Part 14: MCAS Beaufort, SC


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The Trip

One of our old friends, Ramon, is an aviator in the Marine Corps.  Ramon is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort, SC and is currently flying the F/A-18 Hornet.  Ramon was nice enough to host us at his facility and give us a tour.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

We were camped at Hunting Island State Park about 20 miles from MCAS Beaufort.  To get back to the mainland, we had to cross several "draw bridges".  Rather than raising and lowering, these bridges rotated in the horizontal plane when shipping traffic needs to pass.  The bridge in the photo above is an example of a rotating bridge.  Once on the far side of the bridge, you are in the City of Beaufort.

I need to speak with the civic planners; their placement of power lines ruined an otherwise nice photo of their city facilities.

There were strict restrictions on what I could and could not photograph.  So, erring on the side of caution, most of the photos below are non-controversial.  Capt. Ramon Ballester is on the right. Ramon is with squadron VMFA(AW)-224 and is currently based at MCAS Beaufort.  The folks at the facility are very safety conscious and therefore we were required to wear "cranials" (AKA a helmet with built-in ear and eye protection).  Ramon was nice enough to give us a tour on his day off.  We got a number of briefings on operational areas, group history and got to see a video of a training missile run (inert laser-guided bomb) as seen through the plane's targeting pod display.  Very cool.

Kathleen's cranial totally makes her outfit.  I was happy for the cranial a bit later in the tour when we were walking under the wings and nearly clocked my forehead.  And, on the flight line, the ear muffs were needed.

We could not photograph any open bays on the aircraft and since every plane in the hangar was being serviced, that reduced the number of photo opportunities.  But, the landing gear on the F/A-18 is an engineering work of art.  These struts are subjected to tremendous forces during carrier landings and must absorb all the forces applied.

We were able to view into the cockpit of of the aircraft, but not photograph.  Needless to say, there are tons of complex, and in some cases, classified gadgets that the pilots must master to perform their tasks.

The ladder going up is steep and scary and has long steps between rungs making ascent and descent a caution-filled task.

We saw a number of aircraft in Ramon's squadron that were undergoing repairs and/or maintenance in the hangar.  Some actions were minor, some were as major as engine replacement.  After the hangar, we went out on the flight line to see what was going on.  Above, a fuel bowser tops off a plane from another squadron.

This is the flagship plane for VMFA(AW)-224 ("The Bengals") and sports the squadron pattern.  This plane belongs to the "big guy", the colonel in charge of this squadron as well as 5 other squadrons.  Each squadron consists of about 200 personnel as well as the aircraft.  This set of squadrons is collectively called a MAW or Marine Air Wing.  Squadron personnel consist of the pilots, maintenance crews, support teams and administration.

There were a number of aircraft on the flight line that were fully checked out and ready to fly.

Out on another portion of the tarmac there were a number of other aircraft that were being serviced.

The F/A-18 is an awesome war machine and is capable of dropping a lot of ordinance on enemy targets.  There are a variety of configurations of this aircraft and crews can switch configurations is about 2 hours to meet operational requirements.  The wing tips carry AIM-9 heat seeking missiles and the pylons below the wings are configurable for a variety of mission-specific weapons including air-ground missiles, laser bombs, gravity bombs, target designation equipment, etc.  In addition, a 20mm mini-gun is mounted in the nose of the aircraft; the bore of the gun is visible directly above the center of the nose cone at the junction with the fuselage. 

From our position on the tarmac, we could see crews from another squadron performing a "run-up" on a newly installed power plant (AKA "jet engine").  Run-ups are required to insure that the installation process was performed correctly and that the plane will be safe for a test flight prior to being returned to service.

Capt. Ballester's call sign is "Fiesta".

We had to get a photo in front of Ramon's plane without our cranials.

Ramon was deployed in Afghanistan with the Headquarters detachment.  And he has flown from carriers in the western Pacific as part of one of his tours.

A parting shot of his plane before leaving the facility.

Once we were done on base, we headed into downtown Beaufort for food.  Ramon chose a nice restaurant on the waterfront.  In the marina were some very large boats, especially the one to the left of center in the photo above.  When we were done with lunch, we headed back to our ocean-front campsite for the night.

Both Kathleen and I greatly enjoyed being able to see the F/A-18 in the service environment.  I worked on DoD projects for years but never got a chance to see the equipment "up close and personal" like this.  Many thanks to Capt. Ballester for taking time away from a rare day off to give us a tour.

Tomorrow, we are off to see new things, but do not have a fixed plan.  Currently, Tropical Depression Beryl is back in the area and is causing both rain and winds.  But the forecast calls for clearing by dawn.  We will see what daylight brings and "adjust fire" accordingly.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2012, all rights reserved.
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