Fighter Pilot 101

I’ve been getting a lot of questions as to what it’s like becoming a fighter pilot, what it is we do on a daily basis, and how I like it.  What better way to answer your questions than a little “Fighter Pilot 101”!

So, you’re the new kid on the block looking to make a name for yourself as a fighter pilot.  You have just endured several months of the B-course (aircraft basic course) earning an initial qualification in your assigned airframe.  You’re confidence is high, but your competence is low.  At this point you’re still a lieutenant or maybe a young captain, but you think you own the world.  Don’t worry; the “bros” won’t let your cranium explode with ego.  The bros are the experienced pilots in the squadron – it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, if you’ve gone through the rights of passage, you’re a “bro”!  And you’re not a bro…yet.  There are several duties carefully planned by the bros that will set you on the path to brohood.

Flying is your primary duty and you should never forget that. HOWEVER, if you let the squadron snack bar run dry you will fail as a fighter pilot.  Yes, as the squadron Snack-0 (Snack Officer) it is your duty to maintain morale in the squadron beginning with keeping the snack bar stocked.  But a Snack-O’s duties go beyond buying junk food.  You are the lifeblood of the squadron social scene.  You manage the money in the morale fund, which is replenished every month by the income from the snack bar (well, let’s face it, everyone rips off the snack bar so it is usually a money losing venture), money from the sale of squadron paraphernalia, and the monthly dues paid by each officer in the squadron.

This money is used to fund Friday Burger Burns, throw squadron parties, and if you’re really good at making/managing your money it is used to buy things for the bros like custom watches, t-shirts, etc.  If the money runs dry, you will end up asking the bros for more and you will have a good old-fashioned lynching on your hands.  So, keep the bros appeased.

Ok, the bros are happy.  Next you have to figure out how not to be a limfac (limiting factor) in the air.  You will be required to spend several hours in the vault – the part of the squadron dedicated to tactical study – studying up on tactics, techniques, and procedures.  The B-course taught you about the aircraft and systems, now you need to learn how to employ your killing machine.  You will go through MQT (Mission Qualification Training), but you are not a proficient killer yet.  You will get gunned in BFM and sled into merges.  You will shoot missiles out of parameters and regularly bingo out the formation.  But don’t worry, this is expected at first.  The bros are more patient in helping you overcome shortfalls in tactical ability (because there is a LOT of difficult stuff for you to learn) than they are with shortfalls in the snack bar.

When you’re not in the air, the vault, or the snack bar, you’re probably working in the scheduling or training shops.  So, at the end of your 12+ hour day do you think you can go home?  No!  You’re busy volunteering for stuff that has no impact on mission capability but looks good on an Officer Performance Report.  Unfortunately, this pain isn’t one that goes away.  You’ll deal with it throughout your career.  You’ll end up having to get a Master’s degree on your own time (and in this day and age of budget cuts, you’ll likely have to do it on your own dime!)  You’ll work on Professional Military Education via correspondence so you can attend the exact same classes in residence later.  You’ll constantly be planning social activities and the like so you get “bullets” (lines) for your OPR.  There is a lot of stuff you will do that has nothing to do with why you joined the military and zero to do with your primary job: flying.  Just keep your sights on that golden time spent in the air and you will be able to make it through.

This lifestyle takes a heavy toll on the family.  With lots of deployments and TDYs (Temporary Duty) we’re gone a lot.  (I’m not even going to begin comparing how often we’re gone with how often the cargo/tanker guys are on the road – those guys are NEVER home!)  But even when we’re home, we’re not really “home”.  We usually work until we bump up against pilot rest requirements and then go home to spend an hour or two with the family before bedtime.   Weekends are often spent mission planning or flying.

So why do we do it?  Standard fighter pilot answer: it depends.  Most of us do it out of fierce loyalty to our country and a desire to serve.  We love the kind of challenge presented by military flying and live for the 1.1 hours a day we get to spend burning holes in the sky.  As for me, nothing beats flying a high performance fighter.  I love the rush of an unrestricted climb.  I like being alone in the cockpit and working as a team with my flight to solve tactical problems.  There are even reasons I can’t really describe because there truly are not words.  One thing is for certain; if we’re not with our families, we’re happiest in the cockpit.

Editor’s Note: “Shotz” is an F-22 pilot and frequent contributor to Tally One.  Once again, OPSEC is of most importance.  Articles submitted by military members will not have their real names presented.

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