Kadena pilots ‘surge’ for fighting skills
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Members of the 67th and 44th fighter squadrons here spent three days last week “surging” to keep their basic fighter-pilot skills up to speed.
A surge is a two- to three-day training cycle in which pilots try to fly the maximum number of sorties each day, said Capt. Brett Blake, 67th squadron D Flight commander. The pilots typically are in their cockpits for up to six hours, flying as many as three sorties.
Blake said the pilots make their initial takeoff, complete the assigned mission and return to Kadena. Once on the ground, the plane enters a “hot pit,” in which it’s refueled after the pilot shuts down one engine. The pilot then fires his fighter back up, returns to the runway and repeats the process.
During a surge, which usually is held monthly, pilots are able to “hone basic stick and rudder skills,” said Lt. Col. Mark Fitzgerald, the 18th Wing’s deputy operations group commander for fighters. “We stick with more meat-and-potato skills of visual maneuvering.”
During surges, the squadrons’ fighter jets mostly dog fight, or practice air-to-air combat, Fitzgerald said. While normal day-to-day training is more high-tech and complex, during a surge, pilots return to the basics of recognizing friend or foe and, if foe, moving in for the kill.
Thursday’s training at the 67th — the Fightin’ Cocks — began with a mass briefing by the unit’s commander, Lt. Col. Matthew Molloy. The briefing began with each pilot being asked to identify the picture of an aircraft to refresh memories of what friends and foes look like.
Next, Molloy gave the objective: Fly as many sorties in one day as possible. He said 75 had been scheduled. Molloy then went into greater detail, covering everything from takeoff to landing, including emergency procedures.
The brief lasted approximately a half-hour. Afterward, lead pilots and wingmen broke into their groups and devised their game plans.
Fitzgerald and Blake, teamed for the day, discussed how they’d approach hostile planes and make different maneuvers depending on the actions of the “bad guy.”
Blake said among surging’s advantages is “a chance to fly back-to-back, identify errors and go right back out and fix them.”
Fitzgerald said he doesn’t wait to begin analyzing the exercise. “On the way back, we’ll talk about highlights and lessons learned,” he said. “I pick three of four highlights to look at and pick apart to see what happened, if we had any problems, lessons learned and how to fix it.”