Luke - A Broad Overview
Luke Air Force Base is the largest fighter wing in the U.S. Air Force with 138 F-16s assigned. The host command at Luke is the 56th Fighter Wing, under Air Education and Training Command.
The wing is composed of five groups (and the Range Management Office), 28 squadrons, including seven fighter squadrons. The 54th Fighter Group is located at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., but is under operational control of the 56th Fighter Wing commander at Luke AFB. There are several tenant units on base, including the 944th Fighter Wing, assigned to 10th Air Force and the Air Force Reserve. The base population includes about 4,830 military members and DoD civilians. With about 70,000 retired military members living in greater Phoenix, the base services a total population of nearly 80,000 people. Approximately 300 pilots train at Luke annually and proceed to combat assignments throughout the world. The 56th Fighter Wing also trains more than 350 maintenance technicians each year.
An integral part of Luke's F-16 fighter pilot training mission is the Barry M. Goldwater Range. The range consists of 1.8 million acres of relatively undisturbed Sonoran Desert southwest of Luke Air Force Base between Yuma and Tucson south of Interstate 8. Overhead are 57,000 cubic miles of airspace where pilots practice air-to-air maneuvers and engage simulated battlefield targets on the ground. Roughly the size of Connecticut, the immense size of the complex allows for simultaneous training activities on nine air-to-ground and two air-to-air ranges. The Luke Air Force Base Range Management Office manages the eastern range activities and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma oversees operations on the western portion.
In addition to flying and maintaining the F-16, Luke Airmen also deploy to support on-going operations in Afghanistan and to combatant commanders in other locations around the world. In 2012, more than 370 Luke Airmen deployed.
F-16 Training at Luke
The F-16 is the world's premier multi-role fighter; the product of high-end technology and inputs from fighter pilots the world over. It emphasizes flight performance--range, speed, payload, endurance and maneuverability--in the heart of the flight envelope where air combat occurs. The F-16 introduced many very successful technologies, such as fly-by-wire and relaxed static stability, which gives it a quantum leap in capability over other fighters and still makes it a fierce competitor today.
It has the range, payload, agility, and systems required to reach, locate, and destroy its targets as well as the survivability and sortie rates to return to the fight again and again.
Less than half the weight of the F-14, it carries a larger payload; less than one-fourth the cost of the F-15, it has superior maneuverability. In addition, advanced avionics and electronics give it excellent air-to-ground precision. The F-16 can deliver a crippling ground strike and instantly transform into an air superiority machine.
But the heart of the aircraft lies not in the cold hard metal frame or superior technology--it can be found in the everyday men and women that fly this outstanding machine every day. Our students who are training to fly one of the world's most advanced and capable aircraft receive some of the most realistic training available at Luke Air Force Base. They go through a structured syllabus totaling over 265 hours of classroom training, 55 hours of simulator and 80 hours of flight time.
Our students begin their training as fighter pilots long before they arrive at Luke. As pilot candidates, they must first complete a flight screening program (in light civil aircraft) before being assigned to Air Force Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training, or SUPT. They must excel in primary jet training in the Cessna T-37 in order to enter SUPT's fighter/bomber track; and after successfully completing advanced training in the T-38 Talon, F-16 pilot candidate's graduate from SUPT, earning their AF pilot wings. They next learn the basics of fighter employment in the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals course, training in the AT-38, an armed variant of the familiar T-38 Talon. Before proceeding to F-16 school, they receive aircrew survival training, physiological training, and finally, ride the centrifuge to learn to cope with the high "g" forces they'll encounter in the course of their F-16 training.
F-16 students begin their journey into F-16 being inundated with a crushing load of classroom academics that doesn't abate through the duration of the 7 month course. Nearly the entire first month is taken up with classroom training in basic aircraft systems, with breaks for hands-on practice in a variety of simulators. In this first phase of training called the "Transition" phase, the students learn to operate the aircraft safely and to cope with any abnormal or emergency procedures. Classes and simulators are primarily taught by contract academic instructors, the majority of which are themselves former Air Force fighter pilots with extensive experience in the F-16.
The simulators start with a cockpit familiarization trainer which allows the student to find and actuate switches without the benefit of visual system. This trainer is used for elementary emergency procedures training. The student then moves up to a simulator with a visual display that provides a simulation of the outside world complete with terrain features, runways and "dial a disaster". The instructor can select any of a myriad of emergencies at any point in the flight profile accurately replicating what the student will see in an actual emergency. This simulator also can be used to practice approaches and landings in any weather. Next, the student flies a simulator which is recessed within a visual display that provides a 360 degree image of the world around the aircraft and is linked to another simulator the student can fly formation with. This simulator is used for practicing air to air and air to ground tactics and is very realistic.
