November 13, 2007 (by Lt. Col. James Sears) - Today, eleven of the Combat Air Force's newest Viper pilots will close six months of demanding training and receive their graduation certificates.
The 61st FS class 07-FBC graduates 11 student pilots today. They are, from left, 1st lt. Ryan Cross, 1st Lt. Josh Carter, 1st Lt. Neil Gorham, 1st Lt. Jonathan Gilbert, Capt. Chris Guarente, Capt. Dave Antonio, Capt. Kris Deuel, Capt. Chad Sebero, 1st Lt. Matt Crabb, 2nd Lt. Chris Bachelor and Capt. Tyler Robarge.
Class 07-FBC from the 61st Fighter Squadron "Top Dogs" will join the ranks of a select group of aviators fortunate enough to fly the F-16.
The Top Dogs did not graduate these aviators alone. Graduation requires academic instructors from the 56th Training Squadron, aircraft provided by the men and women of the 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit and 56th Maintenance Group, operated on and over an airfield run by the 56th Operations Support Squadron.
Class 07-FBC began training on April 18. They spent more than a month in ground academics learning aircraft systems and emergency procedures. This academic knowledge was put to the test in numerous simulations where the students demonstrated the ability to apply their classroom knowledge to realistic emergency situations. Once they passed this initial hurdle, they were ready to step into the real jet and take their first flight in the F-16.
Following this transition flying phase, the students moved into the air-to-air and air-to-ground phases. Top Dog instructors put 07-FBC through the gauntlet, flying more than 610 sorties during the duration of their course. The students quickly learned what would be expected of them as operational fighter pilots. The culmination of their training was a week-long large force exercise during which they were tasked with destroying targets while opposed by hostile air and ground forces.
Graduation day signifies the end of initial training for 07-FBC, but not the end of their learning. The class will report to the 310th Fighter Squadron where they will receive follow-on training on night vision goggles, laser-guided bombs, targeting pod operations and other specialized F-16 missions. Once they arrive at their first operational unit, they'll undergo further mission qualification training lasting up to 90 days. Like many who have gone before them, some will soon deploy to places like Afghanistan or Iraq and put their hard fought skills to the test flying combat sorties over hostile territory.