Nine Virginia-based Navy pilots flew Navy jets to Savannah, Ga., last weekend to attend the wedding of a woman member of their squadron.
Accusations in a Norfolk newspaper that the trip wasted costly fuel brought a swift denial yesterday from Navy officials, who said the flights were part of a required training mission arranged to coincide with the wedding.
"We do not use Navy aircraft as a means of transportation for personal travel," said Lt. Cmdr. Jim Lois, a spokesman for the Atlantic Fleet Naval Air Force.
Lois, who called the flights "quite legal and justified," said pilots in the small squadron of about 13 newly trained fliers need 28 hours of flight time a month and must "do a lot of flying on weekends" to satisfy that requirement.
Based in Virginia Beach, members of the squadron flew to Savannah in five Navy planes to attend the wedding, "but they would have flown that weekend anyway" to various air bases along the East Coast, Lois said.
The wedding trip was reported Monday in the Norfolk Ledger-Star, which quoted sources as saying the flights consumed at least 17,000 gallons of fuel and cost taxpayers more than $8,000.
Lois said, however, the flights actually used between 6,000 and 6,500 gallons of fuel and cost about $3,000. He speculated that members of the squadron may have decided to fly to savannah together because of the wedding instead of making individual flights to different air bases in order to fulfil mandatory flight time.
"These are all very junior guys just out of training, and they have to practice going into every air base along the East Coast and know all the flight approaches," Lois said.
"They do a lot of flying because they're very new to the aircraft and the airways," Lois explained, noting that the squadron is a service unit that tows banners and targets for Naval gunnery exercises.
The Savannah wedding was that of Lt. j.g. Janet Rollings, an attack pilot in the squadron, who married a jacksonville, Fla., Navy pilot, Lt. Daniel Liberia.