After several weeks of academics, students move from the 56th Training Squadron to their fighter squadron to begin flying. After five flights in the two-seat F-16D, the students are cleared for solo flight in the F-16C. After solo, the next major hurdle is the Instrument/Qualification checkride, during which each candidate must demonstrate mastery of the aircraft in formation flight, acrobatic maneuvers, and operations under simulated instrument conditions. They must also pass an emergency procedures simulator which tests their ability to recognize and correctly respond to a cross-section of potential aircraft malfunctions. After six weeks of training, the students are now competent at flying the aircraft--but have yet to begin to learn to employ it as a weapon.
The next phase of training, air-to-air, provides an introduction to air-to-air combat in the Viper. Beginning with 1 v. 1 visual maneuvering, meaning one ship vs. another, the students progress to fighting as part of a two-ship team in the visual and beyond-visual arenas. They learn to operate the aircraft's fire control systems correctly and skillfully while maneuvering under heavy g-loading while maintaining briefed formations. "G" loads are the pressures a pilot senses as he makes a hard turn. 1 "G" is the pressure we all sense sitting in our armchair (one times the force of gravity). In a 6 "G" turn, the pilot experiences 6 times the force of gravity. If you arm weighs 7 pounds at 1 "G", it weighs 42 pounds at 6 "g's"!
Students also practice in-flight refueling for the first time in the air-to-air phase. This is crucial skill for a fighter pilot. In today's environment, fighters often must traverse distances of hundreds or even thousands of miles before reaching a target area necessitating inflight aerial refueling. Each new topic is introduced by an instructor flying in the rear cockpit of an F-16D; and, after practice, the student's solo performance is evaluated against course training standards before he/she can advance to the next stage. At the completion of the air-to-air phase, the students are over halfway through the six-month Basic Course.
During the latter part of the air-to-air phase, academic and simulator training shifts its focus to air-to-ground operations. When the air-to-air phase is finally complete, bomb racks and long range tanks are loaded onto the squadron's aircraft for the next phase of flying training; the air-to -ground phase.
Students begin their introduction to "air-to-mud" with low altitude stepdown training where they learn to fly at 500 feet, first as a single ship, then as part of a formation. They juggle low altitude navigation, formation-keeping, and systems operations tasks with the imperative of avoiding the ground. They then practice basic surface attack--dropping unguided bombs and firing the F-16's 20mm cannon from medium and low altitude at clearly marked targets, on a sanitized firing range, while under strict procedural control.
The students do their training over the Barry M. Goldwater Range located just out of Gila Bend. This national treasure provides students the vast open area needed to practice the advanced munitions now carried by the F-16s. Twenty years ago, munitions were simple and unsophisticated bombs. Now, with the advances in technology the bombs are "smarter" and much more complicated to use, which demands that we train a smarter, better trained pilot.
After being cleared solo, and as the students' proficiency increases, the attacks grow more challenging, laying the groundwork for more realistic tactical training to follow. Students drop live munitions, and work with ground or air-based forward air controllers to learn the basics of Close Air Support. They practice blind bombing using aircraft systems, rather than their eyes, to locate the target. Low altitude air-to-air training is introduced--again with an emphasis on balancing mission- and terrain clearance tasks.
Until this point the training has all taken place in the daylight; however, today's Air Force frequently fights its battles at night, and training in the Basic Course reflects that fact. Students fly air-to-air and air-to-ground missions at night, and many will do so with the help of night vision goggles, or NVGs. NVG training for new F-16 pilots is a priority for operational commanders -- our customers.
The final phase of training, Surface Attack Tactics, pulls everything together. In this phase, students fly as part of a large force, fighting their way into a defended target area, identifying and destroying their targets before egressing safely from the threat.
The biggest day of the Basic Course is, of course, graduation. Here instructors, graduates, friends and family gather to recognize the class's top performers and the Air Force's newest F-16 fighter pilots.
Soon all of the graduates depart for their operational assignments, and a new class begins the Transition phase. Out in the field, the new pilots begin mission qualification training which acquaints them with the unique aspects of their unit's mission and theater-specific flying rules and regulations. Their gaining commanders rate them and provide us with feedback on their performance, which we use to update and improve training for the next group. Many of these graduates could be in combat within 60 days of their next duty assignment.
