August 22, 2013 (by SrA Natasha Stannard) - The 480th Fighter Squadron restarted its flying hour program this summer after the squadron stopped flying in April due to Air Force wide budget reductions driven by sequestration.
The flying hour reduction only impacted the pilots who were still at home installations and not deployed locations; the majority of the 480th pilots are currently deployed.
However, the 20 pilots who did stay behind here at Spangdahlem lost their flying currencies in landing, air combat training and precision approach.
Currencies track the rate pilots complete required tasks. Completing the required tasks ensures the pilots maintain a minimum level of proficiency keeping them mission-ready for any given event.
Most basic mission capability currencies, which are what the 480th lost, exprire within 30 to 45 days. Once pilots miss 226 days of flying, they are considered unqualified to fly and must typically re-qualify at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.
To prevent further loss of currencies and worse yet, loss of flight qualification, the 480th teamed up with pilots from the 510th Fighter Squadron from Aviano Air Base, Italy
, to regain their currencies once the stand-down ended.
In order to regain currency, the 480th pilots had to demonstrate their flight-capabilities in front of fully certified pilots, which they lacked - that's where the 510th came in. One of their certified -pilots came to Spangdahlem to get a few of the 480th pilot's proficiency back to mission ready. They did this by "chasing," or following, a few of the 480th pilots as they demonstrated basic flight maneuvers -- in this case landing, air combat training and precision approach.
The re-certification of a few of the pilots caused a domino effect.
"Once a few of us regained our currencies, we were able to get the rest of the pilots here updated currencies to fly," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Wil Kauffman, 52nd Operations Group chief of standardization and evaluation.
While the squadron was not flying, they maintained some proficiency in the cockpit by conducting flight academics and simulator training. The 52nd additionally looked at each pilot's individual training requirements and tailored training programs for each pilot's needs.
"A lot went into the training," said Kauffman. "Normally one pilot losing currency is no big deal, but because it was an entire squadron we had to look through all of our Air Force Instructions to tailor individual programs approved by the operations group commander."
When tailoring training programs, Kauffman said he looked at F-16 Fighting Falcon flying times, numbers of sorties flown, experience and qualification levels to figure out what and how much training each pilot needed.
He said getting the pilots up to basic mission capable is just the beginning. Now that the flying program here is back, it's time for the pilots to train for the combat mission.
"It's like with sports teams, when they get together they practice maneuvers they have to perfect, and that's what we do," said Kauffman. "We practice skills to perfect them, and now these are the skills we could have lost. Now everyone is re-acquiring tactical proficiencies for air-to-air and air-to-ground operations."
And, the squadron is ready to practice.
"After being out of the cockpit for that long, your skills decrease so it takes time to be mission ready again," said Capt. Joseph Viegas, 480th pilot. "But, it feels great to be back doing the mission, and regaining that skill."
Kauffman added that reacquiring mission readiness and continuing the flying programs would have been near impossible without the squadron's skeleton maintenance crew, due to deployments.
"They took aircraft that were grounded for three months and brought them to 100% readiness," he said. "It took a lot of work, but was truly a team effort to get us back to where we need to be.