Night Flying Operations

  • Published
  • By Airman Colleen Coulthard
  • 33rd Fighter Wing

The 33rd Fighter Wing conducted night flying training missions, Aug. 23 through Sept. 2, 2021.

Flying at night produces unique challenges, and actively training to overcome those challenges ensures pilots and maintainers are prepared to adapt their skills at all hours.

When the sun goes down, we are even stealthier and more difficult to detect by our adversaries,'' said Maj. Martin Smith, 58th Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II instructor pilot.

“On the other hand, the night is more dangerous. The last minute cues that a pilot can use to safely maneuver the aircraft are more difficult to detect at night. Everything from reading coordinates on a mission data card to rejoining a visual formation and dealing with emergencies. The things that are automatic during the day require substantial effort at night.”

Safe and effective night operations require pilots to prepare well in advance with study materials and by shifting sleep patterns, as well as dimming lights in their workplaces and the cockpit before flight.

Night shifts are also fundamental for maintainers’ success since it allows them to see the full process of their maintenance. For Airmen new to the F-35A, it’s also when they learn how to work on the aircraft.

“We are postured to be able to fly and maintain our aircraft on all shifts, but a lot of the heavy maintenance is performed at night.” said Chief Master Sgt. Christopher O'Bannon, 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant superintendent.

Night flying operations simulate the speed of aircraft launch and recovery experienced during deployments.

“The opportunity to adjust to that pace, to have your hands on the aircraft, removing and installing parts before it flies the very next day or next week, they get to see the quality of their maintenance being done,” said O’Bannon.

The work performed by the 58th AMU, a unit under the 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, over the last two weeks directly supported initial qualification training for F-35A student pilots who completed their nighttime multi-ship offensive counter air syllabus requirement along with other pilot training missions.

The OCA mission consisted of two four-ships of F-35A fighter jets working together to escort an air mobility asset to an austere airfield, a location with limited communications, sensors and runways.

“They faced a wide variety of adversaries, including enemy aircraft, ground troops, and surface to air missiles,” said Smith. “Throughout the sortie, we introduced a number of different variables to test our students, including alert-launching enemy aircraft, destruction of dynamic targets, and threats to the air mobility asset.”

For complex missions like OCA, instructor pilots dedicate approximately 24 hours of work over two days to prepare.

“Most people don’t know the level of depth and planning that goes into our missions even in a training environment,” said Smith. “For a complex mission, it normally involves classified study, scenario planning, a formal mission planning cell, briefing and board preparation, preflight preparation, then two to three hours to gather data, watch tapes, and debrief students post-flight.

On all sides of the flight line, the 33rd FW maintainers and pilots work around the clock to establish effective training and enhance combat capability. Night time flying and maintenance ensures the F-35 is combat ready 24/7.