Test pilots from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., held a training course at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, April 23 through 27, teaching 18th Aggressor Squadron aviators to harness the power of the F-16 Fighting Falcon even when pushed beyond its limits.
The course was tailored to Aggressor pilots who requested the training. Over the course of the week they received classroom instruction educating them on proper aircraft recovery. Instructors intentionally placed pilots in out of control situations and provided an opportunity to put recoveries into practice.
For pilots, knowing how to regain control of and quickly recover an aircraft from a dangerous situation is essential to the success of each mission. Because flight controls can differ from aircraft to aircraft, it becomes necessary for newer and less experienced Aggressor pilots to understand the capabilities of the Fighting Falcon.
“In most combat air forces, the emphasis is on the global war on terror, dropping bombs and supporting the troops, so they don’t fly in this kind of flight regime very often,” said Maj. Peter Kasarskis, 18th AGRS assistant director of operations. “Even if they are highly experienced F-16 pilots, they may not have had this type of flying.”
Maj. Andrew Martin, 416th Flight Test Squadron operations assistant director of operations, said pilots selected for training had an opportunity to engage aircraft into a temporary loss of control, which can happen if the aircraft is out of balance. Instead of flying straight-forward, the aircraft may fly sideways or flip over upside down.
“You can go out of control just by [reaching] a certain fuel weight, doing a certain maneuver, pulling a certain way and doing a number of interactions with the flight controls,” said Martin. “It doesn’t happen very often, but I think [18th AGRS pilots] have had a fair number of them in the past years here because they fly a lot of air-to-air maneuvering, so they are a little more at risk of flying out of control.”
Martin said as an instructor, his job is to teach other fliers how to properly do safe nose-high recoveries. This is one maneuver utilized to regain control, specifically when traveling at slower speeds because aircraft have the propensity to lose control.
“This is really the only time, probably in their whole career, that they will be able to do these kinds of maneuvers in a structured, scripted environment and practice getting the aircraft back under control,” said Martin.
Skills learned over the course of the week may not be the most conventional or common form of pilot training. However, it adds to the range of tactics already in place to help the “Red Forces” gear up each year for RED FLAG-Alaska to show the latest and greatest in aerial combat training.
“This kind of training let’s them experience the full flight regime of the F-16, [which] they’ve never gotten a chance to experience before,” Kasarskis said. “It’s good preparation for RED FLAG-Alaska and fighting F-22s, but really it’s just good general knowledge to take in an air-to-air fight, which of course is what we are doing in training. It allows us to understand the aircraft and its capabilities better so we know what we can and cannot do when we get in a fight with somebody else.
Specialized training had been requested in the past; however, as a result of challenges with manning and additional inspections it was not possible. And while opportunities to train come and go, this particular pilot training was accomplished due in large part to the collective efforts of Col. Bryan Manes, 354th Maintenance Group commander, and senior leaders within the group who tackled the challenge of additional inspections to the F-16 D-models, which seats two passengers.
“[The maintenance group] went out of their way to make sure this training [took place], doing all these extra inspections on the D-Models and scheduling [inspections] appropriately,” said Kasarskis. “They had the general overall willingness to make this work because if any of [them] had said no, we would not be able to get this training.”
Aggressor pilots are entrusted with doing their part to ensure foreign and domestic forces receive premier aerial combat training. In doing so, they rely on experience and unique training opportunities to press forward with the mission at hand.