After a presence of three years the F-16 pilot training of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) has started at Tucson International Airport in Arizona: an airbase not unfamiliar to the Dutch as they had also used it before.
Dutch coloured 148 FS
162 Fighter Wing is a unique wing within the Air National Guard. Commanding officer of 162 FW Col. Edward P. Maxwell, who has been in service with 162 FW since 1999 explains: “We have many more aircraft at our disposal than a regular FW, namely 74 F-16s spread over three squadrons (148 FS, 152 FS and 195 FS) and a Test Centre, with which we achieve an annual total of 17,400 flying hours.
I regard 162 FW as the face of the USAF to the world. Since the larger part of the airport is used by civil aviation, the area where our 1450 men and women work is relatively small, some 36 hectares. The RNLAF F-16s are accommodated by 148 FS and 152 FS who fly F-16 CG/DGs of Block42 configuration. Within the USAF 195 FS fly the oldest F-16s namely Block 25, which will be replaced by Block 30s in the near future.”
The oldest F-16 type in the USAF inventory fly with the 195 FS at Tucson IAP. This F-16C example gets airborne with a full afterburner take-off.
Seconds away from getting airborne this F-16DG Block 42 of the 152 FS is starting its mission.
Forty-two years of experience in fighter pilot training, in which over 2,000 pilots have qualified successfully, have made 162 FW to a preeminent training unit. Being a training unit does not imply, however, that they do not have to carry out their state mission. For this a QRA unit with F-16s has been stationed at nearby Davis Monthan AFB. A natural choice as they are not permitted to have the aircraft equipped with live weaponry at Tucson AIP. Besides the facilities on the ground the state of Arizona offers another important element for the F-16 pilot training. Within three minutes flying
there are vast ranges such as the Barry M. Goldwater Range with an area of 1,7 million square miles.
Close to the Mexican border to the southwest and the southeast as well as to the northeast of Tucson there are several practice areas available to 162FW.
The Commanding officer of 148 FS is Lt. Col. Jack Butler, who used to fly the F-16 himself in the RNLAF as an exchange pilot.
The detachment of the RNLAF is under the command of Lt. Col. Maurice Schonk, who is at the same time Head of Training, Senior National Representative and Program Manager Reviewer. He is one of the most experienced pilots in the RNLAF with nearly 4,000 F-16 hours and ample combat skills. He explained that - after a three-year period at Springfield –Beckley MA, Ohio - it took us some time to get used to the different conditions. “In Ohio the trainees were trained in European weather conditions. Every now and then during the course flights had to be cancelled due to extreme weather. Here at Tucson we can carry out our program continuously.”
Trainee F-16 pilots start their pilot school at the 131 Elementaire Militaire Vlieger Opleidingen Squadron at Woensdrecht Air Base in The Netherlands. During this part of the course they are taught to fly the Pilatus PC-7 Turbo trainer. Before arriving at Tucson they must have acquired their wings and the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF) with Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) at Sheppard AFB, Texas flying the T-6A Texan II and the T-38C Talon. Once at Tucson the training on the F-16 starts with the Initial Qualification Training (IQT), which is made up of a theoretical part and a practice of 172 flying hours per trainee. Lt. Col. Maurice Schonk: “We start with the basics during the IQT course we intensify the program. “At the beginning the course is very demanding as it does not only involve theory lessons but also many sim-flights, of which the emergency procedures , the so-called Critical Action Procedures (CAPs), form an integral part that is essential knowledge for every pilot. The two Block 50 simulators are on loan from Lockheed Martin, who have had to reconstruct them to the Midlife Update (MLU) M4 standard. As these simulators are linked the trainees and the experienced pilots can also train 2v2 missions. “Flying is a matter of secondary importance whereas the primary goal is the ability to use the systems well,” according to Lt. Col. Maurice Schonk. 148 FS has got eight Dutch and American flying instructors at their disposal for the training of F-16 pilots, of which there are three weapons instructors, who all completed the Fighter Weapons Instructor Course (FWIT) with 323 TACTESS at Leeuwarden Air Base: an academic course, of which Lt. Col. Maurice Schonk had been a commanding officer, in which F-16 pilots of all European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) partners can take part. The RNLAF F-16 IQT actually differs from the USAF IQT in so far that the Dutch IQT includes more tactics and about ten night flights are part of the training and thus raising its level above that of the USAF. When a trainee has concluded his IQT effectually the fresh F-16 pilot leaves for a operational squadron of the RNLAF to start his Mission Qualification Training (MQT). The training to become an operational F-16 pilot will then take about a year, in which they get used to flying in European weather conditions. During the MQT the focus is on the operational use of the F-16 platform plus improving expanding the pilot’s tactical skills. An example of such an MQT mission is a 2v2, in which two Blue Air F-16s have to take a stand against two Red Air opponents. In Arizona the latter can be F-16s but also F-5Ns of VMFT-401 from Yuma MCAS. To simulate hostile aircraft such as MiGs realistically different strategies are used. Such a mission takes approximately one hour during which the use of Beyond Visual Range weapons is also being practiced.
