EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
The 33rd Fighter Wing provided support for exercise Checkered Flag 18-1 Nov. 6-17, 2017, from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
Checkered Flag is a large scale air-to-air only exercise that emphasizes the execution and production of tactics between fourth and fifth generation aircraft.
“Our role was that of one of the fifth generation players in the exercise,” said Maj. Matthew Tucker, 58th Fighter Squadron F-35 pilot. “Most of what we are focusing on is the integration aspect; how we take fifth-gen aircraft and plug them into a four ship of fourth-gen aircraft, then understanding how we can operate together, communicate with one another and who brings what to the fight.”
Additionally, it is one of the few exercises where the F-35A Lightning II and F-22 Raptor participate as aggressors, allowing for realistic training against peer-like adversaries.
“We always want to train to the highest level we are able to, but we can’t participate as aggressors in all of the exercises this aircraft is a part of,” Tucker said. “During this specific exercise we are using fifth-gen on both sides. It allows us to exercise the tactics we have laid out while creating a standard across the force.”
The wing launched 44 sorties for the exercise in conjunction with the on-going F-35 pilot training mission here. Involving the pilots assigned to the 58 FS in the exercise, all of whom double as instructors, allows them to continue expanding their depth of knowledge which translates to more teaching opportunities.
“This is huge because it gives us the ability to go out and execute what we train to,” Tucker said. “It’s important for our cadre to fly these missions and stay aware of the evolving tactics we have. When I fight in a canned student line, I’m not worried about deconfliction as much because I know there are only four aircraft in the formation. Today there are more than twenty of us sharing the same piece of sky so it’s more real life training that we can use later in the training we provide as instructors.”
In the past, moving aircraft and maintainers to operate from Tyndall Air Force Base afforded participants with the familiarity of deploying an F-35 unit; experience that is useful for the future of the enterprise. This year, the aircraft were operated and maintained from home station, providing a different set of opportunities and benefits.
“Working split operations from another location puts restraints on our resources,” said Master Sgt. Dustin Ossman, 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit production superintendent. “There were times when we would need that equipment to accomplish the mission here but it would be at another location. This year, launching our aircraft from here to participate in the exercise at Tyndall Air Force Base, allows us to continue our day-to-day mission simultaneously.”
Sustaining exercise support operations simultaneously with the day-to-day pilot training was made possible because of the maintainers who keep F-35s air worthy.
“Each day we are meeting the number of sorties we are scheduled,” Ossman said. “It shows how hard these guys are working, every day, day-in and day-out, to get these jets ready to fly again the next day.”