Gunfighters conduct air-to-air training over Panama City

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Malissa Armstrong
  • 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. hosted the largest air-to-air exercises in the Air Force. One of the primary objectives of Checkered Flag 18-1 was to give fourth and fifth generation aircraft an opportunity to integrate with one another.

The two weeks of training not only set the stage for aircraft integration, but also for the Airmen who work on those platforms to sync their skills.

“Checkered Flag in of itself is two weeks of large force exercises where we get the opportunity to integrate with just about every fighter in the Air Force inventory, fourth and fifth generation, but it is purely focused on air dominance,” said Lt. Col. David Och, 389th Fighter Squadron commander.

Another aspect of the two week exercise was Combat Archer, a weapons system evaluation program for air-to-air missiles.

“Combat archer gives us the opportunity to test the effectiveness of our weapon systems and not just the systems themselves but the people involved in that everywhere from the maintainers, the Ammo troops building up the missiles to the folks that are going to load them on the jet,” said Lt. Col. Mark Nyberg, 389th Assistant Director of Operations.

Air-to-air combat training between fourth and fifth generation aircraft was only a piece of Checkered Flag.

“What we’re down here to do is shoot AIM 120 and AIM 9 missiles, to asses our ability to fire them in accordance with our tactics,” Och said. “Also to test the ability of our maintainers to fix airplanes, to load missiles, to get jets air-born and then additionally to test the missiles themselves to verify that they’re operating as built.”

The unique training opportunities, such as airspace that expands over the water, is one way Checkered Flag stands out from other Flag exercises.

“We come from Mountain Home Air Force Base where we have what we believe to be the best training range in the continental United States,” Och said. “However the assets here and some of the unique capabilities that they have here at Tyndall (AFB) with the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group and the indigenous squadrons in the area plus the other squadrons that come in (temporarily deployed) are just second to none training opportunities.”

Checkered Flag and Combat Archer really put Airmen to the test with a fast paced schedule.

“It teaches us to be flexible,” said Staff Sgt. Jamie Morgan, 389th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief. “When you’re moving 16 plus jets across the country, you’re bound to face difficulties that you don’t experience back home.”

The training environment replicated what a deployed environment might look like.

“It’s a different pace than home station,” said Airman 1st Class Trent Rodriquez, 366th Equipment Maintenance Squadron munitions systems specialist. “We’re out here training with a couple of other TDY units where it’s busy and it’s hectic out here, and with everything going on we’re trying to stay focused and do what we’ve got to do and everything over here is just faced paced. We’ve got to get these jets off the ground.”

Exercises like these resemble deployed environments, which allow airmen to become more adaptable.

“We don’t always have the same support resources we do back home, but we have to make do and the jets have to be able to fly safely,” Morgan said. “It also teaches us flexibility with our flying schedules. When you’re working with so many different units you have to be prepared to launch jets earlier or later depending on the schedules of those units that you’re integrated with.”

Morgan has since come far since his first TDY at Tyndall AFB in 2013.

“In the first (exercise) I participated in, I had no idea what I was doing,” Morgan said. “As far as my job, I was launching and recovering jets but I didn’t really understand the over arching goal of the exercise or what we were actually doing.”

“For us, maintenance is always key — trying to provide them the most lethal aircraft in the skies,” said Master Sgt. Travis Patterson, 389th AMU lead production superintendent.