Needler: NAS Meridian trains top-notch pilots
NAS MERIDIAN UPDATE – Commodore Mark Needler visits with Rotarian Mel Scarborough, left, after speaking Monday at the club's weekly meeting. Needler commands the Navy's Training Air Wing One, based at Naval Air Station Meridian. Photo by William F. West/The Meridian Star
By William F. West / community editor
Nov. 5, 2002
The officer in charge of training combat jet pilots at Naval Air Station Meridian said Monday he is producing first-rate graduates in lean times.
Commodore Mark Needler also said he doesn't believe the Navy base should be closed to help cut military costs.
NAS Meridian survived base closure rounds in 1991, 1993 and 1995. But it could appear on a new a government list of military bases that Congress might close or realign with other bases.
Since June 2001, Needler has been in charge of the Navy's Training Air Wing One based at NAS Meridian. Its counterpart is Training Air Wing Two, based at the Naval Air Station in Kingsville, Texas.
Needler said the wing at NAS Meridian trained 193 new pilots this year, while the wing at NAS Kingsville trained 127 new pilots.
Rear Adm. John Boyington, who oversees the wings, wanted more balance. So he is ending NAS Meridian's practice of also training pilots to fly propeller patrol planes and delivery planes.
This year, 37 such pilots were trained at NAS Meridian. NAS Kingsville will have that job starting in January, while NAS Meridian will focus more on training combat pilots.
Needler said the change is fine because many of his 69 instructors are flying three times a day which involves hours of preparation and debriefing.
He said his instructors' jobs also should be easier because the Navy is phasing-out the T-2s, what had been the standard jet training planes, in favor of more modern T-45s.
Needler said NAS Meridian has 73 T-2s and about 70 T-45s; he said plans call for having 90 T-45s in about two years.
He said the T-2s will be gone by summer 2004. He said the Navy also will phase-out numerous other kinds of aircraft part of downsizing from about a 600-ship Navy to about a 300-ship Navy.
Pilots trained at NAS Meridian and NAS Kingsville receive additional training by fleet squadrons in California, Washington or Virginia. Needler said he and his fellow instructors work closely with the pilots and the squadrons.
In the past, Needler said, "we got students in the door, trained them up through the various platforms, put wings on their chests and as soon as they got their wings, we washed our hands of them."
Needler said that policy is a thing of the past.