Here's a great video displaying who REALLY makes our jets fly. Once flight ops are done for the day the aircraft are turned over to the maintenance crew who conduct all sorts of maintenance actions throughout the night like the "low power turn".
The featured Marine maintainers are "Bats" from Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. This short report was shot and produced by a detachment of Combat Camera Marines assigned to support and document -242's training deployment to the Royal Australian Air Force Base (RAAF) Tindal near Katherine in the Northern Territory. Units from Australian allies and partner nations frequently deploy to Australia for air-to-air and air-to-ground training in some of the best military training ranges in the world.
All military pilots know, you can't fly airplanes very long without consistent maintenance – from preventative maintenance to and repair work. Further, the older our jets get (the Marine Corps and Navy intend to fly many of our Hornets out to 10,000 flight hours; which is a 4,000 hour increase over the original design specification) the more maintenance actions and maintenance man-hours are required per flight hour. With the cost per flight hour for a "legacy" Hornet well over $10,000 per flight hour, one can imagine the responsibility to maintain aging front line fighter aircraft is a critical one and not charged to the average youngster.
The ability for a Marine to climb into a multi-million dollar fighter jet, start up the engines and conduct LPT checks represents incredible trust since once Marine maintainer gets the engines running they can do pretty much whatever they want, to include attempting an unauthorized joy ride. All LPT-qualified maintainers spend time in the simulator learning the applicable normal and emergency procedures for the aircraft. As is usually the case for these events there is always some time left over to 'fly' the sim around. I can tell you this - the simulators have only improved since LCpl Foote took his first/last flight in a VMA-214 A-4 back in 1986. Assuming the weather is cooperative and you’re not landing on a ship, if you can take-off and land in the simulator, you can do it in a real airplane.
I say this, not to highlight the risk of catastrophe, but to underscore the trust and confidence we have in our young people to do the right thing, the right way. Squadrons don't have enough mid-level managers to supervise our maintenance Marines every time a jet needs to be turned. We trust our young enlisted maintainers who have been trained, vetted, and certified to conduct these types of regular, yet critical maintenance functions. I hope you enjoy watching a little of what our young Marines are doing every day and every night all over the world.
Semper Fly! wang