by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
173rd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
1/12/2016 - KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. -- After
a month of intensive academics and many, many trips to the simulator
1st Lt. Scott McGowen arrived at the pre-flight brief for his maiden
flight in the F-15 Eagle aircraft.
He describes the journey to this point as an uphill climb, one that's lasted nearly three years.
It began for him as an enlisted member at Barnes ANG base in
Massachusetts, where he developed a passion for flying that has fueled
his dream of one day piloting the Eagle.
The first item on the agenda was his bachelor's degree, followed by the
expense and rigor of earning a private pilot's license--something nearly
all Air National Guard accessions to pilot training have in common.
On Dec. 10, 2015, McGowen and his instructor pilot Maj. Victor Knill
walk to a waiting F-15, greet the crew chief, and climb aboard the
"The only thing I was thinking about, the only thing you can think about
when you climb into the cockpit, was making sure to do everything
right, just the way you cover in the brief," said McGowen. The preflight
brief for this flight lasted nearly an hour and a half and the first
hour was largely devoted to checklist items that have to happen before
the jet moves an inch.
Knill rapid-fired a technical litany ranging from the simple to the
complex, beginning with the walk-around and progressing to preparing all
of the aircrafts different systems to take flight.
One interchange sounds like this: "... with the course align we are
gonna go to our HMD pitch, we are going to containerize record, we are
recording on the RMM, we are gonna hit align. When you do this the HUD
is basically blanked, all you are doing with that is superimposing them
on each other. 'have you done this in the SIM? You have, ok.' Then you
go down long left for greater than two seconds what you'll see is align,
aligning, align ok, fine align, so deselect align here and you should
be good to go, any questions?" asks Knill.
To the uninitiated this techno-speak is nearly impossible to decrypt,
but Knill says he is merely reiterating steps that the students have
committed to memory over the past month since their arrival. They do
this by repeated trips to the simulator logging two to three times the
number of required simulator sessions, by sitting-in while classmates do
their simulator sessions and by "chair flying" or practicing their
procedures in a chair at home when they are off-duty.
Mentally all of these procedures are second nature, and during the
entire brief McGowen does not ask a single question, but the test of the
first flight is seeing if that cognition can survive contact with the
"Everything changes when you feel the power of the aircraft, when being
safe isn't just something you talk about in a classroom anymore but an
actual life-and-death consideration for you and others you fly with. For
some it makes them better and for others it presents a hurdle," says
On this particular day McGowen completes his checklists and taxis to the
north end of the runway. A few minutes later he engages the afterburner
on both engines and rockets south, taking to the air for his first time
at the controls of an F-15.
"It was a good flight; he was well prepared and confident and those can
be keys to having a good first flight," said Knill. He goes on to say
that this particular juncture in the course can be the most challenging
psychologically as a student moves from a sterile academic environment
to the rigors of the cockpit. Students are often surprised when during a
break in the action they realize they are soaked in their own
perspiration--brought on by a combination of stress and exertion. And
it's in that environment that an instructor pilot needs to see their
preparation shine through. They need to have command of their procedures
and excellent situation awareness even as they fight off task
At this point, for this B-course, flying is primarily just
that--flying--but just on the horizon is the next big challenge, which
is employing the aircraft as a weapon. When that day arrives all of this
flying should be second nature as well.