We train more than 400 F-16 pilots per year, and take pride in each one of them. It is a process, which develops well trained pilots that will go on to their first operational assignment ready for the fight. We cannot afford to slow down.
THE HISTORY OF LUKE AFB
Luke Air Force Base is named for the first aviator to be awarded the Medal of Honor--2d Lt. Frank Luke Jr. Born in Phoenix in 1897, the "Arizona Balloon Buster" scored 18 aerial victories during World War I (14 of these German observation balloons) in the skies over France before being killed, at age 21, on Sept. 29, 1918.
In 1940, the U.S. Army sent a representative to Arizona to choose a site for an Army Air Corps training field for advanced training in conventional fighter aircraft. The city of Phoenix bought 1,440 acres of land, which they leased to the government at $1 a year effective March 24, 1941. On March 29, 1941, the Del. E. Webb Construction Co. began excavation for the first building at what was known then as Litchfield Park Air Base.
Another base known as Luke Field, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, released its name when the base was transferred to the Navy in June 1941, and the fledgling Arizona base was called Luke Field at the request of its first commander, Lt. Col. Ennis C. Whitehead, who went on to become a lieutenant general as commander of Air Defense Command in 1950.
The first class of 45 students, Class 41 F, arrived June 6, 1941 to begin advanced flight training in the AT-6, although only a few essential buildings had been completed. Flying out of Sky Harbor Airport until the Luke runways were ready, pilots received 10 weeks of instruction and the first class graduated Aug. 15, 1941. Capt. Barry Goldwater served as director of ground training the following year.
During World War II, Luke was the largest fighter training base in the Army Air Force, graduating more than 17,000 fighter pilots from advanced and operational courses in the AT-6, P-40, P-51 and P-38, earning the nickname, "Home of the Fighter Pilot."
By Feb. 7, 1944, pilots at Luke had achieved a million hours of flying time. By 1946, however, the number of pilots trained dropped to 299 and the base was deactivated Nov. 30 that year.
Soon after combat developed in Korea, Luke field was reactivated on Feb. 1, 1951 as Luke Air Force Base, part of Air Training command under reorganized U.S. Air Force.
Students progressed from the P-51 Mustang to the F-84. Flying training at Luke changed to the F-100, and on July 1, 1958, the base was transferred from Air Training Command to Tactical Air Command. Luke continued its tradition of providing fighter training for allied nations when an F-104 program for German Air Force pilots and a program in the F-5 for pilots from Third world nations began in 1964.
During the 1960s, thousands of American fighter pilots left Luke to carve their niche in the annals of Air Force history in the skies over Vietnam. In July 1971, the base received the F-4C Phantom II and assumed its role as the main provider of fighter pilots for Tactical Air Command and fighter forces worldwide. In November 1974, the Air Force's newest air superiority fighter, the F-15 Eagle, came to Luke. It was joined in December 1982 by the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which officially began training fighter pilots Feb. 2, 1983.
Luke units continued to set the pace for the Air Force. The 58th TTW had two squadrons--the 312th and 314th Tactical Fighter Training Squadrons-conducting training in the newest C and D models of the Fighting Falcon. The 405th TTW received the first E model of the F-15 Eagle in 1988 and two of its squadrons-the 461st and 550th-began training in this dual-role fighter.
In July 1987, the Reserve function at Luke changed when the 302nd Special Operations Squadron deactivated its helicopter function and the 944th Tactical Fighter Group was activated to fly the F-16C/D.
The early 1990s brought significant changes to the base. As a result of defense realignments, the 312th, 426th and 550th TFTSs were inactivated as were the 832nd Air Division and the 405th TTW. The F-15A and B models were transferred out, and the 58th TTW, being the senior wing at Luke, was re-designated the 58th Fighter Wing and once again became the host unit at Luke.
In April 1994, after 24 years at Luke, the 58th Fighter Wing was replaced by the 56th as part of the Air Force Heritage program. Air Force officials established the program to preserve Air Force legacy and history during a time of military draw down. The 56th FW was one of the most highly decorated units in Air Force history, and it was named to remain part of the active fighter force while the 58th was reassigned as a special operations wing to Kirtland AFB, N.M.
Units flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon are the 308th, 309th, 310th, 425th, 62nd, 21st and 311th Fighter Squadrons.
Point of Contact
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs