CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas
A 2009 First Colonial High School graduate and Virginia Beach, Virginia, native is playing a key role in the lengthy and rigorous training process that transforms officers into U.S. naval aviators.
Lt. Jonathan “Dory” McKenna is an instructor pilot with the “Rangers” of Training Squadron (VT) 28, based in Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas. The squadron flies the T-6B Texan II aircraft.
A Navy instructor pilot is responsible for teaching college graduates naval aviation traditions, professional development and how to fly high performance single-engine airplanes.
“Every person learns differently," McKenna said. “Being able to take someone who is struggling and build them up from zero to hero is rewarding. It’s meaningful work.”
McKenna credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned growing up in Virginia Beach.
“I learned you can do anything you set your mind to,” McKenna said. “Growing up, I was surrounded by the naval aviation enterprise in both Virginia Beach and Norfolk and I found that people are happy to help you achieve your dream as long as you ask for help. I had a lot of people guide me in the right direction through high school and college to navigate obstacles that I didn’t even know existed.”
The T-6B II Texan is a training aircraft that is powered by a 1,100 shaft horsepower, free-turbine, turboprop single-engine, four-bladed propeller, with a cruising speed of 320 mph.
VT-28’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 four 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, the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft or the SH-60 Seahawk helicopter. 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.
McKenna 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, McKenna is most proud of coming home from deployment in 2017, after spending a year on an aircraft carrier.
“We flew eight MH-60 Seahawk helicopters in formation off of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier to San Diego for our return from deployment,” McKenna said. “It was an awesome thing to be a part of. People always ‘thank you for your service’ but I did not fully understand or appreciate what that meant until after spending a year on an aircraft carrier missing holidays and life events. Civilization was a welcomed sight.”
Serving in the Navy is a continuing tradition of military service for McKenna, who has military ties with family members who have previously served. McKenna is honored to carry on the family tradition.
“My late grandfather, whom I was never able to meet, served in WWII with the Air Force and always wanted to be a pilot,” McKenna said. “It’s an honor to be able to fulfill his dream.
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied-upon assets, McKenna and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes providing the Navy the nation needs.
“Being a naval aviator is a dream come true,” McKenna said.