Leonardtown native trains to serve as the next generation of U.S. naval aviation warfighters

Ensign Ryan Gray is a student pilot with the “Stingrays” of Training Squadron (VT) 35, based in Naval Air Station Corpus, Christi, Texas. 

A 2013 St. Mary’s Ryken High School graduate and Leonardtown native is participating in a rigorous training process that transforms officers into U.S. naval aviators.

Ensign Ryan Gray is a student pilot with the “Stingrays” of Training Squadron (VT) 35, based in Naval Air Station Corpus, Christi, Texas. The squadron flies the T-44C Pegasus aircraft. A Navy student pilot is responsible for learning all aspects of being a pilot.

“I enjoy learning about naval aviation,” Gray said. “I feel like I will never have to complain about having a boring job.”

Gray credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned growing up in Leonardtown.

“My parents gave me a good work ethic and I work independently,” Gray said.

The T-44C Pegasus is a twin-engine, pressurized, fixed-wing monoplane used for advanced turboprop radar aircraft training using two 550 hp shaft engines, with a cruising airspeed of 287 mph.

VT-35’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 P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft or Marine Corps’ MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. 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.

Gray 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,” Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer said. “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, Gray is most proud of receiving his Naval aviator wings.

“I’m continuing the tradition of flying in the U.S. military,” Gray said. Serving in the Navy is a continuing tradition of military service for Gray, who has military ties with family members who have previously served. Gray is honored to carry on the family tradition.

“My father is in the U.S. Marine Corps and my grandfather was in the U.S. Air Force,” Gray said. “They are my heroes and I want to emulate them.”

As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied-upon assets, Gray and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes providing the Navy the nation needs.

“Serving in the Navy is very meaningful to me,” Gray added. “I am able to be part of something bigger than I am, with lifelong friends.”

Written by Lt. Paula Knight, Navy Office of Community Outreach.

Written by Lt. Paula Knight, Navy Office of Community Outreach.