Salem native trains next generation of U.S. naval aviation warfighters

Lt. Thomas Yuhaniak

By Rick Burke

Navy Office of Community Outreach

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A 2007 Salem High School graduate and Salem, Ohio, native is playing a key role in the lengthy and rigorous training process that transforms officers into U.S. naval aviators.

Lt. Thomas Yuhaniak 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 student aviators the basics of flying military aircraft which includes initial takeoff, landing, instrument and visual navigation and basic formation flying. “I love seeing the transformation of students who know nothing about flying and then several months later, seeing them as proficient naval aviators,” Yuhaniak said.

Yuhaniak credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned growing up in Salem.

“I learned to work hard and stay motivated to accomplish the task at hand,” Yuhaniak said. “My experience running cross country and track at my high school along with the work ethic instilled in me by my teachers and coaches, helped me become the person I am today.”

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.

Yuhaniak 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, Yuhaniak is most proud of getting to serve as mission commander and plane commander of the P-3 Orion aircraft during a Western Pacific deployment.

“It was a lot of hard work to get to that point,” Yuhaniak said. “I also felt privileged that my country and command trusted a 27 year-old at the time, to be in charge of a mulit-million dollar aircraft with 11 crew members onboard during a high profile mission.”

Serving in the Navy is a continuing tradition of military service for Yuhaniak, who has military ties with family members who have previously served. Yuhaniak is honored to carry on the family tradition.

“My grandfather from my father’s side, Thomas Yuhaniak, served in the Army during the occupation of Germany,” Yuhaniak said. “My other grandfather, Chet Henry, served in the Navy during WWII. I feel proud to carry on this tradition.”

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

“Up to this point, the Navy is the only job I have ever had,” Yuhaniak said. “I greatly enjoy my job as a pilot and believe I am blessed to have one of the best jobs and co-workers in the world. I have a sense of pride everytime I put my uniform on and enjoy every second I get to fly.”