July 8, 2009 (by Capt. Gabe Johnson) - The commanding general of the Arizona National Guard flew in the back seat of an F-16D Fighting Falcon on July 7 to experience first hand the 162nd FWs pilot training mission at Tucson International Airport.
Maj. Gen. Hugo E. Salazar (left), Adjutant General and Commanding General of the Arizona National Guard, gets familiar with the back seat of an F-16D on the 162nd FW flightline before taking a flight on July 7th, 2009. Col. Greg Stroud (right), the wing commander, ensured the general was safely connected to the aircraft with help from crew chief TSgt. Arsenio Ayala (center).
Army Maj. Gen. Hugo E. Salazar, Arizona's Adjutant General, assumed duties as the state's top officer Dec. 16, 2008. A field artillery officer by trade, he had never flown in a tactical fighter.
With more than 1,450 Guardsmen assigned, the 162nd is the largest Air Guard unit under Salazar's command, and the F-16 flight was the right vehicle to show him what Arizona's Airmen do best.
"I'll see what it's really like," said General Salazar. "This will give me a better idea of what a pilot actually does."
"I have to do some Gs," he said, referring to the gravitational pull exerted on the body by intense combat maneuvers. "My wife's real gung ho so I have to pull some Gs... to tell her I pulled some Gs."
General Salazar was also interested in the role of crew chiefs at the wing.
"I know that I'm going to get a little more information out on the flightline regarding the maintenance and all the steps, procedures and protocol... all the checks and balances it takes to get a plane up in the air. Having two sons in the Air Force I've seen some of it, but this will give me more exposure to what the 162nd does," he said.
His pilot, Col. Greg Stroud, the wing commander, flew him over the Southern Arizona desert on a standard incentive ride profile - a dedicated flight to show all of the F-16's capabilities.
General Salazar said it was immediately apparent at take off that he was in for a new experience, and before the hour-long sortie concluded he had pulled more than 8 G's, flew at supersonic speed and experienced a variety of aerobatics.
"To be able to sustain that [G forces] in combat and be able to maintain your situational awareness is pretty amazing," he said.
At one point, at 14,000 feet and 480 knots, Colonel Stroud turned the plane left and pulled back into a tight turn. "He described it as floating, and I said, 'Sir, that's the blood rushing from your brain to your feet.' But he survived that quite well," said Colonel Stroud.
"I tried to give him some warning so that he knew when to strain or when to hold his breath so the Gs wouldn't be so brutal on him, but he's in good physical shape and I was able to max perform the jet."
The general said he was impressed by the speed at which the F-16 can climb and was astonished by the sensitivity of the flight controls. Wing maintainers were equally impressive during his visit.
"The maintainers do hard work, and I really appreciate the effort. The pilots can't do anything if those guys don't do their jobs. It gave me an appreciation for what the maintenance guys do," said the general.
Major General Salazar is the Director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs in addition to his duties as Adjutant General. He manages the day to day activities of Arizona's Army National Guard, Air National Guard, joint programs and the Emergency Management Division. His organization consists of more than 2,400 full-time federal military and civilian personnel, 600 state employees and a total of over 8,000 Soldiers and Airmen.
"I know jets are cool," said the general, "but field artillery rocks!"