Providing world-class training to pilots across the U.S. Air Force is no easy feat.
Air Education and Training Command works diligently to ensure the simulations, flights and classroom studies are meeting the current demands for combat fighter pilots. With the assistance of Air Combat Command’s 2nd Fighter Training Squadron, F-35A Lightning II student pilots were able to get complex training during their Capstone evaluation.
The 2nd FTS, belonging to the 325th Fighter Wing and operating out of Eglin AFB, Fla., and the 61st Fighter Squadron stationed at Luke AFB, Ariz., traveled to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, to conduct the training with the F-35A pilots, Sept. 12-23, 2022.
“At the end of their six-to-eight month basic course, students put together all the building blocks we have taught them throughout the course into these Capstone rides where they do both air-to-air and air-to-ground [tactics] during the same sortie,” explained Capt. Ryan “Joker” McCooey, 61st FS B-Flight commander. “They get to practice all the things we taught them in a large force exercise, integrating with different assets that we don’t always have the ability to do at Luke.”
During the training, student pilots fly Blue Air — the good guys — while course instructors and other assets fly as threats, also known as Red Air. This is where the 2nd FTS comes in to play.
The 2nd FTS primary mission is adversary air replication using the T-38A Talon. At home station, they support the 43rd Fighter Squadron who operates the F-22 Raptor basic course.
“We are uniquely postured to understand 5th-generation tactics and provide threat representative tactics,” said Lt. Col. Brent “Motor” Blandino, 2nd FTS commander. “F-35s and F-22s are both considered 5th-generation assets and so it was a fit for our squadron to support the 61st [FS]. Our timing to support …was also opportune because it didn’t disrupt 43d [FS] training requirements.”
Flying against simulated adversaries isn’t new for the F-35A students and instructors, but adding the T-38 made for more diverse aerial environment.
“The T-38s provide us Red Air, which allows us to have more F-35s displaying as Blue Air, which allows for more complex scenarios, more complicated threat lay downs and a heavier SAM picture,” said McCooey.
The 61st FS was able to push six B-course students through training while flying at MHAFB as well as work on instructor pilot upgrades for four other pilots. In addition to the primary mission for training future fighter pilots, the deployment advances the 2nd FTS skill sets as fighter pilots.
“Our secondary objective to supporting this exercise is to expose our pilots to high-end integration with complex scenarios to prepare them for future assignments,” explained Blandino. “The 2nd FTS is composed of a number of pilots straight from pilot training. These pilots are assigned to fly as adversary pilots for a two-year assignment before going to their own B-course where they will experience the exact scenarios they are supporting, except from the other perspective. This training is focused on the students in the B-course but the exposure to our young pilots is invaluable.
“Better fighter pilots are being made with every sortie on both sides. The Air Force is getting two-for-one for their money in supporting these events.”
The assets of the 325th FW aim to train and project unrivaled combat airpower for the Air Force every day. Whether the training is at home station or more than 2,000 miles across the country, the 2nd FTS is amplifying the capabilities of the Air Force … anytime, anywhere.