6 months of night-flying training set in S. Korea
August 31, 2003
TAEGU, South Korea — The commander of Kunsan Air Base’s 8th Operations Group is putting two squadrons of F-16 pilots on a six-month, night-flying schedule for practice in the rigors of night combat flying — including use of night vision goggles.
Air Force Col. Kurt Neubauer, an F-16 pilot with more than 20 years of experience, knows how difficult it is to fly while encumbered with the NVGs.
“I’m shifting our focus from, I would say, a veneer of night flying, to more of an in-depth and robust night-flying training program,” Neubauer said.
The 8th Fighter Wing’s 35th Fighter Squadron and 80th Fighter Squadron will take part in the training from October to March.
“In order to get enough seasoning, where my pilots are more comfortable and better prepared to actually fly at night, it’s one of those things — you’ve got to do it to actually get better at it,” Neubauer said.
The goggles look like binoculars fitted in front of the eyes, much like glasses, that protrude several inches from the pilot’s face.
Though a major tactical advantage — the pilots can see targets and other objects in the dark — the goggles restrict the field of vision.
“It’s a lot busier at night … because” the field of vision “is so limited,” Neubauer said. “Imagine holding two toilet paper tubes up to your eyes.”
Neubauer said part of the challenge of flying with the goggles is the need to do two things almost at once: looking outside the plane for positional awareness and keeping an eye on the radar and aircraft instruments inside the plane.
“Obviously … daytime is a lot easier. At night, it’s a much more methodical and deliberate cross-check. I just need to get more experience on my youngsters doing that,” he said.
The pilots will practice an array of standard combat-air missions, balancing their ground-attack mission — dropping bombs — with such air-to-air tasks as intercepting hostile aircraft.
“We’ll still fly day sorties over this time frame,” Neubauer said, but the bulk of the flying will be at night.
And it’ll involve the entire wing, he said, including ground crews and support personnel.
The ground crews will focus mainly on night-safety practices.
“Safety on the flight line is a big difference at night,” said Tech. Sgt. Wil Hoffman, a flight-line maintenance supervisor with the 80th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
“We have reflector belts, but you’re wearing a dark uniform on a dark macadam road, so visibility is not great. So everybody needs to make sure they slow down and take their time doing what they’re doing.”