Major Stroud received a commission as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy in 1981 through Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida. This was, and still is, the fastest program (15 weeks) at that time, for getting into U. S. military flying. He progressed through training in the T-34, T-2, and A-4 aircraft earning his wings in January 1983, after which he was selected to fly the A-7E Corsair for Fleet (combat) aircraft. He was assigned to the U.S.S. Midway homeported in Yokosuka, Japan until 1986, reaching milestones of 1000 flight hours and 300 carrier landings (100 at night). His next assignment was to an aggressor squadron in Fallon, Nevada flying the A-4F and the F-5E (often on the same day). It was in the Fall of 1986 that he attended Navy Top Gun at Miramar N.A.S. in San Diego, California.
Maj. Stroud "jumped ship" (so to speak) in 1988 when he left the Navy and transferred into the Air National Guard. He went back to flying the A-7D, until, in 1992, he transitioned to the F-16A block 10. In 1993 he was selected to attend the Air Force Fighter Weapons School F-16A division. The following year, he was a member of the initial cadre of instructor pilots that started the Air National Guard Advanced Weapons Course, primarily offered to International Air forces such as Thailand and Singapore. In 1995 he was invited back as a Fighter Weapons School instructor and became the BFM phase manager. The A-model weapons school has since been closed and he is currently the Operations Officer for the 148 Fighter squadron at Tucson, Az.
F-16.net: To start with the obvious question, how would you compare flying in the Navy with flying in the Air Force?
Maj. Stroud: I have been asked this several times and I usually give this answer. An Air Force pilot has rules and regulations that tell him what he is allowed to do. A Navy/Marine pilot has rules and regulations that tell him what he cannot do. So... when something different comes up flying (a Grey area) the Air force pilot thinks that because there is nothing to tell him how to do it, he will not try to. The Navy pilot on the other hand thinks that since there is nothing saying he can't do it he will find a way. Navy and Marine pilots must spend many hours of training to keep there shipboard flying skills sharp or they will die. Those same hours for an Air Force pilot are spent on tactics and shot discipline etc.
F-16.net: You are also a (rather rare) graduate of both the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun) and the Air Force Fighter Weapons School. How would you compare the two of 'em?
Maj. Stroud: Yes, I am a graduate of both the Navy and Air Force Fighter Weapons Schools. I went to Top Gun as an aggressor pilot flying "Mig" simulator. All of the training emphasized dog fighting and air to air skills and how to be a good aggressor for F-14 and F-18 pilots. I even learned a few Russian phrases to blurt out on the radio. The F-16A Weapons School was a much more comprehensive and difficult school which takes 5 months to complete and covers every tactic and mission the F-16 is capable of. You are trained and expected to train squadron pilots in follow on assignments. This was the most difficult school I ever attended and it felt like I really accomplished something when I graduated. I had my "bumps" in the road and it was not easy. Top Gun was fun and easy in comparison.
F-16.net: How would you compare the different aircraft types you flew to the F-16?
Maj. Stroud: I have a total of 3845 hours on T-34 Mentor (70 hours), T-2 Buckeye (75), F-5E Tiger Shark (200), TA-4J, A-4E, A-4F Skyhawk (600), A-7D/E Corsair II (1600) and F-16A blocks 10,15,20 (1300). Compared to the other jets I have flown nothing comes close to the F-16. It is certainly one of the top fighters currently in the world. It is cost effective and I believe alot of capability in a relatively inexpensive fighter compared to an F-14, 15, or 18.
F-16.net: So which block do you enjoy most?
Maj. Stroud: I am currently flying the F-16A block 15. Of the different blocks here at Tucson I think that the block 10 with the PW-220 engine is the most fun to fly because of it's superior turning capability compared to the nose heavy block 42. I enjoy an advantage during BFM which is the mission I enjoy most.
F-16.net: Why is that?
Maj. Stroud: BFM, dogfighting, is not always taught with the most sound tactical decisions in mind, meaning that in the big scheme of things you would not want to meet the bandit at the merge and get slow and turn and burn in a protracted engagement but rather kill the bandit quickly. Students need to learn how to fight their jet through it's entire operating envelope and that means sometimes allowing a rolling scissors to take place and learn how to win in that slow tactically undesirable situation. I have been in many large force employment packages and often the high tech fighters make it to the merge and surviving comes down to your BFM skills. The IP with the most credibility is the one who can instruct in BFM, and if there are no training restraints on him he will win one on one against his peers a majority of the time. I must have 800 hours of BFM and I never get tired of it (although my neck does sometimes).
F-16.net: What is the mission of the 148th Fighter Squadron?
