Salutes & Awards

March 28, 2014

Top Hats graduate 14 into combat air force

The Top Hats graduated three captains and 11 first lieutenants in a ceremony March 21. They are from left: 1st Lt. Michael Walker, Capt. Shay Brantigan, 1st Lts. Elias Hildreth, Kyle Moses, John Nowakowski, Lantz Casey, and Justin Guinther; Capt. Jason Markzon, 1st Lt. John Smith, Capt. Brian Mueller, 1st Lts. Matt Lavigne, Michael Shaw, Nick Lockhart and Paul Sitler.

Basic F-16 Course Class 13-FBG of the 310th Fighter Squadron is well on its way to being “Dressed to Kill” as combat-ready F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots. They graduated on March 21 and will continue the legacy of 310th FS-trained fighter pilots who have fought in every war or operation from World War II to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

The graduation culminates nine months of intense training and hard work by the 310th FS and 310th Aircraft Maintenance Unit team, the 56th Training Squadron and countless support agencies that ensured these Top Hat students could fully focus on their mission. This team contributed to 831 sorties, 319 hours of academics and 675 simulators to mold fighter pilots for the combat air force.

This 14-pilot B course began in July 2013 with one month of academics and simulators in the 56th 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 in January, they learned the basics of flying the F-16 before they transitioned to employing the Viper as a weapons system.

The tactical air-to-air portion of their syllabus began with basic fighter maneuvers (one vs. one fights) and ultimately progressed to air combat tactics. ACT entailed four F-16s fighting as many as six adversaries in a challenging real-world combat scenario. During these intense months of training, the students continued receiving academics and flying simulator missions.

Just as they began to feel somewhat comfortable executing the air-to-air mission, the students transitioned to the air-to-surface phase, learning to fly in the low altitude environment, employ general purpose bombs and fire the F-16’s 20mm gun. Their training progressed to employing the targeting pod and dropping the same precision weapons they will soon drop in combat. Additionally, to ensure each pilot is ready for the rigors of the combat air force, each student demonstrated proficiency in all these tasks at night with the aid of night vision goggles.

Their mission planning, air-to-air and air-to-surface tactics were finally tested in large-force exercises which pitted up to 12 F-16s versus as many as eight enemy aircraft and multiple simulated surface-to-air threats. These capstone missions ensured they were ready for their operational tours.

The next step for these young fighter pilots will be a few months of mission qualification training at their operational bases where they will work to become combat mission ready. Soon after MQT, most will be flying in combat or in air defense alert missions to defend our great nation.

In all aspects of this incredibly demanding course, both in the air and on the ground, the students of 13-FBG excelled and proved themselves worthy to be called Air Force fighter pilots. In addition, their spouses left a positive and lasting impression on the 310th FS, Luke Air Force Base and the local community.

Thanks to the Thunderbolts who helped make that day happen. All of Luke’s Airmen can be proud of the newest world-class fighter pilots who will graduate this weekend.

To the Top Hats of 13-FBG … DTK!




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