December 17, 2007 (by SrA Terri Barriere) - The phone rings transforming a quiet night into an adrenaline-packed operation for alert pilots from the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.
Capt. Zach Manning, a 4th EFS alert pilot, inspects his F-16 at Balad AB on October 31st, 2007. Alert pilots inspect their aircraft after missions instead of before to save pilots time when they're called to duty. [USAF photo by SrA. Terri Barriere]
The phone rings transforming a quiet night into an adrenaline-packed operation for alert pilots here.
Pilots on alert status are on constant standby and have only 15 minutes from the time the call comes in to be in the air.
"Airpower on standby is what we provide," said Capt. Zach Manning, 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot. "Alert crews are launched when unplanned airpower is needed."
After the alert call comes through, the flight crew immediately springs into action with the pilot donning any remaining gear and finishing up any remaining checks before heading out the door.
Captain Manning said pre-flight inspections move a lot quicker for alert missions because they are performed immediately after a jet lands as opposed to just before it goes out. This saves much needed time for the pilot trying to get out the door in a moment's notice.
The team has even gone so far as to pre-coordinate non-verbal hand signals with the crew chiefs in order to save every possible second needed to get in the air.
However, as imperative as it is for the pilots to react instantly, it's just as important for them to be thorough. Capt. Kerri Fulgham, 4th EFS F-16 alert pilot, said when she's heading out the door she makes sure to move quickly, but efficiently.
"I try to make sure I'm not forgetting any important steps, but not taking too long in the process. I'm double checking my procedures, flipping switches, making sure I'm strapped in -- I'm focused on the mission at hand," she said. "My heart races every time the phone rings. There's an adrenaline rush that comes with the anticipation of knowing you can go from sitting dead still to taking off within minutes. I'm just trying to keep calm."
Both pilots agree that after the initial excitement wears off and the adrenaline stops pumping, it feels like just a normal sortie and is executed as such.
Be it an actual emergency or just providing top cover, simply being able to make a difference keeps these pilots going.
"We're proud to be on call in the event they need us," said Captain Manning. "We're proud to be helping the guys on the ground and knowing I can help make any difference is pretty gratifying and it shows the Air Force is able to provide airpower at a moment's notice."