Luke Air Force Base may be home to the largest fighter wing in the Air Force, but the mission is different from other F-16 bases. In addition to maintaining deployment readiness, the mission here is to train F-16 pilots and maintainers, and it takes the efforts of thousands of people to make that happen.
Every year, approximately 60 pilots graduate the nine-month training, called Basic course, which consists of academics, simulation training and flight sorties. However, the B-course is not the studentâ€™s first encounter with flight training.
â€œBefore arriving at Luke the students have already completed six months of basic flight training in a T-6 turbo prop airplane and seven months in a T-38, a basic fighter-type aircraft,â€ said Capt. Zach Counts, 56th Training Squadron F-16 instructor pilot. â€œTheir next step is six to eight weeks in introductory to fighter fundamentals training, where they practice advanced fighter maneuvers in an AT-38.â€
Upon their arrival at Luke, student pilots go through the following five phases:
During the four weeks of academics, students learn the basic systems of the F-16 and applicable emergency procedures.
Students first have approximately eight simulator sessions covering basic instrument flying and EPs.
Next, students fly four sorties in the two-seat F-16D prior to taking a solo ride in the F-16C. This phase also includes six additional sorties, to include a check ride and their first night sortie, which presents a new set of challenges for the students.
â€œDuring their first check ride, students are expected to meet strict standards for instrument flying and handling simulated emergency procedures,â€ Counts said. â€œWith the completion of the check ride, students are considered qualified to fly the F-16 in all weather conditions.â€
Students wear night vision goggles during their first night sortie. NVGs require students to have a very thorough crosscheck between looking inside and outside the cockpit and flying in formation with another F-16.
Students complete 26 air-to-air sorties comprised of basic fighter maneuvers, air combat maneuvering and tactical intercepts.
The air-to-ground phase includes 26 sorties focused on low altitude flying, surface attack and surface attack tactics. There are a total of 62 sorties in the course divided up between the transition, air-to-air and air-to-ground phases.
Most F-16 B-course graduates also complete a four-week suppression of enemy air defenses course prior to moving on to their first assignment. The SEAD course teaches the specific mission of Block 50 F-16s in the Combat Air Forces.
In order to efficiently move students through the phases, each of the four F-16 squadrons at Luke has student pilots in different phases of training, Counts said. For example, the students in the 308th Fighter Squadron are currently finishing up the air-to-air portion, which means they are about halfway through the course.
The instructors put in long hours to accomplish the goal of graduating pilots, and now in an effort to produce more pilots, the class sizes have been increasing.
â€œThe increased class size certainly presents more challenges, especially for the maintenance group,â€ Count said. â€œThey have to keep enough jets working to accomplish the required number of sorties.â€
After nine months, the students graduate and make base preference lists for their follow-on assignments. According to Counts, graduates move to one of the following seven bases: Osan Air Base and Kunsan AB, South Korea; Misawa AB, Japan; Hill AFB, Utah; Shaw AFB, South Carolina; Spangdahlem AB, Germany; and Aviano AB, Italy. Other locations include several Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve bases.
Counts explained that F-16 student pilots turn in a list of their preferred assignments in rank order. The commander then does his best to match students to their preferred bases.
Despite the nonstop rotation of students through the course and the challenges of completing sorties, the instructors request this assignment and must receive their commanderâ€™s recommendation.
â€œIn order to be eligible for an assignment to Luke, an F-16 pilot will usually need to be a four-ship flight lead for at least 90 days, which normally equates to about 400 to 500 F-16 flying hours,â€ Counts said.
The efforts of the Airmen at Luke result in developing the worldâ€™s greatest F-16 pilots, who are excited about moving on to fly at an operational F-16 wing. Capt. Christopher Charron, 310th FS student pilot, is married to Capt. Jessa Charron, a 308th FS student pilot, and both will graduate at different times this year.
â€œBeing married to another pilot means your spouse understands what you are going through, but it presents its own set of challenges, such as scheduling daycare,â€ Christopher Charron said. â€œThe squadron leadership here has been great and we are both so thankful. This job is competitive and dynamic and we canâ€™t wait to go out there and execute what weâ€™ve been trained to do.â€