The Ultimate ‘Wizzo’: Marine Corps Captain Graduates as Service’s Final F/A-18 Weapons Programs Officer

Capt. Michael LoGrande at all times needed to fly for the Marine Corps. Even after being medically disqualified to be a pilot, he did not see it as the top of the highway however the starting of a brand new one.

He discovered a few place referred to as a weapons programs officer, or “wizzo” — a flight officer who sits behind the pilot in a two-seater jet and is liable for the plane’s communications, weapons and navigation.

He had by no means heard of the job earlier than being denied the pilot’s seat however was excited to be taught it might put him proper within the cockpit — particularly, the aft seat of an F/A-18D Hornet. There, he would nonetheless be a part of the tightknit Marine Corps aviation neighborhood, which “fully bought” him on the wizzo function, he instructed final week.

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Now, he’s the final particular person to graduate the weapons programs officer course, successfully changing into the Marine Corps’ final wizzo.

“The Hornet that started off in 1983 is certainly not the Hornet that we’re flying in the present day,” LoGrande stated of his plane, which has seen many adjustments during the last 40 years. “I really feel actually fortunate to have been a part of that legacy.”

That legacy is ending, because the Marine Corps transitions from the F/A-18 to the brand new, fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II over the following six years. It is only one of many adjustments because the service undergoes its Power Design metamorphosis — shedding tanks, artillery and legacy plane, amongst different structural shifts.

The F/A-18 has been a workhorse since its introduction to the Corps a long time in the past. In 2022, the plane nonetheless constituted greater than 50% of the Marine Corps’ tactical air capabilities. It’s used as each a “fighter” and “assault” platform, which means that it contributes to air protection however will also be used for interdiction, close- and deep-air assist.

With greater than a dozen doable armaments and a number of sensors, battle-tested over a long time, the Hornet’s legacy can’t be denied, and it has been an necessary cushion for the service because it absolutely transitions to the brand new Joint Strike Fighter.

“Hornet’s large breadth of weapons, superior LITENING concentrating on pod, community interoperability, and upgraded digital warfare programs highlights the platform’s continued related, deadly and survivable functionality to” Marines and combatant commanders, in keeping with the Corps’ 2022 Aviation Plan, which additionally outlines its divestment timeline. The plan calls the Hornet a bridging platform that’s “essential for profitable” transition to the F-35.

The choice to divest the Hornet seems to be motivated partly by the elevated upkeep burden for the “growing older platform,” in keeping with the plan. The F/A-18D is now not in manufacturing — it was final made in 2000, in keeping with the Navy. For greater than 20 years, maintainers have been centered on “fixing persistent materials shortfalls” within the plane.

The Corps has been deactivating F/A-18 squadrons slowly during the last a number of years. One of many newest deactivations was the casing final 12 months of Marine Fighter Assault Coaching Squadron 101, a storied and historic unit that had skilled generations of pilots for the reason that late Nineteen Sixties.

“Pilots come to VMFAT-101, minimize their enamel, and are reworked into aviation warriors,” Col. William Mitchell, commanding officer of Marine Plane Group 11, third Marine Plane Wing, stated on the time.

The platform remains to be on the forefront for Marine Corps tactical air operations around the globe. For instance, Marine F-18s flew sorties in Finland this month, proper on Russia’s doorstep, throughout Operation Nordic Response 2024, a part of the most important NATO train for the reason that Nineteen Eighties and a message to Russia after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. F-18s have additionally been energetic within the Indo-Pacific area, conducting workouts with U.S. allies there.

In different phrases, “it is nonetheless acquired life in it,” LoGrande stated.

“I first discovered they had been getting phased out after they instructed me that I used to be going to be a wizzo,” he stated. “It is likely to be going away, [but] it by no means actually feels prefer it’s going away … the way in which the weapon system is alway being built-in into each single conflict recreation and each single train.

“Somebody’s acquired to hold the weapons,” he stated. “And that is us.”

The Marine Corps’ F/A-18 will formally “sunset” in 2030.

Its pilots and wizzos have been linked by means of fight and coaching for many years and, in keeping with LoGrande, make up one cohesive fighter neighborhood.

“There is not actually a distinction between the wizzo neighborhood and the pilot neighborhood,” he stated. “It is all simply the fighter neighborhood. … Everyone seems to be working towards one factor. It is a neighborhood of people that wish to fly and wish to be one of the best at their weapons system.”

Collectively, he stated they make up one mind within the plane, managing technical interfaces and speaking in tandem to maneuver by means of the air. For wizzos like LoGrande, that features navigating the plane and speaking with totally different controlling businesses to verify the jet is working inside authorized and deconflicted limits of the airspace.

LoGrande participated in his closing qualifying flight within the Hornet this week. It was the fruits of greater than two years of coaching, together with a protracted syllabus within the schoolhouse that’s Marine Fighter Assault Squadron 323, based mostly out of Miramar, California.

There, he discovered flight planning, air-to-air refueling, radar use and make use of precision-guided munitions, amongst different technical expertise that include working a multimillion-dollar plane.

Quickly, he’ll hit the fleet and turn out to be a part of the operational aspect of the Hornet neighborhood. Even because the plane divests, LoGrande stated there are lots of alternatives for wizzos to remain within the power, together with floor jobs, although he stated he’d wish to attempt his hand at changing into a pilot.

“The flight was incredible, and I could not have requested for a greater group of Marines to execute the sortie with,” he stated of his closing flight. “Whereas I’m tremendous pleased to have accomplished the … syllabus, I can be unhappy to depart the chums and squadron that I’ve come to like. Nevertheless, I’m extraordinarily excited to get out to the fleet and be part of a brand new squadron.”

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