MU-2 pilots provide valuable ABM training
By 1st Lt. Jon Quinlan , 325th Air Control Squadron
/ Published October 18, 2006
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Nestled in the middle of the Tyndall flight line next to some of the most sophisticated fighters in the world, are eight white turbo prop Mitsubishi MU-2 flight training aircraft.
Some may say these aircraft seem odd parked near the F-22 Raptors or F-15 Eagles, but the mission of these MU-2 aircraft and the pilots that fly them are just as vital to developing America's Air Dominance.
The MU-2s and the nine retired military pilots that fly them provide direct flying support for the 325th Air Control Squadron's Air Battle Management course. These pilots, contracted by Air 1st Aviation Companies, Inc. fly two missions daily so ABM students get real world experience controlling aircraft.
"These flights give ABM students their first look at controlling live aircraft," said Capt. Art Gerhart, 325th ACS instructor. "These (MU-2 pilots) enhance our training by giving us a stepping stone approach to training."
After ABM students complete extensive simulator training, their next step is controlling eight MU-2 sorties with a total of 24 tactical intercepts. Students also receive one orientation flight in the MU-2 to see first hand how pilots use the information that ABMs provide them.
"We simulate F-15 fighter tactics in the MU-2 even though we are going a lot slower," said Rich White, Air 1st chief pilot and retired colonel. "Our distances are compressed so it's a relatively seamless transition."
The shorter distances make the training and the timing more realistic for students to help prepare them for high performance missions. Instructors from the 325th ACS choose scenarios for the MU-2 pilots to fly, exposing students to a variety of formations and offensive/defensive tactics. Students use these training sorties to get comfortable controlling aircraft, get experience hearing what tactical missions will sound like, and practice radio communication to the pilots. All ABM students must successfully complete all eight missions before they start working with high performance aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle or F-22 Raptor.
The MU-2 tactical missions simulate a battle between the "blue" forces, usually simulating F-15's and the "red" forces, usually simulating Mig-29's.
The MU-2 pilots are some of the most experienced pilots on base with years of experience flying everything from the F-111, to the A-10, to the F-15. Seven are retired Air Force pilots, one is a retired Navy pilot and one is a former Marine pilot. All the pilots have fighter aircraft experience.
"I love it," said Mr. White on flying MU-2 missions. "We enjoy the job because number one, it keeps us flying, two, this is a mission that most of us did some time in our military careers and the mission certainly contributes to national defense."
The pilots enjoy their job and also enjoy the aircraft they fly.
"The MU-2 is the right airplane for this mission," said Joe Cannizzo, Air 1st pilot who is also an Air National Guard lieutenant colonel at the Southeast Air Defense Sector here. "The MU-2 is a reliable, rugged, maneuverable and economical turbo prop airplane ... It's just the right mix."
The pilots play a big part in training new ABMs.
"It is important for us to see how the controller is handling the intercept and adjust our communication appropriately," said Mr. Cannizzo. "We don't want to over task the controller, but maximize the learning.
Air 1st Aviation Companies, Inc. has provided contracted flight training for Tyndall AFB since 1998, flying more than 4,000 flight hours per year.