Salutes & Awards

May 18, 2012

Top Hats graduate 15 combat pilots in ceremony today

by Lt. Col. Todd Murphey
310th Fighter Squadron

The 310th Fighter Squadron graduates the following pilots today: FROM LEFT: 1st Lt. Nick Grieco, Capt. Jordan Wilkie, 1st Lt. Nick DeWulf, 1st Lt. Jeff Randolph, 1st Lt. Mike Kracht, 1st Lt. Wesley Tubman, 1st Lt. Jarred Epstein, Capt. Chris Charron, 1st Lt. Justin Lee, 1st Lt. Matt Dickson, 1st Lt. Zach Shapiro, 1st Lt. Robbie Glenn, 1st Lt. Taylor Tally, Capt. Christopher Campbell, 1st Lt. Josh Reddis

The mission of the 56th Fighter Wing is to, “Train the world’s greatest F-16 fighter pilots and maintainers, while deploying mission ready warfighters.” Fifteen graduates of the F-16 Initial Qualification Course, Class 11-EBG, will cross the stage today and enter the Combat Air Forces  as just that — the world’s greatest.

The graduation culminates nine months of intense training and hard work by the 310 FS/AMU team, the 56 Training Squadron, and countless support agencies that ensured these Top Hat students could fully focus on their mission. This team contributed to more than 2,100 sorties, 310 hours of academics per student, and 768 simulators.

The Basic-course began in August with one month of academics and simulators in the 56 TRS. This rigorous month laid the vital foundation of aircraft systems knowledge and study habits that will sustain them throughout their flying careers. Once they hit the flightline, they learned the basics of flying the F-16. Each pilot flew five dual flights with an instructor, to master handling the Viper, and the sixth flight was solo.

Following the transition phase, 11-EBG learned to fly the Viper as a weapons system. The tactical portion of their syllabus began with basic fighter maneuvers (1 vs 1 fights) and ultimately progressed to Air Combat Tactics. ACT entailed four F-16s fighting as many as four adversaries in a challenging real-world combat scenario. During these intense months of training, the students continued academics and simulator missions.

Just as they began to feel somewhat comfortable executing the air-to-air mission, the students transitioned to the air-to-ground phase where they began learning to fly in the low altitude environment, employ general purpose bombs, and fire the F-16’s 20mm gun. Each student dropped live, GPS-guided, and laser-guided bombs — a practical experience of what the Air Force brings to the battle. By the end of the course, they were doing all of this under the cover of darkness with the additional challenge of using night vision goggles.

Their planning and flying skills were finally tested in various combat scenarios spanning different theaters from major combat operations, such as Korea, to convoy support and urban close air support, such as Afghanistan. These capstone missions ensured they were ready for their operational tours.

The next step for these young fighter pilots will be a couple months of Mission Qualification Training at their operational bases where they will work to become combat mission ready. Following MQT, most will be flying in combat or along the Korean demilitarized zone to defend our great nation.

In all aspects of this incredibly demanding course, both in the air and on the ground, the students of 11-EBG excelled and proved themselves worthy to be called Air Force fighter pilots. Thanks to all of the Thunderbolts who helped make this day happen. All of Luke’s Airmen can be proud of the newest world-class Viper pilots. To Class 11-EBG, Fight’s On!

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