Lt. Col. Craig "Skip" Wilkerson

Interview



Lt.Col. Wilkerson (Nr. 590 on the 1K list) started flying the Viper in May of '84 in his initial checkout in A models at MacDill. His first assignment (and the best of his career as he claims) was 4 years at Hahn followed by 2.5 years at Shaw (19 FS) and a year remote in the 35th FS at Kunsan, Korea. After Korea, he did a staff job in Hawaii and then went back to flying as Operations Officer in the F-16 Fighter Weapons School.

F-16.net: Skip, how many flying hours do you have in the F-16?

Lt.Col. Wilkerson: I have just under 2000 hours in the jet.

F-16.net: You have been in Europe for 4 years, at Flugplatz Hahn . What is your best memory / experience from there?

Lt.Col. Wilkerson: Hahn was an awesome assignment, especially the last year when Lt Col Paul Dordal was SQ/CC - one of the 1st to check out in the Viper and among the initial F-16 instructors at the Weapons School. At that time, we had a very high level of experience in the squadron and a bunch of fantastic people. I really love Germany - I had lived at Spang during high school and always wanted to go back. All told, I lived in Germany for eight years. In those days (up until '88), it was a fantastic place to fly and I'll never forget it. Every time you took off, every jock in NATO was looking to jump you and you were looking to jump them. We had lots of mock dog fights.

F-16.net: What would you tell someone who had to go fly in Europe?

Lt.Col. Wilkerson: Even though I believe the flying is not as good now due to the restrictions on speed and altitude, I would highly encourage anyone to go to Europe because it is a fantastic place to live and discover, and, still a superb place for a young pilot to grow up.

F-16.net: What was your most memorable experience in the Viper, what the most scarey?

Lt.Col. Wilkerson: My most memorable experience at Hahn,and, in the Viper was a big composite force exercise I planned and called "Sabre Thunder". This was shortly after Eldorado Canyon so everyone was hot to do a long flight from Hahn to Spain to hit the range at Bardenas. So, as part of one of our normal rotations for weapons training, we did "Sabre Thunder". I'll never forget being out front of all those jets streaming contrails above the clouds - I was a young flight lead and was very proud to have been given the opportunity to lead the mission. My scariest moment was also at Hahn when a young pilot named JD Williams almost ran into me during a tactical turn. He came so close I could hear him go over top of me.

F-16.net: You have been the Operations Officer for the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB...Could you explain our readers a little, how a "normal" pilot gets selected to go to the FWIC (Fighter Weapons Instructor Course), what it takes and what the USAF can expect from such weapons experts?

Lt.Col. Wilkerson: Many F-16 pilots aspire to go to Weapons School at some time in their career. For most of us, the instructors that made the greatest impression on us early on were the guys who "wear the patch". It is an extremely demanding school that is designed to take an already superb instructor pilot and make him the best he can possibly be. Most guys who have gone through the school will tell you they were at the top of their skills when they graduated from FWIC - that is, unless you instruct at the school. During the normal progression from wingman to flight lead to instructor pilot, those who really excel and who desire to go to Weapons School may begin to apply when they have a minimum of 50 hours as an instructor pilot - this would be at around 600-700 total hours for a good pilot. It is very rare, however, for someone of that level of experience to be selected. A typical FWIC student shows up with 1000+ total and several hundred as an instructor. The number of students in each class is usually 12 which were selected from the 30 or so candidates that were considered for selection. Keep in mind that we only saw applications from the top 3 from each wing. Many more apply but dont make the cut locally. The applicants are screened by a board of 10 officers, 2 of which are from the school - the commandant, and, the squadron commander. Although, the other eight get votes, their votes are not always as powerful as those of the commandant or commander. They can reject any candidate outright no matter what the others say. You see, sometimes a wing commander will represent his candidate to be something more than he actually is - a fact that would never go unnoticed because of the network of prior graduates that would call back to the school to give the "real" story. So, one of the most important aspects involved in a candidate's selection is having earned the respect and support of those who have already been to the school. Flying at the school is very challenging - much more so than most find at the unit level. Students get the opportunity to do every mission and drop/shoot every munition the F-16 is capable of doing. They also get over 300 hours in the classroom learning tactics and systems at a depth and level far beyond that required for other pilots in an operational unit. Upon graduation, new Weapons Officers return to their squadrons where they become the "instructor of the instructors" and THE expert in everything the F-16 does.

F-16.net: Is there any Viper jet that you'd remember that gave you a special thrill?

Lt.Col. Wilkerson: I think everyone's favorite jet is the first one you have your name painted on. Mine was actually the second, F-16C no. 411 (F-16.net: The jet meant is #85411, the second batch of Hahn F-16s) In those days, we were allowed to have nose art and I had mine named "Skipso V" - my grandfather had I thru IV on his P-40s and P-38s in the Pacific during World War II.

F-16.net: What is the story behind your callsign "Skip"?

Lt.Col. Wilkerson: "Skipso" was not the origin of my callsign - that's just a coincidence. I got "Skip" when I mistakenly strafed the Skip Bombing Target (instead of the strafe rags) at Bardenas Range in Spain. This was a big deal due to the proximity to the safety tower - CLOSE!!

F-16.net: How far do you consider the support of family being important for your AF career?

Lt.Col. Wilkerson: I think most pilots - especially today - will tell you their families are extremely important. That is certainly the case for me. My wife has been extremely supportive of me in every respect and she truly shares equally in any success I could claim in my career.

F-16.net: Anything else you'd like to say about the F-16 Fighting Falcon?

Lt.Col. Wilkerson: I am lucky and proud to have flown the Viper - it is, "THE HEAT"!!

F-16.net: Thanks a lot for the interview, Skip !

- Lt.Col. Wilkerson was interviewed online by Martin Agüera -




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