By SrA Cassidy Woody, 33rd Fighter Wing
/ Published February 05, 2019
Curtis “RB” Weddle, a Draken International pilot, and Scott Hauber, a Draken International employee, signal each other with the hand sign of the 58th Fighter Squadron while taxiing down the flightline on Jan. 24th, 2019 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Some L-159 Honeybadger’s come equipped with the ALQ-188 Electronic Attack training Pod which enhances training for the F-35A Lightning II pilots. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Cassidy Woody)
Three L-159 Honeybadgers taxi down the flightline for training on Jan. 24th, 2019, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The L-159 was originally part of the Czech Air Force before being retired and resold. Now the aircraft gives F-35A Lightning II pilots from the 58th Fighter Squadron a chance to take on a unique target in training. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Cassidy Woody)
Nathan Wyatt, a Draken International employee, prepares to marshal an L-159 Honeybadger on Jan. 24, 2019, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The L-159 pilots provide a simulated enemy situation for pilots from the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Cassidy Woody)
Steven “Speed” Peute, a Draken International pilot, performs pre-flight checks on the L-159 Honeybadger before takeoff on Jan. 24th, 2019, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Air Force leadership contracts civilian pilots as aggressors for simulated air defense. This relationship provides several benefits to include lower fuel costs and more opportunities for Air Force pilots to train for actual combat missions. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Cassidy Woody)
Instructor pilots and students from the 58th Fighter Squadron integrated with a civilian contracted aggressor squadron to conduct air defense training Jan. 24, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base.
This marks the first time the 58th FS has looked outside of Air Force units to find adversary support for training requirements.
“Having contract adversaries here provides us the capability to increase the capacity for student training,” said Lt. Col. Jon Snyder, 58th FS commander. “It provides us additional adversary capability that we can’t necessarily replicate.”
Currently, instructor pilots are taught to fly both offensive/defensive “blue air” and aggressor “red air” missions for any training within the 58th FS, which takes them away from training students.
“It is a requirement that we have adversaries to support our training,” said Snyder. “If we have to support all our missions in-house, that means less student sorties we can fly.”
Previously, students and instructors have practiced air-to-air tactics against other F-35 pilots or a different Air Force squadron.
“It provides us a different aircraft to fly against, and that’s important for us to test our system knowledge as well as our own tactics against [an aircraft] that isn’t an F-35,” said Snyder.
The 58th FS produced 68 F-35A Lightning II pilots and 13 instructor pilots in 2018 but leadership is looking to increase that number and build up the fleet.
“The Nomads of the 33rd Fighter Wing are extraordinarily good at what we do: training and developing the future of the F-35 community,” said Col. Paul Moga, 33rd FW commander. “As we continue our efforts to expand and transform training in order to graduate more and graduate faster, we welcome opportunities such as this that make us even better. Steel sharpens steel.”
Finding alternatives, like civilian contractors, increases the mission capacity for the 58th FS to provide more student missions and graduate new pilots faster.
“I’ve flown both fifth generation aircraft and I think this is absolutely the right way to go to support adversary training for this aircraft,” said Snyder. “It provides a better and more realistic adversary replication for our pilots as well as a cheaper price point to fly against. I think if we can continue down this path, it’ll definitely make us stronger as an Air Force.”