Sailors aboard USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) conducted deck landing qualification (DLQ) training with Romanian navy pilots July 31-Aug. 1 as part of the bilateral exercise Summer Storm 2011.
The eight Romanian pilots, the only aviators in that country's navy, are members of "Black Sea Knights" and fly the IAR-330 Puma helicopter.
"There are over 400 pilots in Romania's air force," said Lt. Cmdr. Marius Metric, the Black Sea Knights commander. "Our naval aviation program is five years old and there are eight of us."
Metric flew Pumas for 10 years in the Romanian Air Force before transferring to the navy and taking command of the squadron in 2010. The three Pumas assigned to his squadron primarily operate with Romanian frigates and perform a wide range of missions, including search and rescue, medical evacuations, vertical replenishments and insertions and extractions.
"It was very inspiring working with them," said Lt.j.g. Jason Canonigo, Whidbey Island's helicopter control officer. "They are extremely professional and it was one of the top training exercises we've been through. From their procedures to their communication, everything they did is exactly the way you see it in the book."
The Whidbey Island helicopter control officers met the Romanian pilots for a face-to-face discussion the day before the DLQs commenced. This allowed them to go over the details in depth and establish a rapport, said Canonigo.
"Whether your program is 100 years old or five, you're always looking for ways to improve the way you work," said Canonigo. "You're always trying to get better, and one of the ways we do that is through exercises like these."
"This was great training for us, particularly the junior guys who are on their first deployment," said Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class (SW) Desmond Charles, who served as one of the Landing Signalmen Enlisted (LSE) during the DLQs. "It's good for them to gain familiarity with different types of aircraft and to work with pilots from different navies."
The Romanian pilots expressed their excitement at working together as well as a strong belief in the future of Romanian naval aviation.
"One of my goals during this exercise is to learn your procedures and see how you operate," said Lt. Petre Pavlov, the Black Sea Knights commander of patrols and liaison officer on board Whidbey Island. "I want to remain in naval aviation and train future aviators as an instructor."
The Whidbey Island is deployed as part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.
Article by USS Whidbey Island Public Affairs