April 30, 2009 (by MSgt. Jack Braden) - Over the Arizona desert near Tucson, nine student pilots took the "final exam" for a career most people only dream about in April. They are in the final stages of training to become F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots for the Air Force.
An instructor pilot with the Texas ANG's 149th FW returns to base in F-16D block 30 #87-0368 from the 182nd FS after completing an Exercise Coronet Cactus training mission on April 24th, 2009 near Tucson IAP. The 149th FW trains active duty F-16 pilots prior to assignment to their first duty station.
At the end of 7.5 months of intense F-16 Basic Course Training with the Texas Air National Guard's 149th Fighter Wing in San Antonio, the students participated in Exercise Coronet Cactus at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
"At the end of the course, we bring them out here for two weeks for what is ultimately a graduation exercise of sorts," said Lt. Col. John Kane, the 182nd Fighter Squadron commander and one of 28 Air National Guard instructor pilots assigned to the 149th FW. "It is a culmination of all of their training. This is a great opportunity for them to put the whole 7.5 months of training together to get them prepared for when they go to their active-duty units."
Coronet Cactus is scheduled for 176 sorties over 11 days, and after months of simulating different scenarios the students looked forward to putting the pieces together and applying everything they have learned.
"I'm expecting to get a little more experience," said 1st Lt. Tom Dowd, a second-generation Air Force pilot. "We're actually dropping live bombs and heavyweight inerts instead of simulating them as we have been. We also have the chance for larger force engagements, flying against more planes at a time and starting to get some real-life scenarios instead of training for one piece of the puzzle at a time. We're putting the pieces together."
Although the instructors are all members of the Air National Guard, they bring an average of more than 2,000 flight hours each, in various aircraft, to the course. All of them have previously served on active duty around the world.
"Working with the Guard wasn't much of an adjust," said 1st Lt. Shawn Hoeltje, an active-duty student. "The instructors were active duty at one time in their life and the Guard and active duty are pretty similar. A lot of the instructors are lieutenant colonels and colonels; seasoned guys who have been around for nearly 20 years and have different sets of experiences."
It is passing on that knowledge and experience to a younger generation that motivates the instructors.
"Our experience helps them, most of us have seen it and done it before, some of us in other airplanes," Colonel Kane said. "It's the satisfaction of knowing our graduates have dropped all the weapons they're going to use in combat. They have the officership and professionalism, both in the air and on the ground, to support any mission the Air Force throws at them. The satisfaction is knowing that I have been there and done that, I'm imparting my experiences on to them in the hopes that they do a good job and carry on the United States."