WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. — Members of the 354th Fighter Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., the 74th Fighter Squadron, Moody AFB, Ga., and the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla., traveled to White Sands Missile Range for training Dec. 3-4.
The mission of the 354th and 74th Fighter Squadrons was to upgrade a select cadre of pilots to conduct unimproved surface landings on a dry lake bed, both day and night.
The objective of the 23rd STS was to provide ground air traffic control and set up an austere landing strip in a simulated assault zone, similar to what would be seen in a deployed environment.
“This training allows for air frames to penetrate a lot farther into enemy territory than would normally be allowed due to fuel and rearming restrictions,” said 1st Lt. Jesse Galt, 23rd STS Gold Team assistant team leader. “You set up a site and you can land almost any plane you want. You can bring in fuel, ammo, weapons, troops, medics and all types of vehicles and set up for expedient operations in denied territory without an established landing zone under friendly control.”
Soft spots on the designated landing strip interrupted the takeoff of the first A-10 that landed, causing the mission to change.
“Once we determined that we weren’t going to land, we decided that we were going to practice the approaches and to work on our techniques for instruction to teach pilots on approaches on an unmarked air field or an airfield with very little markings,” said Lt. Col. Steven Behmer, 354th FS commander.
The A-10 pilots were able to take advantage of the training opportunity with low approaches to the austere strip without conventional landing aids or instrument approaches. They were also able to make covert night approaches using night vision goggles without any physical light.
“The low approaches still served a lot of our training objectives,” Galt said. “We were setting it up for our controllers to get a lot of air traffic control practice. A couple team members are new, straight out of training, and most of their controls have been in a simulator, so this gave them the opportunity to talk to live pilots and get live interactions.”
The training mutually benefited the STS and the fighter squadrons by allowing for better preparedness in future situations.
“The STS is there to be air traffic controllers and to set up these air fields, so it’s important to have them on the ground because they make the determination whether or not it’s safe to land based on their training,” Behmer said. “By working with them, it gives us the opportunity to integrate with the guys that are actually going to be doing it for real when we’re in combat.”