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Gorillas find success in Alaska

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Heather Leveille
  • 33rd Fighter Wing

58th Fighter Squadron student and instructor pilots completed required initial qualification training mission sets after a 14 day trip to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Aug. 6-20, 2021.

Student pilots flew 21 times, completing 4 offensive counter air capstone syllabus events each. The OCA missions were executed against challenging surface threats and flown against Eielson AFB F-16 aggressors, presenting challenging tactical problems that the students have yet to see in their initial qualification training.

“OCA training has been challenging due to the amount of aircraft we are integrating with,” said 1st Lt. Kirsten Eissman, 58th FS F-35A student pilot. “It produces a lot of complex scenarios, but it provides us with great learning opportunities.”

While in Alaska, student pilots were put into a new environment and under additional stress to improve their skills as fighter pilots. 

“For me, the most important aspect of offensive counter air training is processing all the information you receive while understanding the dynamics of a new environment,” said 1st Lt. Ben Hawkins, 58th FS F-35A student pilot.

Different types of OCA operations are used to achieve specific tactical objectives depending on the tactical problem. Airpower’s inherent flexibility allows missions and aircraft to shift from defensive to offensive (or vice versa) to adapt to changing conditions in the operational environment. 

“The training they are executing is essentially preparing them for missions similar to what they will see in combat,” said Maj. Matt Tucker, 58th FS director of operations. “The students received great training out here, learning how to deal with something new and different. Let’s say they go to combat - it’s going to be the first time they land at a new airfield, in a new airspace, with different people talking on the radio and doing different things - it’s more than just flying a jet; it’s about learning how to be adaptable.”

In addition to tactical training, the pilots in IQT were able to get a first-hand look into their future careers as F-35 pilots at an operational unit. 

“The best part of being at Eielson has been integrating with an ops unit,” said Hawkins. “It’s great getting a sneak peak of what the expectation is going to be for us when we move to our operational unit in the near future.”

Much of the success of the two-week trip can be attributed to the work put forth by 58th FS instructor pilots. Developing the future of the Combat Air Forces starts with a top-quality instructor corps who continue to advance their own skills.

“This TDY was a huge success and such a win for the 58th FS,” said Tucker. "Not only were the students given some world class training, but the instructors were also able to improve and hone their skills as F-35 pilots and leaders."

The instructor pilots dedicated countless hours to mentor the student pilots and prepare them for what is to come as a fighter pilot.

“The instructors were amazing,” said Eissman. “We all had to learn the airspace and local regulations at the same time, but they put in so many extra hours to ensure that we got the best possible training out here.”

Each student pilot completed their mission qualification check ride and have approximately four flights left before they are ready to move on to their operational unit. 

In addition to the 21 student pilot sorties, instructors executed 67 sorties with a mix of flights in support of student training as well as instructor proficiency flights for a total of 88 sorties completed at Eielson AFB.