Maj. Stroud: The mission of the 148FS is to train U.S. Air National Guard and Reserve pilots, and International allied or coalition air forces that fly the F-16. That training takes place in Tucson, Arizona out of the Tucson International Airport. Our training airspace and bombing ranges are second to none and the flying weather in Arizona is famous. The 148FS is part of the 162 Fighter Wing. The 4 squadrons that make up the wing are the 148FS (block 15's), 152FS (block 25's and 42's), 195FS (block 10's), and the Air Force and Reserve Test Squadron (block 42's). There are approximately 90 jets on the ramp and the manning is about 1.2 pilots per jet. Some of our instructors are fulltime airline pilots and part time F-16 instructors which really makes us different from most other organizations. Of course we have flight simulators for each block of F-16 and a fulltime cadre of civilian instructors which are all former fighter pilots. All of the ground school academics are computerized and students are issued a laptop computer as a study aid.
F-16.net: When training foreign pilots, do you notice a difference with American pilots
Maj. Stroud: When comparing American students to international students there are always differences but it is a matter of degree. Students from Pacific rim countries present the most challenge because their culture and language are so foreign to us the American instructor pilots (IP's). For instance pilots from Taiwan and Indonesia have significant language problems and even if they know English well their accent is sometimes difficult and tough to work with. All international students are required to pass English language proficiency test before they can come to the U.S. for training. On the other hand the European Pack Group which consists of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway are easy to work with. Sometimes countries fall somewhere in between like Portugal or Singapore.
F-16.net: How do you think back on your different assignments?
Maj. Stroud: I have been very fortunate so far as assignments go and I can honestly say that I would not trade any of the assignments/experiences that I have had for anything except for some combat time. When you train to do something for 17 years I think that is reasonable. I think that flying off and on an aircraft carrier is maybe the experience of my life. I watched Desert Storm on CNN so I have no combat experience to relate to. The 3 years that I was on a carrier presented lots of excitement and adventure not to mention incredible travel experiences to sometimes remote and out of the way places. My current guard buddies still give me flak about being a "Squid" but if given the opportunity they would all jump at the chance for some "cats and traps". My primary non-flying job on the ship was as a Landing Signal Officer (LSO), which meant standing at the back end of the carrier coaching other pilots to a safe landing. When I went to VFA-127 in Fallon, Nevada, to be an aggressor pilot I had no idea how much I would enjoy that assignment. I would fly 3 times a day and up to 6 days a week when the F-18 RAG would come to Fallon. All the flying was air to air and our job was to employ soviet style tactics against Navy pilots. It was not unusual to go from A-4 to F-5 to A-4 in the same day! I once flew 60 hours in one month. We also had 3 models of A-4s all with different engines. We had to tape a card in the cockpit with the engine limitations printed on them so we could keep the numbers straight. I went to Top Gun in the fall of 1986 and the movie Top Gun had come out that summer. Wednesday nights at the Miramar Officers Club were lots of fun.
F-16.net: Any deployments or specific flights you remember in particular?
Maj. Stroud: My most memorable F-16 mission and favorite deployment were both in Thailand last summer in 1997. I went to Korat, Thailand for 3 months and had a blast as an Advanced Weapons Course instructor. The Royal Thai Air Force put 4 students through the course and language, customs, and culture all presented challenges not to mention the tropical weather during the summer. I will never forget flying as number 2 in an 8 ship opposed SAT mission. F-5E's and F-16s from Takli airbase were the bandits. Our target was Takli and the package was to fight there and back through their ACMI range. Well to make a long story short, the bandits hit the package and things got hectic especially when the Thai GCI and the Thai pilots started speaking rapid Thai on the radios and the American IP's including me could not get a word in edge wise. I was sticking with my flight lead and hanging on shooting only F-5s since I could VID them. Boy that was fun but it is sure easier if everybody on your team is speaking the same language.
F-16.net: What's the story behind your callsign?
Maj. Stroud: My callsign is Mongo and I did not pick it for myself. You see there was this dwarf tossing incident in Panama 1989. I seem to remember that alcohol was involved but there is not enough time and space here to tell the whole story.
F-16.net: Any favourite practical jokes you played on
Maj. Stroud: I still sometimes pull this on some guys and it's funny everytime I do it. It's a BFM sortie and the set-up is an intercept to engagement - only I watch the other guy and when his jet is turned 180 degrees out and he is heading back to his CAP point for the next engagement I turn to follow him low and out of sight. I make radio calls just like I too am returning to my point which would be around 30 miles apart. When he calls ready I too call ready, fights on! He proceeds towards where I should be coming from searching for me with his radar. I lurk behind him careful not to spike him with my radar and already in a WEZ (weapons envelope). I continue to spoof him with radio calls finally calling a tally ho. By this time I am usually laughing, visualizing him squirm in the cockpit and watching him start to jink right and left to also get a tally ho. By this time I lock him up which causes him to break but it's too late because I am already saddled up in gun range. In the debrief he is usually mystified about why he didn't see me until I was gunning him. I usually smile and say maybe it was your radar. I could rationalize and figure it is a good exercise in visual lookout for the guy.
F-16.net: Thanks for the interview!
- Maj. Stroud was interviewed online by Stefaan Vanhastel -