Targeting pods bolster F-16 training

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Gregory Ripps
  • 149th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The 149th Fighter Wing received something Jan. 14 that will literally put its current class of F-16 fighter pilots right on target with their training.

The unit will be the first in the Air Force to graduate pilots from the F-16 Fighting Falcon basic course with targeting-pod training.

The enhanced training missions result from the wing receiving 10 Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night targeting pods. The pods attach to fighter aircraft and provide an infrared target display for the pilot to engage.

Besides an infrared sensor, each pod contains a laser designator-rangefinder for precise delivery of laser-guided munitions and software for automatic target tracking.

The 149th FW has been training Air Force pilots since the unit transferred to Air Education and Training Command in 1999. During their time with the unit, student pilots learn how to fly and fight with the F-16. Until now, however, they had to go to Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., for targeting-pod training.

"When they finish training with the wing, they'll be ready for almost anything," said Maj. Greg Whiting, one of the wing's instructor pilots.

The targeting pods are the sensors that provide air attack footage commonly seen on the news, Major Whiting said.

"The video shows cross hairs on a target -- bunkers, buildings, etc.," he said. "The ensuing explosion is the detonation of the munitions that followed that laser spot onto that target."

The class of nine student pilots who began training with the wing Aug. 18 is scheduled to begin training with the targeting pods in February following their training to drop ordnance the conventional way.

Major Whiting said the Air Force now regularly deploys with both the targeting pods and night-vision goggles.

"Precision-guided bombs are the way the Air Force has gone and will continue to fight," Major Whiting said.

The wing's quest to provide the targeting-pod training began about four years ago. The unit borrowed some targeting pods from Air National Guard units in Albuquerque, N.M., and Tulsa, Okla.

A handful of 149th FW pilots already knew how to use the pods from their stints on active duty. They taught some of the instructor pilots how to use them, and they, in turn, taught the rest. After the IPs learned how to teach using the targeting pods, they developed a new syllabus for the basic course to include the targeting-pod training. The unit then obtained approval for the revised syllabus from AETC officials.

The wing had prior experience reworking a syllabus when it introduced night-vision goggle training into the basic course in 2001.

"NVGs taught us how to use the syllabus and to work with AETC to change it," said Col. Joe Lengyel, wing vice commander. "We already had the process down."

The syllabus change adds only two days to the training schedule. However, handling the pods required the unit to obtain certain licenses and permits, and maintainers had to learn new procedures and undergo special training.

Student pilots said they are looking forward to the training.

"We all feel lucky to be here," said 1st Lt. Greg Jenkins, a student pilot from Montana last assigned to Sheppard AFB, Texas. "The instructor pilots have a huge amount of experience, the facilities are incredible and the aircraft is really good."

Nineteen full-time and nine traditional Guard instructor pilots from the 149th FW teach the basic course with the help of two instructors attached from 19th Air Force and six civilian contractors who teach most of the course academics. (Courtesy of AETC News Service)