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2nd Fighter Training Squadron: sharpening the raptors talon

Maj. Justin Hedrick, 2nd Fighter Training Squadron pilot, receives a brief before stepping to his aircraft for a mission June 1, 2016, at the 2nd FTS building. The 2nd FTS is tasked with going head-to-head with the F-22 Raptor, providing world class, professional air-to-air threat replication.

Maj. Justin Hedrick, 2nd Fighter Training Squadron pilot, receives a brief before stepping to his aircraft for a mission June 1, 2016, at the 2nd FTS building. The 2nd FTS is tasked with going head-to-head with the F-22 Raptor, providing world class, professional air-to-air threat replication.

Capt. Caleb Whitlock, 2nd Fighter Training Squadron pilot, programs a GPS system June 1, 2016, at the 2nd FTS building. Because the T-38 Talon has no moving map displays, the GPS system provides increased situational awareness while flying. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dustin Mullen/Released)

Capt. Caleb Whitlock, 2nd Fighter Training Squadron pilot, programs a GPS system June 1, 2016, at the 2nd FTS building. Because the T-38 Talon has no moving map displays, the GPS system provides increased situational awareness while flying. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dustin Mullen/Released)

 Every great fighter has to start somewhere, and training the pilots for the world’s most dominant fighter aircraft, the F-22 Raptor, starts here at Tyndall.

The 2nd Fighter Training Squadron flies the T-38 Talons at Tyndall, and is tasked with going head-to-head with the Raptor, providing world class, professional air-to-air threat replication.

For the squadron’s advisory air, or red air, mission to be effective, its highly experienced fighter pilots’ tactics must be well coordinated. The key, two-man team behind that coordination is the weapons shop.

Using an Aggressor Threat Replication Guide, the weapons shop is able to lay out the tactics for any red air mission the squadron may fly.

 “Red air represents the bad guys,” said Maj. Ashley Rolfe, 2nd FTS former chief of weapons. “Blue air is what you would consider the good guys in the fight, such as U.S. or allies.”

This allows them to sustain the red air mission in support of F-22 Raptor combat and formal training squadrons, who fly blue air.

“The threat replication guide basically lays out the missiles and threat capabilities of a threat aircraft system,” Rolfe said. “It allows us to replicate a missile we may not have on the jet based on parameters of range and how far away the target is off the nose and wings.”

The T-38 does not have any weapons on board, so knowing the constraints of a weapon system helps pilots recreate a threat more accurately. The aircraft also lacks on-board sensors, limiting the pilot to strictly their eyes and ears when attempting to spot other aircraft during mock dogfights.

This led to the weapons shop’s implementation of a new program called the Walleye Program, which helps the T-38 perform more accurate red air.

“The weapons shop coordinated closely with 337th Air Control Squadron and 81st Range Control Squadron to implement the new program,” said Lt. Col. Richard McCurdy, 2nd FTS commander. “It increases the T-38's ability to replicate real-world threats with no additional cost, while significantly improving training for the 325th Fighter Wing’s F-22 squadrons.”

With Tyndall being home to the Air Force’s premier F-22 Raptor formal training unit, red air missions must be as accurate as possible, helping prepare F-22 pilots for wartime operations.

 “The idea is to put a pilot on a radar scope in conjunction with the doghouse [337th ACS] or whetstone [81st RCS] to provide more of a close control aspect of our red air mission, delivering a more realistic red air threat,” Rolfe said.

“The pilot on the scope gives very directive communication about where the blue air aircraft are,” she said. “It gives us better situational awareness and helps with defensive reactions.”

The pilot on the ground is able to use the radar scope to help pinpoint blue air jets that may be outside of the T-38 pilot’s typical visional arena.

In addition to not having any radars or threat warning receivers, the T-38s have no moving map displays out in the airspace. The solution for that is a Garmin GPS system, which provides increased situational awareness while flying.

“We use the Garmins for our area navigation,” said Rolfe. “The weapons shop is in charge of ensuring the GPS systems are up to date with the most current database downloads. We also ensure all the subscriptions are up to date. And if any of the systems become faulty, we make sure they are getting repaired and maintained.”

The shop must also ensure the squadron takes the GPS systems and correct equipment when going on temporary duty assignments. That includes up-to-date data and mission builds on the GPS systems, said 1st Lt. Michael Fallon, who is the assistant chief of weapons.

“The 2nd FTS weapons shop has been doing some tremendous work recently and was recognized as the 325th FW Innovator of the Quarter for the first quarter of 2016,” McCurdy said. “In today's fiscal environment, we need to find innovative ways to be more effective in executing our mission, and the 2nd FTS weapons shop has done that.”