November 26, 2014 (by 1st Lt. Ra'Quel Longmire) - After years of planning and an overwhelming amount of anticipation, November 13, 2014 had finally arrived for the 54th Fighter Group. The date marked yet another historical moment at Holloman as five of 14 Basic Course students with the 311th Fighter Squadron flew their first-ever flights, as the pilot, in an F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Lt. Col. Jerod Rick, 54th FG chief of standardization and evaluation, prepares to enter the cockpit of F-16D block 42 #88-0169 with 1st Lt. Taylor Roberts, a Basic Course student in the 311th FS at Holloman AFB on November 13th, 2014. Under the new training syllabus for the F-16, all students are prepared for the possibility of flying their first flight alone by training in 8 simulator sorties during their academic phase, including an Emergency Procedures Evaluation from an F-16 Flight Evaluator. [USAF photo by SrA. Daniel E. F. Liddicoet]
"I talked to one of the students, and he said it's a crazy feeling, through that grin of extreme excitement and joy, to reach that goal," said Capt. Matthew Hoyt, F-16 instructor pilot with the 311th Fighter Squadron. "Every one of these students is a perfectionist."
The students began their 45 days of academics on Sept. 29, 2014 at the 54th Operations Support Squadron under the instruction of Lt. Col. Marshall Chalverus, 54th OSS commander.
"We get approximately a month with them for academics and simulators, which consist of eight to ten - hour days before they come here [311th FS
] and sit in an actual F-16," said Chalverus.
According to Lt. Col. Scott Frederick, 311th FS commander, training is typically six to eight months long from a student's first day of the academic phase to his or her graduation day.
"A lot of factors go into that, including weather, airspace availability and maintenance of the aircraft. In a perfect world, they're done in about six and a half months, but currently the course is planned for eight months," said Frederick. "If we can graduate them earlier and send them off to the combat forces, then that's what we try to do."
On average, each student will experience 75 to 80 flying hours in the fighter jet by the end of the course. Currently, the students are in the transition phase of their training. In other words, the students are learning to transition from one aircraft to another.
"We're literally teaching them how to fly the F-16," said Frederick."
During the first 10 flights, the transition phase focuses on lessons such as takeoffs, landings and the student's ability to handle emergencies. The second phase consists of air-to-air training and incorporates mastering techniques that involve flying against other aircraft that act as adversaries.
The Fighting Falcon has been proven to be the most successful fighter aircraft since its production in the early 1970s, producing over 4,000 aircraft.
Hoyt stated, "It's pretty impressive when the lieutenants step out and see the year the jet was made on the tail of the aircraft, and it's before the year they were born. That's a pretty reliable fighter."
Many question if they F-16s are here to stay at Holloman. By mid - 2015, it is expected that Holloman will be responsible for as much as 45 percent of F-16 training for the entire Department of Defense.
"Forty-five percent at Holloman, 45 percent at Luke Air Force Base and another 10 percent picked up by Tucson [Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona] and Kelly [Field Annex, Texas], which is pretty significant from a fighter community standpoint since the F-16 is the largest in terms of numbers for fighters in the Department of Defense," said Chalverus.
Over the next six to eight months, two additional squadrons will activate under the 54th Fighter Group, bringing their total number of personnel to roughly 700 Airmen and civilians.
"We are absolutely excited to have the F-16 in Alamogordo," said Hoyt. "The community support has been amazing. We showed up at the beginning of this year to start up these squadrons, and everything we've gotten from the community has been nothing but extremely supportive and positive."