The Dutch make use of the several 162 FW facilities like this hangar for testing F-16 engines after maintenance.
Before the course could be started at Tucson IAP the existing syllabus had to be adapted. The low altitude flying for example in the F-16BM model was adjusted. Lt. Col. Maurice Schonk: “ Of the 3,000 flying hours available to us annually 1,900 are meant for training and 1,100 for operational pilots. There is some flexibility in this, dependent on the number of trainees that attends an IQT. The state of Arizona looks very much like Afghanistan and is an ideal training ground for our F-16 pilots for a whole year. Certainly when they are to be detached there before long.” Thus the lessons learned from Afghanistan are applied here and a joint operation with (O)A-10As and A-10Cs of nearby
355 Wing of Davis Monthan AFB, F-5Ns of VMFT-401 of Yuma MCAS and air-to-air refueling with
KC-135Rs of 161 Air Refueling Wing of Phoenix Sky Harbor IAP, Arizona, can be practiced. The RNLAF F-16s use the USAF’s Lantirn pods Block 1 en GBU-12 for this type of operational training hours. Lt. Col. Maurice Schonk: “ We, the RNLAF, use a modern version of the Lantirn pod, but the American Block 1 pods are excellent for practice here.” The JDAM training and the experience Lantirn pod-training takes place with the operational squadrons in the Netherlands. Lt. Col. Maurice Schonk continues: “In addition to the pod training Arizona offers an even greater advantage, namely the high temperature and high altitude training. Tucson is over 800 meters above sea level, which is similar to airfields such as Kabul en Kandahar.” Consequently Tucson is for the RNLAF much more than just a training location for future RNLAF F-16 pilots.
Maintenance on the RNLAF 148 FS F-16s is done by USAF technicians. The were trained to work on the Midlife Update M4 F-16s which differs from the USAF Block 25 and 42 also active at Tucson IAP.
Just as in Springfield the RNLAF have entered into a three-year contract with the USAF running out in 2013. Lt. Col. Maurice Schonk added: “The quality of the trainees is so good, that they- after the IQT training- can be immediately transferred to an operational squadron to continue their career and to start their MQT.”
Lt. Col. Maurice Schonk briefs a Dutch 2Lt for another MQT mission. Normally the MQT is done in The Netherlands, but due to operations for ISAF in Afghanistan and Operation Unified Protector in Libya a few MQT missions were flown from Tucson IAP.
In the bus on their way to the aircraft Lt. Col. Maurice Schonk again explains the 2Lt the procedure of entering the Tucson IAP airspace which is also a busy civilian airport.
Final checks being performed by a RNLAF F-16 pilot of the 148 FS. All the RNLAF aircraft of the 148 FS wear the tail AZ code of the 162 FW and the tailfin with the Arizona and Dutch flag combined.
RTB for this 148 FS F-16AM using its brake chute. The Dutch often use there brake chute to lower the risk of hot brakes.
Though the move from Springfield to Tucson has taken some doing Lt. Col. Maurice Schonk is very content with current location and he is not the only one. The commanding officer of 162 FW,
Col. Edward P. Maxwell, is also very pleased that the RNLAF has returned to his 162 FW. “I am
very impressed about the professionalism of the Dutch. A club of which everyone would like to be in charge.” He continued: “Budget cuts are indeed noticeable, but as yet they turn out to be better than anticipated for we can still train very well. Sometimes there are fewer students.” The USAF supplies about 50 per cent of the students at 162 FW and the other half come from all over the world.” But for Egypt this wing could welcome students from all of the F-16 flying nations through the years.
Col. Edward P. Maxwell even expects that the F-35 training will eventually come to Tucson. He bases his expectation on the fact that it has already been granted to Luke AFB in Arizona. The cuts the RNLAF will implement in the next few years will also have repercussions on 148 FS.
Lt. Col. Maurice Schonk: “After the latest round of economy measures we have already taken off four F-16s from our inventory. These four aircraft, three F-16AMs and one F-16BM, have been flown to the Netherlands and arrived back at Volkel Air Base on 10 September. However, it remains my duty to deliver F-16 pilots who will meet all the requirements and I hope to do this at Tucson IAP for many years.”