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NEWS | Jan. 22, 2003

NRL Flight Support Detachment Marks 40 years

By NRL Corporate Communications

The Naval Research Laboratory's Flight Support Detachment recently surpassed a significant aviation milestone, marking 40 years of accident-free flying. Since its inception in January 1963, the detachment has flown over 62,000 hours using three different types of airframes.

Flight operations were initiated in 1963 using the Lockheed EC-121 Super Constellation. To supplement these aircraft, the detachment also operated the S-2D Tracker for chaff and sonobuoy-related projects. The detachment currently operates five Lockheed P-3s. These aircraft serve as readily modifiable platforms to meet a variety of research assignments.

The Flight Support Detachment is a field site of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., which has a broad program of scientific, research, technology and advanced development. With each new technology developed by the Laboratory, there comes the need for practical application and development, to ensure it works as well in the fleet as it did in the laboratory. This is where the Flight Support Detachment comes in.

"Our basic mission is to provide heavy airborne research capability for the Naval Research Laboratory," says Cmdr. Tommy Munns, Officer-in-Charge of the detachment, which is co-located with the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) at NAS Patuxent River, Md.

"When the detachment was created, there was a requirement to take projects the Laboratory was developing and put them on an airborne platform, to take heavy radars and those kinds of equipment and provide the capability to test and develop the technologies," Munns said. "It's just an amazing array of problem solving. It's development of technologies and furthering that development, and somewhere those technologies will show up in the fleet. They may go on a submarine, they may go on a surface ship, they may even go to an Army outfit they could go anywhere."

The current aircraft assigned to the FSD is the NP-3D, a variation on the P-3 Orion used throughout the fleet for maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare operations. The P-3 aircraft flown by NRLFSD are large enough to carry any of a vast array of projects for different divisions, simultaneously. The NP-3D offers many modifications, ranging from its bomb-bay cavity with moveable I-beams to the gutted interior, all designed to easily facilitate testing and evaluation of any new equipment.

The detachment is home to approximately 90 military flight personnel, including 40 aircrew and approximately 14 civilians and contractors, who work in tandem with the NRL researchers to develop and test the equipment. "These aren't specialized crews," Munns said. "These are P-3 pilots and primarily P-3 aircrewmen that come in here right out of the fleet, and we have the most talented group of maintenance and project technicians anybody could ask for."

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