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Check Six: How the 36th FS produces SEAD fighter pilots

January 27, 2022 (by A1C Megan Estrada) - Pilots from the 36th Fighter Squadron receive extensive Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) training in order to become an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter pilot during their duty assignment at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea.

Maj. Joe Gagnon, 36th FS director of operations, poses for a photo at Osan AB on January 27th, 2022. Pilots from the 36th FS receive 120 days of Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses training in order to become proficiant in that duty during their duty assignment at Osan. [USAF photo by SrA. Megan Estrada]

Pilots undergo a four-segment training, which provides them with an advanced understanding of aircraft capabilities further equipping them to become a mission-capable SEAD fighter pilots.

"The SEAD mission is the foundation to success during large-scale combat operations," said Maj. Joe "Loco" Gagnon, 36th FS director of operations. "The Fiends are the first squadron to enter the enemy’s airspace in order to clear the way for other aircraft. Flying fast, dodging the enemy fire, destroying the adversary, and getting everyone home alive is our goal."

To accomplish this goal, pilots endure 120 days of intensive fighter training, covering basic fighter maneuvers (BFM), close air support (CAS), defensive counter-air (DACT), and more.

"Segment one, or the BFM phase, consists of self-study, mission preparation, the flight brief, flight and debrief," said 1st Lt David Poe, 36th FS mission qualification training student. "During the actual flight itself, we try to execute what was briefed, and the debrief is an analysis of how closely we actually flew versus how we planned to fly."

During this segment, pilots are required to pass three BFM sorties: defensive, offensive, and high aspect. The sorties consist of simulated scenarios where pilots have to survive an adversary attack, shoot at adversary aircraft, and compete in head-to-head air combat. Students are also expected to retain an ample amount of information on both their own aircraft and the enemy’s aircraft in order to be able to accommodate any problem that may occur during the training.

The BFM segment of training features the fundamentals each pilot can expect to execute in the months to come. With the completion of the training, each pilot's official makes the transition from a pilot to a fighter pilot.

"Long days and the vast amount of reading required to be effective at F-16 tactics are ‘obstacles’, but are entirely necessary to being the best pilot I can be," said Poe. "I don’t think you can make it far in this business without some level of passion, and though the days are long, I enjoy what they consist of."

Once pilots accomplish all technical and educational objectives required to pass segment one, they are allowed to graduate to the Air Combat Maneuvering and Defensive Counter Air portion.

"Following being done with mission qualification training, they [students] can primarily focus on enjoying flying and practicing the skills they just learned throughout MQT and getting better at them," said Capt. Connor "Sic" Watson, 36th FS Fiends flight lead. "After all, more reps create more repeatable and effective habit patterns that they can carry into large force exercises, and one day combat."

From this training, students will walk away with learned skills they’ll be able to apply to the rest of their careers, further molding them into instinctive problem solvers making them essential to the mission.

"[Students will leave this training with] advanced critical thinking skills and the ability to make snap decisions against a constantly changing problem that is always fighting back," said Capt. Michael "Jackal" Mayclin, 36th FS chief instructor pilot. "The best pilots we can create are those who can adapt on the fly, via their correct perception of the environment around them, taking into consideration the mission priorities, decide on a course of action, and then execute as aggressively and violently as possible. All in mere seconds."

Rest assured the Fiends are always sharpening their game to a razor’s ensuring they are ready to fly tonight when called upon.

Courtesy of 51st Fighter Wing

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