May 4, 2012

WSMR commander visits Luke to smooth transition of F-16s to Holloman

by Tech. Sgt. Jasmine Reif
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Senior Airman Sandra Welch
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. John Ferrari, White Sands Missile Range commanding general, receives F-16 egress training April 24 from Staff Sgt. Veronica Armstrong, 56th Operations Support Squadron NCO-in-charge aircrew flight equipment continuation trainer, before his flight in the F-16 with the 310th Fighter Squadron.

In preparation for the transfer of the 308th Fighter Squadron to Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., next year, the commanding general and command sergeant major from White Sands Missile Range received familiarization flights and a base tour April 24 and 25.

During their visit, Brig. Gen. John Ferrari and Command Sgt. Major Felipe Paul received pre-flight training, a wing mission brief and a tour of the 310th Fighter Squadron.

“The flight was great and it’s important to understand the capabilities of the aircraft and the effect it has on the people inside,” Ferrari said. “I told my wife that it was like being on a roller coaster for two hours. It’s always important as new capabilities are coming to White Sands that we understand what they’re doing, how they do it and what the requirements are.”

While he enjoyed the entire visit and flight experience, Ferrari now has an even greater appreciation for the skills of the F-16 pilots.

“My favorite part of the flight was the strafing run, because when you’re up in the air and bombing from far away, you don’t appreciate how fast you’re going and what’s going on,” Ferrari said. “But as you’re coming down and getting close to the ground you can actually see how little margin of error there is and how a small mistake can cost you. When you’re at 500 feet you better know what you’re doing and these pilots definitely do.”

Ferrari’s overall impression is that Luke Air Force Base is a “fabulous place to live, work and train.” He explained the ability to take care of the diverse needs of 21 different units on the Barry M. Goldwater Range complex is a tremendous accomplishment and really makes it a unique national asset.

The 56th Fighter wing commander agrees that Luke is a great place to be and invited Ferrari to show him how the Air Force trains the greatest F-16 pilots and maintainers.

“My desire was to ensure White Sands leadership understands the importance of a stable airspace plan when it comes to training students,” said Brig. Gen. JD Harris, 56th FW commander. “His orientation flight was a syllabus flight that dealt directly with Close Air Support, which is one of the many missions we will fly at White Sands starting 12 months from now.”

The WSMR is similar to the BMGR complex in some ways, but is unique because the airspace is not controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration. The only other place in the United States where the airspace is not controlled by the FAA is at the White House. However, the airspace may be owned by the Army, but the range is jointly managed.

“We own the airspace from zero to infinity and there is no commercial traffic,” Ferrari said. “We control it through a joint operation on White Sands. The equipment belongs to the Army, but the air traffic controllers are Air Force, who live on White Sands, but belong to Holloman AFB. We have Army, Air Force and Navy test centers, so it’s a truly joint facility. I like to say we were joint before joint was cool.”

The general went on to stress that Holloman and White Sands, in the past and in the future, have always been and always will be inextricably linked.

“Our test mission is tremendously enhanced by the capabilities, both testing and training at Holloman,” Ferrari said. “They have testing, training and operational units, so we already know how to coexist. The F-16 requirements are different, so what we’re doing now is figuring out how everyone who uses the range will have to adjust to make them a part of the battle rhythm. We have a year to work that in so there is a lot of cooperation and collaboration going on now.”

While the transition will take planning and new processes to incorporate the F-16s, WSMR and New Mexico are excited to be adding such a valuable capability to their training mission.

“Holloman, White Sands and the state of New Mexico are excited about the opportunity to have the F-16s come to the region because they will bring with them capabilities that will enhance all of the other missions that are out there,” Ferrari said. “So as a community, southern New Mexico will become a tremendous testing and training center of excellence and the F-16s will greatly add to the reputation, capabilities and capacity of the region. Everybody is excited about them coming.”

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