Paul Dunn's 2009 blogGAR Entries

NOV 10 2009
NAF El Centro

Located in the southern Californian desert, NAF El Centro is an airfield without any based aircraft, but one that sees a substantial amount of deployed and transitory traffic. Along with the RAF Merlins deployed for Exercise Merlin Vortex, there were several other units taking advantage of the extensive ranges in the area.

First up, a pair of USMC F/A-18 Hornets from VMFAT-101 ‘Sharpshooters’. Normally based at NAS Miramar, near San Diego, the Sharpshooters are regular transitory visitors to El Centro. Their role is to train Marine Corps crews to fly the F/A-18, with crews then going on to fly the F/A-18C with the Marine Corps’ fighter attack squadrons (VMFA) or the F/A-18D with the all weather fighter attack squadrons (VMFA(AW)).

Operating from the same ramp as the RAF Merlins were a detachment of MH-60K Seahawk helicopters, a type which I had not photographed before. Resembling the Army’s UH-60 rather than the Naval SH-60, these helicopters were from HSC-23 ‘Wildcards’ and normally based at NAS North Island.

The MH-60K is used mainly for ‘vertical replenishment’ of vessels at sea, and in this role replaced the CH-46 Sea Knight in US Navy service. The association of the replenishment role with the Sea Knight has led to the MH-60K being referred to as the “Knighthawk” although this is not an officially recognised name. The Wildcards are designated a “Sea Combat Squadron” as a reflection of their multirole capability which includes special forces support.

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