered ready for a check ride after 2 or 3 flights. C20 flightcrews attend CAE SimuFlite DFW (Intl, Dallas-Fort Worth TX).

Initial training on the C20 is slightly more extensive than that on the C37, and pilots usually complete a check ride after 5 flights. Maj Ron Wood (USMC) is the unit safety officer. Commissioned in Dec 1991, Wood has 2600 hrs TT (1100 hrs rotary-wing as well as 600 hrs in the Beechcraft UC12, 600 hrs in the Cessna UC35 and 100 hrs in the T34).

Currently a C37 pilot, Wood reports to Artman (as CO) for all safety issues and to Sehrt (as senior marine) for USMC issues. He explains that the Navy is strict about how pilots accumulate hours. While a qualified pilot can be an aircraft commanderie, can sign for the aircraft-with 100 hrs experience in type, 250 hrs is more typical.

Each VR1 pilot averages around 250 hrs per year once they are qualified. Wood notes that most USMC flightcrew members come to the squadron with no prior Gulfstream experience. A major objective for Wood is to establish a safety plan and procedures that integrate military safety systems with internationally recognized safety management system standards.

The aim is to create the highest safety bar possible, with a depth level that requires intense development and training. Wood was selected to lead this effort in recognition of his experience and dedication. Lt Cdr Eddie Pilcher (USN) is VR1's operations officer.

In his 13 years of service with the Navy he has amassed 4000 hrs TT (2600 hrs in the P3, 1100 hrs in the C40 and the remainder in the C37). Pilcher is on his second VR tour, having previously flown C40s with VR59 at NFW (Fort Worth JRB, Fort Worth TX).

This is not uncommon, he notes-while nearly all marines are on their first VR tour with the squadron, around half of VR1's sailors are on their second or third VR tour.

Aircraft for the job

The C37B is the aircraft of choice for overseas missions. Its 6500-nm-plus range allows it to fly nonstop from NAF Atsugi, Japan (near Tokyo) to ADW. Last year a VR1 C37B flew a nonstop mission from Iwakuni, Japan to ADW-a distance of 6443 nm-in 13 hours.

Sehrt explains that the C20D is also used occasionally for overseas trips but is better suited for missions within the US.

These include occasional Navy training missions. Whether at home or abroad, VR1 does not fly exclusively from one military air base to the next. Sehrt notes too that schedulers will select lower-cost fuel stops wherever possible.

The squadron's 3 C37Bs are almost identical. Two aircraft have seating for 12 passengers, while the other is configured for 14. Pilots give the C37B's PlaneView avionics suite high marks for situational awareness and ease of use.

All VR1 aircraft are equipped with specialized avionics, much of it classified. C37B cabin avionics include DirecTV, a Magnastar digital system, high-speed data (HSD) and 4-channel satcom. Given the nature of VR1's mission, secure communications and data transfer are essential.

An onboard communications station encrypts data in/out via ground stations.

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