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Eagle students begin to slip bounds

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --  Airman 1st Class Jesus Ortiz, 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, right, assists Lieutenant Bursi as the pilot straps into the
cockpit during one of his initial F-15 sorties here. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Amanda Ferrell)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Airman 1st Class Jesus Ortiz, 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, right, assists Lieutenant Bursi as the pilot straps into the cockpit during one of his initial F-15 sorties here. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Amanda Ferrell)

2nd Fighter Squadron

2nd Fighter Squadron

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- (Editor's note:This is the fifth of a fivepart series covering the F-15 Eagle training B-course students recieve here.)

It all pays off.

After almost two years of Air Force pilot training and preparation through academics, flight physicals, the altitude chamber, life support training, and simulators, F-15 Eagle B-course students here are ready to take the mighty Eagle airborne.

Students from Class 06 in the 2nd Fighter Squadron venture into local air space this month as they fly their first training sorties in the Eagle.

"The two main things I like to see out of my students on these first flights are preparedness and the ability to deal with adversity," said Capt. Mike Boomsma, 2nd FS instructor pilot. "I want them to show up to the brief with a good idea of what's going to happen on the sortie."

And when something unexpected happens or a mistake is made, the students need to be able to get through it and press on without letting it affect the rest of the flight, he said.

The lesson begins with a pre-mission brief. Then students don life support gear and receive a weather and flight safety brief at the operations desk.

On the flightline, students review a maintenance log and conduct a "walk-around" inspection to check the general safety and configuration of the jet before climbing into the cockpit and starting the engines.

Crew chiefs from the 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit assist pilots in securing their harnesses once they're in the cockpit. Crew chiefs and maintainers also monitor all systems during start-up and work to troubleshoot electrical and mechanical issues when necessary.

When the cockpit closes and the jet is launched, students take full control of the aircraft and taxi to the runway for takeoff.

"The maneuvers and training (during the first sorties) focus on basic aircraft handling and landings," said 1st Lt. Charles Bursi, 2nd FS B-course student.

The students' first rides can be stressful, but the preparation and knowledge they gain through rigorous training offers a huge reward - being able to successfully fly a superior air-to-air fighter aircraft.

"The biggest challenge most students have during the transition phase is dealing
with adversity," said Captain Boomsma. "Students receive excellent training in the sim prior to their first flight, and arrive to the flightline well prepared."

What the simulator cannot replicate is the actual noise, weather and abnormalities students experience on their first flight, he said.

"It could be anything from a nuisance light to something signaling a no-kidding emergency, but because the students have no past experience to rely on, they can sometimes get flustered when the unexpected occurs," said Captain Boomsma.

The biggest difference between the F-15 simulator and the jet is the Florida sun, said Lieutenant Bursi. Students must remain focused in a cockpit that can reach temperatures of more than 100 degrees in summer months.

Instructors sit in the back seat of D-model F-15s during the initial sorties flown by students. And because the instructor is literally looking over the student's shoulder, Captain Boomsma said many learning points can be talked about "real time" during the mission.

"For the debrief, I usually save the academic discussions for why we do things a certain way. I also offer up alternate techniques if the student is having trouble with any parts of the sortie," he said.

The stress and pressure students experience during their initial training sorties in the F-15 are outweighed by the pride and excitement they feel as they work to become members of the Eagle community.

"I chose to fly the F-15 because I like the air-toair mission, and the C-model is the best at it," said Lieutenant Bursi. "What I find to be the rewarding part of the day is to see these guys fired up to have their first ride in the mighty Eagle," said Captain Boomsma.