special honor was recently bestowed upon Ian Wightman, a former resident of Waconia who is serving in the U.S. Navy. The 2005 Waconia High School graduate’s name and hometown were placed on an E2-C Hawkeye, one of his squadron’s aircraft, an honor he will get to enjoy for the next six months.
AE3 (AW) Ian L. Wightman is an aviation electrician (AE) and third class petty officer (that’s the 3) in the U.S. Navy. As for the AW, Wightman explained that AW stands for air warfare, a qualification one earns by showing detailed knowledge of his or her aircraft’s systems and naval aviation as a whole.
Wightman’s squadron is the VAW-117, which stands for Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron.
“My squadron is based out of Point Mugu, Calif., and part of strike group 11 attached to the largest warship ever made by man, the USS Nimitz,” said Wightman, who said that despite the Nimitz’s size, the ship is still cramped when filled with 4,500 sailors and 50 aircraft.
“We are currently getting ready for a long, seven to nine month deployment on the Nimitz for an upcoming Westpac (Western Pacific Cruise) starting this spring,” said Wightman, who added that on that deployment, the aircraft (including the E2-C Hawkeye with his name on it) will be flying all over the world, mostly western Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean (most likely Afghanistan) and the Persian Gulf.
Wightman explained that the aircraft he works on, the E2-C Hawkeye, uses radar and other sensors to detect everything from aircraft and submarines to vehicles and troops on the ground. Wightman added that the aircraft also serves as a mobile command and control center that collects and distributes information to/from strike fighters (mostly F/A-18 Hornets) and ships organizing the tactical situation of the airwing.
“I enjoy my job because it’s a challenge,” Wightman said. “When an electrical system doesn’t work you have to dig into the pubs and dig through the plane. It’s a hugely complicated logic problem.”
Wightman is currently applying for officer programs with hopes of becoming a Naval Flight Officer, which are the people who sit in the back seat and run the electronic equipment while in flight.
When not at sea, Wightman lives at Point Mugu or Fallon, Nev., which is where he is currently stationed. Wightman said he lives aboard the Nimitz during deployments and detachments. This past summer, Wightman spent two and a half months aboard the vessel for RIMPAC 2012, a large multi-national naval exercise, and a couple of month-long detachments. Life aboard the Nimitz has provided him with plenty of memories.
“The boat is intense,” he said. “Flight ops on a carrier are like nothing else on the world. It’s the world’s smallest runway with 40+ planes, the take off and landing areas constantly switch. There are just a few simple rules, but if not followed, you could easily get hurt or die. It’s not pleasant, otherwise: 12 hour shifts and no weekends or holidays off for a month or two until you hit a port.”
Wightman, the son of Mary and Bret Wightman of Waconia, moved to Waconia as a high school senior.
Under those circumstances, Wightman didn’t get involved in many school activities but he did work as a lifeguard at Safari Island to save money for college.
“I was new and very shy,” Wightman recalled. “I only made a few friends who I still keep up with, though I made many more after college when I moved back to Minnesota.”
After high school, Wightman graduated from Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., in 2009. After applying to but not being picked up by the State Department, Wightman decided to enlist.
“I always wanted to join the military,” said Wightman, who had a grandfather serve as a sailor during WWII. “My grandfather always had good things to say/stories and used the training for the rest of his life.”
Wightman said he wanted to work on aircraft as well but wasn’t interested in joining the Air Force.
“I like the Navy,” he said. “It’s hard work and a huge sacrifice but very rewarding.”
Wightman, who was recently married, visits Waconia once a year or so, the last time being in December. In his free time, he enjoys exploring Los Angeles, mountain biking, and skiing in the mountains. Wightman also admitted that he reads a lot and “watches too many movies.”
Contact Todd Moen at [email protected]