TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — A T-38 Talon bridged five decades and generations of technological development to merge at 400 knots with the F-22 Raptor near Tyndall Air Force Base recently.
“MOJO 1 is engaged, Bullseye 323/24,” said Lt. Col. Christopher ‘Moto’ Davis, 325th Training Support Squadron Adversary Air Operations officer.
The Raptor and trainer jet were beak to beak, forcing the pursuing trainer to make a quick decision.
“MOJO 1, PRESS!” his wingman said over the fight frequency.
Colonel Davis puts his 1960’s T-38 Talon in a full afterburner, maximum G-defensive turn to try to survive mere seconds more against the world’s most advanced fighter jet.
The fight is over as suddenly as it started at the hands of two simulated heat-seeking missiles, AA-10D’s known as “ducks,” capable of being employed even by early generation MiGs. This is not the typical end to an F-22/T-38 sortie, but one that will yield many valuable lessons for the basic course, or B-course, student flying the F-22.
When new F-22 pilots arrive at Tyndall to learn air-to-air combat techniques during their B-course training, they often find themselves facing much more experienced pilots executing the Adversary Air mission in the T-38.
The T-38 is a supersonic jet trainer flown by the fighter pilots of the 325th TRSS. The squadron’s motto is, “Air dominance begins here. Own the sky!” The goal is not to defeat F-22’s, but provide a world-class training platform and threat replication for F-22 pilots.
On the rare occasion a Raptor student makes a mistake in the air, it’s the adversary pilot’s job to punish those mistakes in order to highlight the learning points.
Adversary pilots come from various backgrounds, including the F-16 Viper, F-15 Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle and F-22. Experience levels range from captains with hundreds of flying hours to colonels with more than 3,000. The TRSS provides a disciplined and professional adversary air, or “red air” as it’s commonly known to fighter pilots, as part of the 325th Fighter Wing’s F-22 training mission.
“The more we are able to capitalize on their mistakes in training, the less likely [the pilots] are to make that mistake in actual combat,” said Capt. John ‘Shack’ Newman, 325th TRSS pilot.
Most would argue that the T-38 is no match for the F-22, and they’re right, but at the same time, several advantages exist.
“There are many benefits to using the T-38s,” said Lt. Col. Jason ‘Bondo’ Costello, 325th TRSS commander and F-22 instructor/T-38 adversary air pilot. “It’s a very economical alternative to using a Raptor, and the effective and efficient use of the F-22s is critical to the Unites States’ national security interests.”
Cost savings alone are substantial. The price of flying a T-38 is approximately $3,300 per flying hour, as opposed to the F-22 at approximately $22,000 per hour. Additionally, the F-22, like any other frontline fighter aircraft, has a limited lifecycle of flying hours and sorties. Using T-38s to fly adversary air missions saves the F-22 hours for pilot training and combat sorties, thereby increasing the lifespan of the fleet.
The program started at Tyndall in the summer of 2012 with five initial T-38 cadre. Now it has 27 pilots, all of whom are very experienced fighter pilots, and 10 aircraft. An additional 10 T-38s are due to arrive this fall. With the arrival of additional F-22s from Holloman AFB, New Mexico, the T-38’s and the 325th TRSS increased support becomes more vital.
Due to the number of available T-38s, the 325th TRSS was able to orchestrate multiple training scenarios for multiple aircrafts, which is just one of the benefits of flying against the more cost efficient jets, said 1st Lt. Austin ‘Fisheye’ Mcintosh from Santa Barbara, Calif.
“It was great to have the opportunity to fly against multiple adversaries,” he said. “It’s virtually impossible to see a black painted T-38 visually, as they’re much smaller than an F-22 or F-15, especially against a dark background such as the ocean. It was an invaluable experience to have their support as adversaries.”
“It’s important to train future F-22 pilots against a professional adversary force in preparation for their transition to the combat air force in their next assignment,” said Lt. Col. Pete ‘HOSS’ Harris, 325th TRSS Air Adversary pilot. “It’s really rewarding seeing F-22 B-course students’ progress from their first sortie learning to fly the jet to becoming highly competent F-22 wingmen in the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft.”
In training, everyone goes home. Tyndall’s Adversary Air pilots say they go home knowing they played their part in training the future generation of air superiority fighter pilots.