The 309th Fighter Squadron Fighting Ducks graduate 14 pilots today. They are, from left, 1st Lts. Ryan Mendenhall and Bryan Beasley; Capt. Jake Rohrbach and 1st Lts. Clancy Morrical, Clancy Daniels, Bryson Thomas, Dustin Carey, Scott Portue, Brandon Dobbs, Austin Buller, Miklos Preysz and Ryan Neely; and Capts. Jared Ames and Dennis Simerly.
Class 12-CBG will take their next step today on the long road to becoming combat mission-ready fighter pilots in the most lethal Air Force in the world. They have done a phenomenal job becoming tenacious warriors and leaders and followers of character. Their journey continues a long legacy of 309th FS fighter pilots who have fought in every war and conflict from World War II to today.
Today’s graduation culminates nine months of intense training; training that would not have been possible without the tremendous effort of Team Luke. Every member of Luke Air Force Base contributed, from our teammates in the Mission Personnel Flight, travel management office, security forces and aerospace medicine, to those in the 56th Operations Support Squadron, the 56th Training Squadron and countless others. It would not be possible otherwise. Most importantly, the 309th FS would not have succeeded without the amazingly professional 309th Aircraft Maintenance Unit — their ability to maintain and produce the aircraft so essential for training is the cornerstone of our endeavors. Because of this teamwork and support, the Duck students could fully focus on becoming lethal F-16 fighter pilots. Each student flew 84-plus hours through the course of 62-plus individual missions, requiring more than 135 aircraft to be generated for each student, including direct instructor support. In addition, they completed 69 hours in 54 simulator missions and more than 300 hours of academic instruction.
These 14 began the B-Course in March with one month of academics and simulators in the 56th TRS. This laid the foundation of aircraft systems knowledge and study habits that continue to sustain them.
Once they hit the flightline, they learned the basics of flying the F-16 before they transitioned to employing the Viper as a weapons system under the tutelage of instructor pilots, including members from the 309th FS, 56th OSS, 56th TRS and Reserve brethren of the 69th FS.
The tactical portion of their syllabus began with basic fighter maneuvers (one F-16 vs. another). They progressed to air combat maneuvers (two F-16s vs. one) and tactical intercepts (two F-16 vs. many), where the students learned to employ the F-16 in two-ship formations. They ultimately graduated to air combat tactics, where four F-16s fought as many as four adversaries in real-world combat scenarios. This skill set was further honed in the simulator, where these aspiring warriors teamed with instructors to oppose those attempting to “bomb” Luke.
After the students became comfortable in air-to-air missions, their world was turned upside down, and the Ducks transitioned to the air-to-ground environment, where they learned to fly at low altitude, employ general purpose munitions, and fire the F-16’s M-61A1 20mm Gatling gun.
Once they mastered those basic skills, they were introduced to the targeting pod (an infrared targeting sensor) and the employment of the same precision weapons they will soon drop in combat — laser-guided bombs and GPS-aided munitions. In order to further ensure their tactical foundation and readiness for combat, each student was required to demonstrate proficiency in all these tasks at night with the aid of night vision goggles. They say it turns night into day … but only as seen through a soda straw.
Their air-to-air, air-to-ground and planning skills were eventually tested in large-force exercises which pitted multiple
F-16s versus simulated enemy aircraft and surface-to-air threats. Some lucky students participated in a complex mission to the Utah Test and Training Range. Aided by our tanker comrades, they met up with our Singapore brethren from the 425th FS,
F-15Es from Mountain Home AFB, N.D., and combat-ready warriors from the 421th FS at Hill AFB, Utah, to execute a meticulously planned event. These capstone missions ensure these aspiring warriors are ready for their operational tours.
The next step for these young fighter pilots will be “top-off” training in the 56th TRS, followed by a few months of mission qualification training at their operational bases, where they will ultimately achieve combat-mission ready status. Many will soon be flying in combat to defend our great nation.
In all aspects of this incredibly demanding course, the students of 12-CBG excelled and proved themselves worthy to be called Air Force fighter pilots.