Luke Air Force Base, Arizona --
Student pilots at Luke Air Force
Base are learning important skills and combat tactics essential to flying and
fighting at night.
Training to master nighttime
operations enables a pilot to utilize a vast set of tools and strategies to
increase their lethality in combat situations.
“Night flying requires more
detailed attention,” said Maj. Michael Blauser, 310th FS director of
operations. “It requires repetition and practice which ensures you’re
proficient as well as safe. Your ability to fly during the day is not a
transferable skill to the night.”
While nighttime air combat
operations are a crucial aspect of current U.S. military doctrine, this wasn’t
always the case.
“During the Vietnam War, the enemy
owned the night,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Gaetke, 56th Operations Support Squadron
director of operations and F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot. “Thousands of pounds of
supplies moved through infiltration routes to insurgents in South Vietnam
because we were unable to effectively interdict at night.”
Since then, nighttime air combat operations
have proven successful in numerous engagements such as the war on terror and
the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today’s night training takes the
experience gleaned from past conflicts and combines it with advanced modern
technology and a thorough training regimen in order to craft capable and
“Night vision goggles, infrared
pointers and consistent night training ensure we own the night now,” Gaetke
said. “Training with these systems allow us to maintain proficiency and not forfeit
the night to the other side.”
Night training occurs in two blocks
during the eight-month training cycle of student pilots in the 310th FS. Each
block lasts between two and four weeks.
Blauser says this training is based
on a crawl, walk and run mentality.
The first block introduces the
pilots to proper utilization of night vision goggles, basic night flying,
single-ship instrument flying, tactical intercepts, and basic nighttime
air-to-air combat techniques. The second block teaches them advanced nighttime
air-to-air and air-to-ground combat techniques that simulate the types of
engagements they might face today.
“We never know when the call is
going to come or what time of day a combat situation may occur,” Blauser said.
In order to mitigate the amount of
disturbance night flying might cause for local communities, pilots who fly at
night utilize changed flight patterns and practice locations.
“We utilize noise abatement
techniques and draw our training away from surrounding communities as much as
we can,” Blauser said. “We try to practice our approaches away from Luke
whenever the opportunity to do so presents itself.”
Gaetke says that, despite the
possibility of noise, night flying is essential to training combat-ready
“It is absolutely crucial to
maintain night training,” Gaetke said. “We can’t win for our country if we’re
limited to fighting in the day.”
The instructors of the 310th know
that preparedness means being ready at all times, which is why they teach their
students to fly regardless of how dark it is outside.
“In order to train the world’s
greatest F-16 pilots, we teach our students to operate day or night, under any
weather condition, no matter what happens in order to get the mission done… we
need to make sure they are prepared for everything,” Blauser said.