The Navy and Marine Corps are not taking any chances with scores of aircraft based at East Coast air stations before the arrival of Hurricane Florence. Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola in the Florida panhandle has already received more than 60 aircraft from NAS Oceana, NAS Patuxent River, and NAS Norfolk in Virginia and Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort in South Carolina- all facilities in or close to the expected Flo Zone.
So far roughly sixty aircraft are parked on Forrest Sherman Field at NAS Pensacola and the totals will likely go higher. The Navy Boeing F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets, Grumman E-2C and E-2D Hawkeyes, Grumman C-2A(R) Greyhounds, Marine Corps Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning IIs and Lockheed C-130 Hercules began arriving at the Cradle of Naval Aviation on Tuesday 11 September.
NAS Pensacola Public Affairs Officer Patrick Nichols says the base has the excess room and capacity to host the evacuees without detrimental effect on Training Wing SIX (TW-6) based there. No schedule has been set for the return of the displaced jets and their crews to their home air stations yet but it’s likely they’ll be heading back as soon as it’s considered safe to do so.
Also bugging out to locations on the Emerald Coast are a few adversary aircraft operated by Airborne Tactical Advantage (ATAC) contracted to provide training services for the fleet. In from MCAS Beaufort are a pair of Hawker Mk 58 Hunter fighters and a section of F-21 Kfir fighters along with at least 13 Marine Corps F-35Bs. These jets are staying at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) on the 33rd Fighter Wing (FW) apron for the duration.
Other military air bases and air stations along the Eastern seaboard are distributing many of their aircraft to locations with available room west, north, and south of the expected track of Florence. Joint Base Langley-Eustis near Hampton in Virginia has sent a large number of F-22A Raptor fighters and T-38 Talon trainers to Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base (ANGB) in south central Ohio- home of the 121st Air Refueling Wing (ARW). More than 30 Naval vessels have sortied from Norfolk Naval Station as well.
The Army’s 82nd Airborne Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade has bugged out to the Atlanta area with their AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and other rotorcraft. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has set up staging at Fort Bragg in the 82nd’s absence. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is preparing for the inevitable rescue work that will follow Florence. Some of those rescues might be required at US Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. A previously planned evacuation of the iconic Leatherneck base to the Atlanta area was cancelled. The Marines are holding their hallowed ground.