August 12, 2010 (by TSgt. Lindsey Maurice) - They turn the wrenches, load the munitions and coordinate all the moving pieces to get jets into the air. Day after day, they work hard on the ground to launch aircraft and recover them when they land, all the while never getting to see action in the skies.
Capt. Ryan Thulin, 555th FS pilot, takes SSgt. Darren Hale, 31st AMXS avionics systems journeyman, on a familiarization flight in F-16D block 40 #90-0795 on August 4th, 2010 at Kallax AB, Sweden. The 555th FS spent two weeks working with the Swedish air force members of Norrbotten Wing. [USAF photo by TSgt. Lindsey Maurice]
For about 30 Airmen, their dream of one day flying in an F-16 came true when their unit, the 555th Fighter Squadron, or "Triple Nickel", traveled to Kallax Air Base, Sweden, to train with the Swedish air force at Norrbotton Wing and use the Vidsel Test Range July 30 to Aug. 13.
With two D-model F-16s as part of the fleet, the unit was able to fly some of the unit's maintainers, weapons loaders, operations Airmen, medics and joint terminal attack controllers on familiarization flights.
"An opportunity like this doesn't come often for our maintainers and support Airmen," said Master Sgt. William Biasotti, 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron specs section chief, who assisted in coordinating the familiarization flights during the exercise. "We try and take advantage of TDYs (temporary duties) such as this to reward those who work hard with a flight."
Staff Sgt. Jared Moffitt, 31st AMXS weapons load crew member, has been maintaining weapons systems on the F-16 since enlisting into the Air Force four and a half years ago. After just a year at Aviano Air Base, he was finally able to see those munitions in action on Aug. 6.
"It was an extreme rush," he said. "First we went on a bombing run where we dropped two GBU 38s (joint direct attack munition practice bombs), and then we went on a strafing run and shot off some (practice) ammo. It was pretty exciting seeing the munitions we put on the jets in action. The entire experience was great. It was unreal."
The ground troops aren't the only ones who benefit from the familiarization flight experience as Capt. Ryan Thulin, 555th FS
pilot, discovered on the multiple "fam" flights he piloted during the TDY, including Sergeant Moffitt's flight.
"It's great to fly these guys, especially the weapons guys, because they're the ones loading the bombs on the jets," he said. "It's definitely cool to go out and show those guys our perspective too. They see us take off each day, but they don't see the rest of it. This gives them the opportunity to see the end state of all their hard work.
"It's also cool having a weapons guy on the flight because we don't fly with bullets or bombs in Italy
, so I was able to ask him a bunch of questions. It's a good deal for both of us and only makes us better at what we do."
Staff Sgt. Darren Hale, 31st AMXS avionics systems journeyman, also experienced his first F-16 flight Aug. 4, after six years of working on the airframe.
"I'm still hurting a bit from the flight, but it was definitely worth it," he said. "This is a once in a lifetime experience, but given the opportunity I'd do it again in a few years. It makes a difference seeing how everything plays out in the sky."
While the majority of the familiarization flights were afforded to the maintainers out on the flight line and in the backshops, there were some support function personnel who had the opportunity to fly, such as Tech. Sgt. Sergio Sanchez, who works in the 555th FS aviation management section.
"I got excited right away (when I heard I was going to get to fly)," he said after his flight on Aug. 5. "I started getting ready filling out my paperwork, going through egress training and the flight physical, making sure everything was good to go.
"The experience was amazing. It's like you're on a rollercoaster. You go up; you get to a certain altitude and suddenly drop within seconds. Let's say (for example) you were at 20,000 feet and within seconds you're at about 2,000 feet, so you feel that acceleration."
The 13-year Air Force veteran also appreciated the unique travel experience his flight afforded him in Northern Sweden.
"I knew this was going to be a great opportunity to check out the surroundings and go to the Arctic Circle, which is one thing I wanted to do driving (while here in Lulea), but now I did it flying," he said. "Not many people can say they've been to the Arctic Circle. It's quite an experience."
As the Triple Nickel's time in Sweden draws to an end, the ground crews who have flown continue to turn their wrenches, load munitions and coordinate sorties with a fresh perspective and greater appreciation for the mission.