The 309th Fighter Squadron might not have actually been cold, but they did spend Dec. 7 through 14 flying and training in the 5,000′ elevation high desert of the White Sands Missile Range with Airmen at Holloman AFB, N.M.
“We packed up 182 personnel and 18 aircraft from the Ducks squadron and aircraft maintenance unit and took them to Holloman,” said Lt. Col. Stephane Wolfgeher, 309th FS commander.
The week in New Mexico had benefits and challenges for members of the 309th.
“Our team did a great job overcoming challenges, just as expected,” said Maj. Matthew Warner, 309th FS director of operations. “In less than 30 days, our lead planners ensured everyone had a place to stay and food to eat. On our second day, there a strong cold front moved through during the night and our ops facility didn’t have any heat, so the building was in the 50s all day long. We also had some communications difficulties making computer access hard to come by. Instead of complaining about the cold or the lack of planning tools, everyone shook it off and got to work. We put 24 jets in the air daily, trained six students and kept a positive attitude.”
Holloman Airmen also helped with challenges that arose any way they could.
“In addition, the Airmen from the 49th Fighter Wing were phenomenal hosts,” Warner said. “They gave us a facility to work out of, excellent hangars for the aircraft and did everything possible to help us overcome the challenges we experienced.”
When the training opportunity came up, the Ducks were the perfect choice.
“Our last basic course of 14 students graduated Nov. 30, and the following class began Wednesday,” Warner said. “Since our student load decreases during this timeframe, it was a great opportunity to ‘test the waters’ out there at Holloman. This trip used five training days. Two days to get the jets here and back, two down days to prep the jets to go, and one day after our return to allow maintenance to recover them. This has driven us to start our next B-course one day later than what we had originally planned, but we are confident we will make up for lost ground in January.”
While at Holloman, the 309th trained with diverse aircraft and also helped the 49th FW understand having F-16s there.
“Though Holloman has remotely piloted aircraft, F-22s, German Tornadoes and F-4 targeting drones, it has been some time since such a robust flying schedule has taken place here,” Warner said. “We flew 24 sorties, each day. With three runways and such significant aircraft variations, bringing the F-16 operation to Holloman en masse gives a little insight into how the F-16 training business works. In return, we get a quick look at what major successes and challenges may be in store for the future.”
Flying at a different location didn’t stop the Ducks from continuing the training for the few students they had.
“We brought our students along,” Warner said. “So we flew the same student training as we would at home, with the majority of those students needing air-to-air training. We also provided a weapons instructor course spin-up ride for Capt. Thomas Hayes, who will be the next 56th FW pilot to represent the Thunderbolts at Air Force Weapons School. With the remaining sorties we accomplished continuation training for our assigned instructor pilots in all phases of flight.”
By the time the Ducks left Holloman, they had flown 132 sorties worth more than $1.36 million in training, dropped GPS guided weapons, laser-guided bombs, and shot thousands of 20mm rounds.
They also provided eight incentive rides for deserving 56th FW team members and about 10 familiarization rides to 49th FW Airmen.
“I could not be more proud of the effort the ops and maintenance professionals have put into making this TDY a success,” Warner said. “We couldn’t have been prouder to represent the wing.”