Class 13-BBG 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 achieving the Duck vision – becoming tenacious warriors, leaders and followers of character.
Their journey continues a long legacy of 309th Fighter Squadron fighter pilots who have fought in every war and conflict from World War II to today.
Today’s graduation culminates eight 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, from our teammates in the military personnel flight, traffic management office, security forces, and aerospace medicine, to those in the operations support and training squadrons, and countless others contributed. It would not have been 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 72-plus hours during the course of 53-plus individual missions, requiring more than 113 aircraft to be generated for each student, including direct instructor support. In addition, they completed 58 hours in 44 simulator missions and more than 309 hours of academic instruction.
These 14 soon-to-be-graduated warriors began the B-Course in November 2012 with one month of academics and simulators in the 56th Training Squadron. This rigorous month laid the vital 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, including takeoffs, instrument flight, simulated emergency procedures, and landings, before they transitioned to employing the Viper as a weapons system under the tutelage of an entire squadron of highly motivated, highly competent tactical instructor pilots. This involved members from the 309th FS, 56th Operations Support Squadron, 56th TRS and Reserve members 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 challenging combat scenarios. This skill set was further honed in the simulator, where these aspiring warriors would team with instructors to oppose the hoards attempting to bomb Luke AFB.
After the students started to feel 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 unguided munitions, and fire the F-16’s M61A1 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 their readiness for the rigors of the Combat Air Force, each student was required to demonstrate proficiency in all these aforementioned tasks at night with the aid of night vision goggles. They say it turns night into day … but as only seen through a soda straw.
Their air-to-air, air-to-ground, and planning skills were finally tested in large-force exercises which pitted multiple F-16s versus simulated enemy aircraft and surface-to-air threats. These lucky warriors were able to pit their newfound skills in complex scenarios to the task of achieving the commander’s objective.
They employed seldom-used weapons in extremely dynamic scenarios which required precise execution while still having to protect them and their flightmates against everything the enemy had to throw at them.
Many lessons were learned and everyone was challenged to become a better fighter pilot – the learning never stops. The entirety of the 56th Operations Group participated, with pilots from all squadrons flying in a blue or red role, leading and following, with essential intelligence support, with critical air control support, and with all facets of operations support (airfield operations, wing weapons, aircrew flight equipment and more).
The aircraft maintenance units ensured the jets were loaded to bear and ready to take our fight to the enemy – supplying a complete lineup for four days of exercises – SIERRA HOTEL. This capstone mission ensured 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 of these young warriors will soon be flying in combat to support and defend our great nation.
In all aspects of this incredibly demanding course, both in the air and on the ground, the students of 13-BBG excelled and proved themselves worthy to be called Air Force fighter pilots.
Thanks to all the Thunderbolts who helped make this day happen. All of Luke’s Airmen can be proud of the newest world-class fighter pilots that graduate today. To class 13-BBG, fight’s on!