by Senior Airman Jason Colbert
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
3/7/2014 - LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- The
308th Fighter Squadron has more than 45 pilots who are dedicated to the
training and certification of F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots. But the FS
only gets the new pilots after they have already been through officer
training and initial flight training.
"We're responsible for taking the new lieutenants that show up fresh out
of pilot training and teach them how to become F-16 pilots," said Lt.
Col. Christopher Bacon, 308th FS commander. "We also take the Airmen
from Air Staff who are no longer qualified and senior leaders who need
to requalify on the jet."
The courses that pilots go through are syllabus driven, meaning all of
the flights have preplanned requirements, known to the pilots as
"asterisks items," due to an asterisk put by each line item. Managing
the pilots falls to the squadron's flight commanders.
"The pilots, both new and old, get similar training," said Capt. Rolf
Tellefsen, 308th FS Charlie Flight commander. "I have a group of 12
instructor pilots, and in a year we get upward of 100 students coming
through the squadron."
The pilots attend 350 hours of academic courses and must endure at least
six months of flying sorties four to five times a week. In that time,
they have many lessons to learn.
The IPs start with teaching new pilots the basics of how to fly and land
the aircraft. They follow with air-to-air, offensive and defensive
maneuvers, and high-aspect flights eventually transitioning to learning
to employ their radar, run intercepts and perform long-range missile
employment. They learn to "fight their way in, drop bombs and fight
their way out" during some of the final missions.
"It's pretty challenging to do that," Tellefsen said. "It keeps us on our toes since it is a wide variety of things to teach."
Each training sortie lasts an average of 1.3 hours, but can last upward
of two-and-a-half hours. One to two hours in the aircraft may seem like a
short time for the pilot, but that time is spent under pressure, both
physically and figuratively.
Pilots routinely put themselves through four to nine Gs. What this means
is that their bodies are subjected to four to nine times the force of
Earth's gravity, causing them to feel that many times heavier. This
pressure causes the blood to leave the brain and other vital organs and
move into lower extremities like the feet. The maneuvers required to
stay conscious require a lot of strength.
"I work out at least four to five times a week," Tellefsen said. "The
level of muscular strength needed for pulling Gs, maintaining
consciousness during the G-strain, and the aerobic side needed to last
the distance of the mission is significant. You don't want your body
failing and unable to pull Gs late in the mission."
On top of the physical strain, the pilots are subjected to a mental barrage while flying.
"It is a constant stream of thoughts," Bacon said. "Navigating, flying
in the right direction, calculating fuel, checking your wingman's gas,
target studies; it is one of the most physically and mentally exhausting
jobs I've ever been associated with."
But, most pilots agree, it's all worth the demanding training when they
deploy to a combat situation and help save the lives of service members
on the ground.
"I think one the toughest missions I ever flew was the first day of
Operation Anaconda," Bacon said. "My wingman and I were on scene when
the Army got pinned down. It ended up being a 13-hour sortie that day.
We cleaned off the rails, meaning we dropped all of our bombs. Almost
every single bomb we dropped was in close proximity to Army troops and
Airmen fighting on the ground. It was an emotionally exhausting day.
"It was frustrating from my perspective," he said, "because we couldn't
help everybody. We were just a single two-ship trying to support the
Army effort going down on the ground. One of the greatest roles a pilot
can play is supporting the troops on the ground."
The pilots of the U.S. Air Force work to complete the missions assigned
to them. They undergo rigorous training and must maintain themselves
"I'm proud of the type of professional individuals I work with every
day," Bacon said. "I'm proud to be part of the Luke team and a member of
the Emerald Knights. Strength and honor!"