An F/A-18F Super Hornet, from the “Redcocks” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 22, touches down on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). Nimitz is currently underway conducting routine operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Elliot Schaudt/Released)

Wanted: US Navy pilots. About 100, actually.

Job description: Flying an F-18 and landing it on a rocking aircraft carrier, at night, in a storm, required … and, looking cool while doing it.

Payment: Not bad, but it’s government, so you’ll never be rich.

It seems a rash of technical and safety problems has left the US Navy’s fleet short by about 90 fighter pilots. Fixing the issue is an uphill battle, a top aviator said last week.

The Navy has experienced a number of issues, including problems with the oxygen flow to the pilots causing negative and unsafe physiological responses in pilots and trainees, as well as readiness and engine trouble, according to media reports.

All of this has increased the time it takes to create a fighter pilot from three to four years, and the issues have created a gap in the number of pilots in the fleet, naval air training chief Rear Admiral Robert Westendorff said at the Tailhook symposium.

“We can’t just snap our fingers and produce those immediately. The time to train of a strike fighter pilot is about three years; due to the bottlenecks we’ve had, its getting closer to four years,” Westendorff said.

“We’re doing everything we can to get that back down to the three-year mark. But the recovery plan is a three-year plan. And if we stay on track, it should take us about three years.”

An issue with the McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk′s engines “dramatically reduced” the availability of the aircraft this year, but the program is getting back on track, Westendorff insisted.

Overall, the shortfall of F/A-18 Super Hornets has impacted training, but Naval Aviation has been focused on bringing those numbers back up in recent years by fixing jets unable to fly for mechanical reasons.

Naval air training has been beset in recent years with controversy over the so-called physiological episodes, the cause of which has been very hard to pin down.

The Navy now believes it’s a complex issue involving air flow and air pressure related to the breathing apparatus, and measures have been put in place to mitigate it.

For its part, the USAF has already begun to introduce a number of advanced tools including virtual reality (VR) to help train F-35, F-22 and F-15 pilots.

In August, Air Force announced the inauguration of the new Virtual Test and Training Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada — which will house the future of joint-aerial combat training.

The Marine Corps’ pilot shortage has become so great this earlier this month the service announced that it will give out an aviation bonus of up to US$210,000 for select pilots who are willing to extend their service commitment by up to six years.

— with files from National Interest, US Navy

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