Leona Valley native trains to serve with next generation of U.S. naval aviation warfighters

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Navy photograph by PO2 David Finley (Lt. j.g. Luke Weilbacher)

A 2012 Quartz Hill High School graduate and Leona Valley, Calif., native is participating in a rigorous training process that transforms officers into U.S. naval aviators.

Lt. j.g. Luke Weilbacher is a student pilot with the “Redhawks” of Training Squadron (VT) 21, based in Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas. The squadron flies T-45C Goshawk aircraft.

A Navy student pilot is responsible for learning new concepts and procedures for naval aircraft and execute them at a high level.

“I enjoy gaining confidence and competence both in and out of the cockpit,” Weilbacher said. “Our training and instructors are second to none.”

Weilbacher credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned growing up in Leona Valley.

“I learned the value of hard work and perseverance from my father, and I learned discipline playing high school football,” Weilbacher said. “In the Navy, if you work hard and are disciplined, competence will follow.”

The T-45C Goshawk is a tandem-seat, jet trainer aircraft powered by a twin-spool non-afterburn turbofan engine with 5,527 pounds of thrust and airspeed of 645 mph.

VT-21’s primary mission is to train future naval aviators to fly, as well as instill leadership and officer values, Navy officials explained. Students must complete many phases of flight training in order to graduate, including aviation pre-flight indoctrination, primary flight training, and advanced flight training. After successfully completing the rigorous program, naval aviators earn their coveted “Wings of Gold.”

After graduation, pilots continue their training to learn how to fly a specific aircraft, such as the Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet fighter attack jet aircraft or the F-35 Lightning joint strike fighter jet. They are later assigned to a ship or land-based squadron.

A key element of the Navy the nation needs is tied to the fact that America is a maritime nation, and that the nation’s prosperity is tied to the ability to operate freely on the world’s oceans. More than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water; 80 percent of the world’s population lives close to a coast; and 90 percent of all global trade by volume travels by sea.

Weilbacher plays an important role in America’s focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances and reforming business practices in support of National Defense Strategy.

“Our priorities center on people, capabilities and processes, and will be achieved by our focus on speed, value, results and partnerships,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. “Readiness, lethality and modernization are the requirements driving these priorities.”

Though there are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community and career, Weilbacher is most proud of becoming carrier qualified.

“Operating from the aircraft carrier is what separates naval aviation from the rest,” Weilbacher said. “Landing on the carrier for the first time was the most exhilarating, terrifying and gratifying experience of my life.”

Serving in the Navy is a continuing tradition of military service for Weilbacher, who has military ties with family members who have previously served. Weilbacher is honored to carry on the family tradition.

“My father was an enlisted Marine and later an Air Force officer,” Weilbacher said. “He was a navigator and a private pilot who always inspired and encouraged me.”

As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied-upon assets, Weilbacher and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes providing the Navy the nation needs.

“I have always wanted to fly,” Weilbacher said. “Being able to serve in the defense of this great nation and getting the privilege of flying is a dream come true.”