May 17, 2006 (by TSgt. Gregory Ripps) - The bombs are heavy and so is the training schedule for student pilots under the tutelage of the 149th Fighter Wing.
SSgt. Christopher Cortez, a crew chief with the 149th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, guides instructor pilot Maj. Mark Jennings on the ramp at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. during exercise Coronet Cactus 2006 in April. Two hundred-thirty members of the 149th Fighter Wing deployed to Tucson to conduct training that included dropping heavy ordnance, both live and inert, on the Barry Goldwater Bombing Range.
Every year since it became a Flight Training Unit under Air Education and Training Command, the wing has improved the syllabus for the nine-month "B-Course" with the ongoing objective of producing the best prepared F-16 combat pilots in the U.S. Armed Forces. In previous years, the 149th FW added targeting pods, laser-guided bombs and night flying with night vision goggles to the training. This year, it added use of Joint Direct Attack Munition 2,000-pound "smart" bombs that are directed to their target by a global position system guidance control unit.
Student and instructor pilots, along with 14 F-16 aircraft and a full complement of ground support personnel, flew from Lackland AFB
, Texas, to Davis-Monthan for Exercise Coronet Cactus, April 18-29, to test their knowledge and skills in an environment less familiar than south Texas.
"It was an outstanding opportunity to show fighter pilots what it's like to deploy and drop different weapons on a different range," said Lt. Col. John Kane, deployment commander. "It was an outstanding opportunity for everyone else in wing."
The wing operated out of Davis-Monthan's Operation Snowbird facilities. The F-16s dropped their ordnance over the Barry Goldwater Bombing Range in southwest Arizona. According to Lt. Col. Kevin Tarrant, the deployment's director of operations, every mission included some heavy-weight ordnance, and the second week included live ordnance.
Including deployment and redeployment of the aircraft, the pilots flew 141 sorties and 212 hours in all. On the busiest day, April 27, they flew 19 sorties and 29.7 hours.
Most flights to the range consisted of two- or four-ship missions performing close-air support with Joint Tactical Air Controllers on the ground directing the strikes.
"We don't know the targets until we're up in the air," said 1st Lt. Thom Mueller, one of the student pilots. "The JTACs are our eyes on the ground. Just like in a theater [of combat], we won't know where the targets are. The JTACs give us our target and other information we need."
The Goldwater range offered the challenge of flying low level between and around mountains as well as a variety of realistic targets, such as enemy airstrips, tanks, buildings and revetments, Lieutenant Mueller related.
The class senior ranking officer, Capt. Ryan Rensberger, said flying and dropping bombs over the Goldwater range was exhilarating. "It feels more like the real thing," he said. "Everything else [we've learned] is just a building block for this."
Each of the 10 student pilots was paired with an instructor pilot for each mission, serving as his wingman, although Maj. Jon Stone noted that some IP
proficiency training didn't involve the students.
"This exercise was an opportunity for the student pilots to experience how their aircraft reacts with bombs aboard," Major Stone said. "Because the aircraft are carrying more weight, they don't accelerate as fast."
Another dimension of the exercise was provided by the Situational Awareness Data Link. The link permits the air defense network and the aircraft to share information digitally by radio. The information, which includes a track file consisting of aircraft identification, altitude, speed, direction and fuel, and the presence of other aircraft, shows up on the pilot's Multifunction Display.
From the Tucson Test Center at the Air National Guard station in Tucson, Lt. Col. Mike McCoy, F-16 training chief, was able to "simulate bad guys in the range area" -- adding targets, enemy tanks and anti-aircraft positions to mission scenarios.
"I've set up a simulation to give students a display as if they were in a war zone," Colonel McCoy explained. "This exposes students to data link they'll see at war, when Airborne Warning and Control System and ground control (personnel) provide good-guy/bad-guy positions."
During the deployment to Arizona, the pilots dropped:
- 80 live MK-82 500-pound bombs;
- 21 GBU-12 500-pound bombs;
- 190 BDU-50 500-pound bombs;
- 34 BDU-56 2,000-pound bombs;
- 20 GBU-31 2,000-pound bombs with BDU-56 (JDAM).
All 20 JDAMs
hit their intended targets. "There were 20 drops – all hits," Colonel Tarrant said. "And as far as I know, this was the first time during an Air Force B-course where students dropped JDAMs."
The operations tempo kept bomb builders and bomb loaders busy.
The 13-member ammo section worked two eight- or nine-hour shifts to keep up with demand. Assembly of the bombs includes installing fuses and setting time delays when required.
"There's a lot more to it than getting a bomb out of a box," noted Master Sgt. Kenneth Paninski, the section's night shift supervisor. "If a fuse is not installed properly, the bomb will not go off."
Besides bombs, the section readied 2,000 rounds of 20mm ammunition for each aircraft and prepared AIM-9
trainer missiles and chaff and flare containers. Sergeant Paninski explained that the missiles, chaff and flares were to be loaded on the aircraft but not to be activated. The chaff module contains aluminum shavings that create an aluminum cloud to deter radar-guided missiles. The flares give off 3,000 degrees of heat to mislead heat-seeking missiles.
"We assemble and take them to the line," Sergeant Paninski said. "At that point, the loaders take over."
The loaders worked eight- to 10-hour days. Master Sgt. Roy Garza, loading standardization section superintendent, said that in one one-and-a-half-hour period they loaded 10 aircraft with six bombs apiece.
"We had different bomb loads – mixed configurations," Sergeant Garza said. "We definitely had to watch what we were doing."
In addition to getting bombs to their targets, pilots had another challenge one day in their second week of training. Maj. Jon Stone said a Marine Reserve unit from Yuma, Ariz., provided F-5 aircraft to simulate MiG-29s flying as adversaries.
"We had 10 of ours flying against them," Major Stone said. "We had to defend our way into the targets and fight our way out" – all simulated, of course.
Most things during the deployment went according to plan, although there were a few bumps.
A screw stripped out when the JDAM fin was being attached to a bomb. The screw would neither go in nor come out, threatening to prevent or delay use of the unit. However, Staff Sergeants Albert Limas and Eddie Patron of the machine shop took care of the matter with the help of Operation Snowbird personnel who had the exact tool they needed.
Cancellation of night flying required changes. "We had to reflow the schedule, change some targets and add more missions," said Lt. Col. Kane, detachment commander.
"No matter how much planning you do, you need to be flexible," he continued. "But with a highly professional unit, you can overcome obstacles.
"We did what we do at home in a completely different environment," Colonel Kane said in summarizing the deployment. "Our wing performed a class act. We showed … what the Air National Guard is capable of."