Wisconsin's Falcons fight in Florida sun

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ryan Roth
  • 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Following a similar flight path of migrant snowbirds, Guardsmen departed the cool Wisconsin weather in March on a mission to the southernmost part of the United States.

Approximately 145 Airmen of the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison, Wis., spent almost two weeks gaining valuable training as their F-16 Falcons sparred against Navy F-18 Super Hornets and F-5 Tigers here.

The weather was a perk but the true advantage at the NAS was the increased airspace and the ability to fight different types of adversaries.

"This is great training that we do not experience back home," said Lt. Col. Steve Kensick, 176th Fighter Squadron director of operations. "A lot of our pilots have not fought a dissimilar asset like a Hornet and this is great training for them."

There are three types of missions they fly here. They are basic fighter maneuvers, more commonly known as dog fighting, air combat maneuvers which involves two F-16s versus one F-18, and air combat training that involves three or four F-16s versus any number of adversaries.

"When we do a dog fight, it is full on. He is fighting his best, I am fighting my best," said Colonel Kensick. "We do not formally keep score but we normally debrief after each mission and see if our guy won."

Maj. Chris Hansen, a pilot with 176th FS of the 115th FW, had never flown against a Super Hornet until this training exercise. He was grateful for the experience.

"The Super Hornets are extremely capable and this opportunity provided valuable training for me."

Major Hansen said there were many differences between the two aircraft in terms of weight and thrust, which he had witnessed firsthand for the first time that day.

Lt. Phil Taggart, a Navy F-18 pilot from the Strike Fighter Squadron 213 (VFA-213) stationed at Virginia Beach, was preparing for his first training exercise with an F-16.

"Coming to Key West brings a new perspective on how our tactics work and it is interesting to see how that works against an adversary who does things slightly different," Lieutenant Taggart said.

Key West provides a win-win scenario for service training from across the United States. At the forefront of the Air Force are the fighter jets and the pilots who fly them. These pilots have at their wing tips an air range that spans nearly 134,000 square miles.

"We have an airspace here that we do not have at Volk. We can also go supersonic from near surface to 50,000 feet," said Colonel Kensick.

Long before the pilots trained in the skies above Key West, Airmen were preparing to make this exercise a successful one. 'A simple process' would not be the words used to describe how a detachment of eight F-16s, including pilots and support personnel, deployed 1,500 miles from the 115th FW home base.

Preparation for this year's training exercise began just after last year's training exercise finished, said 1st Lt. Christy Kasten, 115th FW maintenance operations officer. Every year they learn and adapt after studying the after action reports, she added.

It takes a team to ensure as many as eight F-16 fighters are ready for missions each day. Maintenance, supply, operations, services and others all helped make the F-16s ready for flight.

"Our job is to supply operations with as many mission ready aircraft as possible," said Lieutenant Kasten. "At Truax we have so many different shops who work separately. At a deployment in Key West where we are all in close quarters, it is very easy to see what others are doing and see the larger picture."

NAS Key West is a transient pilot training facility for tactical aviation squadrons. The airfield hosts aviation squadrons from around the country on a regular basis.

The air station provides an opportunity for members of all services to work together. Navy air traffic controllers run the landing strip and taxiways.

"We have dealt with all branches, including the Coast Guard, Marine, Air Force, Navy, and Army," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Hanson, an air traffic control specialist here at NAS Key West.

These training missions prepare the pilots and crew for real world conflict as they test the capabilities of their fighter jets against other opponents.

"We want to 'kill' the guy in the other aircraft and not get killed ourselves," said Lieutenant Taggart.