Andersen's flightline home to Navy's Banner Tow missions Published March 19, 2007 By Senior Master Sgt. Don Perrien 36th Operations Group ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- For fighter pilots, the goal of each and every mission is to fly, flight and win. Usually, that involves avoiding a gunfight with another aircraft. However, some aircraft flying from the flightline here at Andersen Air Force Base take to the air specifically intending to be shot at -- by their fellow pilots. U.S. Navy pilots flying F/A-18C Hornet aircraft perform Banner Tow missions from the runways here in order to improve their gunnery skills. These missions involve a lead aircraft towing a large orange and white banner into the skies as target practice for other Hornet pilots. "The banner is cabled 1,500 feet from the tow aircraft," said Aviation Ordnance 1st Class Mark Walk, from the U.S. Navy's VFA-195 squadron based out of Naval Aviation Facility Atsugi in Japan. "It's a lot like the banners you might see flying advertisements over the beach, except this one's advertising 'Open Season' for pilots to practice their skills with the F-18's guns." The Hornet's primary missions are fighter escort, fleet air defense, suppression of enemy air defenses, interdiction, close air support and reconnaissance. Sometimes that means using the aircraft's 20 mm M61 Vulcan internal Gatling gun to take down an enemy at close range. "These missions offer our pilots a chance to practice their air-to-air gunnery skills, just like they would use against a real enemy," said VFA-195's Aviation Ordnance Chief Michael Saville. "When the banners come back, you can see the holes in the fabric and tell who's a good shot and who isn't." According to Chief Saville, the pilots on the Banner Tow missions use non-explosive ammunition for these training exercises - although everyone treats the rounds as if they were live for safety purposes. The aircraft typically take off from here at Andersen and practice their skills at one of the nearby designated Pacific Ocean gunnery ranges. After the mid-air shooting practice, the banner is dropped off near Big Navy and the F/A-18 returns to Andersen. The banner is recovered and returned to Hangar 4 here, where personnel can examine the accuracy of the Hornet pilot's guns. These Banner Tow missions highlight the joint teamwork between the Air Force and Navy units here at Andersen. "The help and support we get from the Airmen here at Andersen is nothing short of outstanding," Chief Saville said. "From the flightline to the tower, and everywhere we go on base, the support we get is top-notch. We wouldn't be able to provide this sort of training mission without the help of Team Andersen."