OLF Coupeville Is Not Essential
Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) is essential flight training for all Naval aviators who land aircraft on carriers. However, the Coupeville OLF is not essential for training NAS Whidbey aircrews.
Ault Field and NAF El Centro were used during the moratorium at OLF Coupeville with no degradation of Naval capabilities. Ault field is lightly used during many days of the year and more creative scheduling of training could accommodate more FCLP training days. During the hours of darkness Ault field is almost totally inactive. The night flying at OLF Coupeville could be conducted at Ault Field with no adverse impact on the flying schedule.
The Navy does practically no flying at NAS Whidbey on weekends, Fridays before holidays, or the entire week before and afterChristmas. These days could be added into the flying schedule tominimize or even eliminate the need for OLF Coupeville.
NAS Whidbey squadrons already deploy to NAS Lemoore (CA) and NAS Fallon (NV) to train on the ranges there. NAS Lemoore has the capability to conduct FCLP as is has parallel runways, arresting gear,and is at only 235’ elevation. FCLP training has been conducted there in the past. Fallon doesn’t meet stated elevation requirements for FCLP, however both Lemoore and El Centro are just short hops away.
NAF El Centro is available and ready now. It is located in a remote desert area near the Mexican border. El Centro is one of the bases identified by the Navy for a potential home base for the F-35.However, given the slow funding and delivery of this aircraft it may be years before an entire base is needed to support them.
In addition, there are numerous other airfields in California that are lightly used and could be candidates for FCLP training. Beale AFB, North of Sacramento, Mather AFB, east of Sacramento, March Field, Near Riverside, Crows Landing NASA airfield approximately 35 nautical miles East of Oakland, etc.
The Navy has demonstrated that is willing to conduct FCLP training at non-Navy facilities. The Navy has an agreement with NASA to conduct FCLP training at Wallops Island airfield. They have also signed an agreement to conduct FCLP training at Greensville Municipal Airport. Both airfields are in Virginia. These FCLP locationshowever are turboprop training, not jets.
The alternatives to OLF Coupeville are many and varied. El Centro is available now with no development cost. Lemoore could be ready with transfer of the portable landing light system from Coupeville and painting the runway. Other options would probably be more expensive; however, even building a parallel runway at Ault Field is within rounding error of the Navy’s 2014 budget of $155.8 Billion, and certainly less than the cost of one F-35 (estimated 2013 cost $263 million).
For the purpose of this paper I have considered no airfields above 1000’ MSL. However, I have found no references to the actual standard. I have asked for clarification from Naval Facilities Command, but don’t really expect an answer. With verification of the actual Navy requirement for FCLP airfield elevation, more potential locations could open up, ie, Moses Lake elevation 1185.