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416th FLTS 'Skulls' return to Red Flag

February 15, 2012 (by Jet Fabara) - The lights of the Las Vegas strip served as a backdrop for Edwards Air Force Base crew members and four F-16s from the 416th Flight Test Squadron that participated in the realistic combat training exercise known as Red Flag, from Jan. 23 to Feb. 4.

With the night lights of down-town Las Vegas and F-15s from the Republic of Korea Air Force serving as a backdrop, F-16C block 50 #91-0383 from the 416th FLTS awaits for its aircrew to prep the aircraft for a night sortie during Red Flag on January 25th, 2012. [USAF photo]

The exercise marked a second appearance for the 416th "Skulls" at Nellis AFB, since 2009, and the second time ever an Air Force Materiel Command unit deployed for this exercise which involves the United States Air Force and the air forces of its allies.

"It's very unusual for an AFMC unit to participate in this way. The precedent was set in 2009 when the 416th deployed while testing M5.1+ software," said Lt. Col. Leonard Kearl, 416th FLTS commander. "This time we tested M6.1+, the next version of the [United States Air Force F-16] tape."

According to Kearl, the new software they brought to Red Flag this year provided two capabilities that make it better for a pilot to do their mission. The first is a new air-to-air missile capability, the AIM-120D, and a new air-to-ground precision weapon capability, the Small Diameter Bomb.

"This [Small Diameter Bomb integration] is a big deal, because it doubles the F-16 combat carrying load and tremendously improves the stand-off capability, which keeps a pilot out of harm's way because they can shoot farther away," said Kearl.

The squadron deployed 73 people, which included pilots, maintainers, engineers and support personnel in order to operate off the Nellis AFB ramp alongside the other participants during day and night sorties.

While there, the 416th served as the Global Power Fighters Combined Test Force and participated as Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses, also known as SEAD, fighters to eliminate surface-to-air threats. This scenario was conducted so that F-15Es and B-1s could get to their target areas without being engaged by hostile surface-to-air missiles and surface-to-air threats.

"The [team] did tremendously well, both on the maintenance and operations side and the engineering side. Four of our people were identified as top performers, to include one of our pilots, [who was recognized] as the top SEAD pilot," said Kearl.

In addition to that, the training served as a platform to assess developmental test in an operational environment.

"By virtue of taking a developmental test unit and putting it in that large force employment, we were able to find things that are ultimately going to save the tax payers money and more importantly help the warfighter, so when they get this system and want to employ it in combat it's going to be a better product," said Maj. Robert Ungerman, 416th FLTS operations supervisor and F-16 test pilot.

Kearl said that the team was also able to meet the two objectives they initially sought to accomplish.

"The first objective was to evaluate the new software in an operationally representative environment, something that would stress the system much more than we can traditionally do here at Edwards," Kearl said. "Our second objective was to demonstrate the value of testing to the warfighter and we did that by working right alongside the warfighter. Overall, it was a tremendously successful deployment in terms of meeting those objectives."

Red Flag was established in 1975 and is administered by the United States Air Force Warfare Center and Nellis AFB and executed through the 414th Combat Training Squadron in order to better prepares armed forces for combat, maximize the combat readiness, capability and survivability of participating units by providing realistic training in a combined air, ground, space and electronic threat environment while providing for a free exchange of ideas between forces.

Courtesy of 95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Additional images:

USAF F-16C block 42 #88-0445 flown by Maj. Brian Deas, 416th FLTS test pilot, and two pilots from the 422nd TES at Nellis AFB fly a formation flight back to Nellis AFB after completing their Red Flag mission on February 3rd, 2012. [Lockheed Martin photo by Chad Bellay]