VX-9 resumes flight ops at NAWS China Lake following earthquakes

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Air Traffic Controller 2nd Class Michael Coles communicates with neighboring air traffic agencies during flight operations at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (NAWSCL). Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake resumed flight operations following a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, which occurred near NAWSCL and the city of Ridgecrest, Calif., July 5 and a 6.4 magnitude earthquake one day prior. (Navy photograph by PO2 Nicholas Burgains)

Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine (VX-9) resumed normal flight operations July 10 on Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in Southern California.

Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake was affected by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, which occurred near NAWSCL and the city of Ridgecrest, Calif., July 5, and a 6.4 magnitude earthquake one day prior.

“I’m incredibly excited to have the opportunity to put planes in the sky today,” said Capt. Jesse Hilliker, VX-9’s commanding officer. “I feel like this is the next step in the recovery process and getting the base back to where it needs to be and doing what they do best: launching aircraft and executing missions.”

Casualties recorded near the base and airfield included water and structural damage and loss of power to various buildings due to downed power lines.

Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Garrett Thompson takes panel notes during flight operations at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (NAWSCL). (Navy photograph by PO2 Nicholas Burgains)

“I remember seeing the bookshelves and stuff starting to topple over during the first earthquake and then answering the call to help assist the relief efforts later that night,” said Lt. Angela Rousch, NAWSCL’s air operations officer. “I think a major challenge was accomplishing a lot of progress following the first earthquake only to reset back to step one after the second earthquake.”

Another challenge associated with resuming normal operations involved cooperating clean-up efforts between Sailors who were temporarily displaced from their assigned buildings and offices.

“VX-9 was very courteous in making their spaces available to our weather team, which accelerated the turnaround,” said Rousch. “We all came up with great ideas and solutions to get the airfield up and running. Being able to resume flight operations five days after a natural disaster is a phenomenal turnaround.”

Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Michael Reynolds, assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine (VX-9), torques bolts on an F/A-18 Hornet at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (NAWSCL) during flight operations. (Navy photograph by PO2 Nicholas Burgains)

While base access has been restricted to only mission essential personnel, Sailors worked around the clock until the airfield and terminal were operational.

“Relocating workspaces, performing our duties and being a part of the disaster response- it hasn’t been easy on any of us,” said Chief Air Traffic Controller William Gernert, stationed at NAWSCL. “Throughout this experience, I’ve seen immense pride, professionalism and dedication from everyone. It feels good seeing a vital piece of our base up and ready again.”

Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake personnel as well as local residents are currently performing recovery and relief efforts in the surrounding area.
 

An F/A-18 Hornet assigned to the “Vampires” of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine (VX-9) descends onto the runway at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (NAWSCL). (Navy photograph by PO2 Nicholas Burgains)

 
An F/A-18 Hornet assigned to the “Vampires” of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine (VX-9) taxis into a stall at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (NAWSCL) following flight operations. (
Navy photograph by PO2 Nicholas Burgains)