Gunfighter Flag, through pilot eyes

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alaysia Berry
  • 366th Fighter Wing
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho — The quarterly exercise Gunfighter Flag took place here, March 29 - April 5, 2019, here.

Multiple aircraft participated with the F-15E Strike Eagles, to include F-35 A Lightning II’s, A-10 Thunderbolt II’s, F-22 Raptor’s, Boeing E-3 Sentry’s, and KC-135 Stratotanker’s. The Belgian 350th Fighter Squadron also came to partake in the training exercises.

One purpose of Gunfighter Flag is to keep participants, through resiliency, training, and innovation, ready for anything at a moment’s notice.

It takes a ton of personnel from numerous agencies to hold an exercise of this magnitude.

From maintainers who tirelessly work odd and long hours to ensure aircraft are in tip-top shape, to the air traffic controllers, who have to have eagle eyes to manage the flow of aircraft throughout all aspects of the flights, Gunfighter Flag is an all-encompassing exercise.

Pilots also play a large role. They have to be masters of the skies, and push aircraft limits with utmost control on a regular basis. They work hard to be the best and continually challenge themselves to surpass expectations and ensure our Air Force’s lethality for the future.

Lt. Col. Thomas Bean, 366th Fighter Wing Inspector General and F-15E instructor pilot, gave some insight to Gunfighter Flag from his perspective.

Bean explained that during Gunfighter Flag pilots don’t fly for long periods of time. They fly for roughly an hour and a half, but during that time make the most of all the preparation, training, and taxpayer dollars. Bean emphasized that he does not take that lightly.

To prepare for that small amount of time in the air, pilots spend on average eight to ten hours the day before planning their mission, then attend a couple of briefings the morning before the flight to make sure everybody is on the same page. After the flight, an in-depth debriefing is done, where they analyze the flying time and discuss lessons learned in the air.

“It’s a two-day cycle for two hours of live-flying,” said Bean. “The planning and debrief stages far outweigh in time the actual execution, because we want to make sure that we are properly utilizing the resources taxpayers give us.”

Bean explained that every completed training sortie is an opportunity to get better. Everything executed in the air is done with a training objective in mind to make them better as an Air Force aviator.

Air Force aviators around the world are stationed at different bases with different missions. Gunfighter Flag is an opportunity to take those partners and put them together to increase interoperability. Bean explained that for pilots, Gunfighter Flag is an opportunity to combine their capabilities.

“Pilots may have the aura of being fun-loving folks, we are often very jovial with each other,” said Bean. “However, this should not detract from the fact that we are very serious about our jobs. We understand that when tasked by the U.S. Government to carry out its objectives we complete those tasks with the best precision and accuracy we can provide. We’re doing the best that we can, part of that is making sure we have the best training. Gunfighter Flag is a part of that training.”