HomeNewsArticle Display

'Trial by Flag' for new F-35A pilots

F-35A Lightning II pilots on the flight line after a mission during Red Flag 19-1, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. This is wing's second Red Flag with the F-35A, America's most advanced multi-role fighter, which brings game-changing stealth, lethality and interoperability to the modern battlefield. Red Flag is the Air Force's premier combat exercise and includes units from across the Air Force and allied nations. The 388th is the lead wing for Red Flag 19-1. U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

F-35A Lightning II pilots huddle on the flight line after a mission during exercise Red Flag 19-1, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. This is the 388th Fighter Wing's second Red Flag with the F-35A, America's most advanced multi-role fighter, which brings game-changing stealth, lethality and interoperability to the modern battlefield. Red Flag is the Air Force's premier combat exercise and includes units from across the Air Force and allied nations. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

An F-35A Lightning II takes off at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 1, 2019. Pilots and maintainers from the 388th Fighter Wing's 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit are participating in Red Flag 19-1 at Nellis AFB, Nevada. This is the wing's second Red Flag with the F-35A, America's most advanced multi-role fighter, which brings game-changing stealth, lethality and interoperability to the modern battlefield. Red Flag is the Air Force's premier combat exercise and includes units from across the Air Force and allied nations. The 388th is the lead wing for Red Flag 19-1. U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

An F-35A Lightning II takes off at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 1, 2019. Pilots and maintainers from the 388th Fighter Wing's 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit are participating in exercise Red Flag 19-1. This is the wing's second Red Flag with the F-35A, America's most advanced multi-role fighter, which brings game-changing stealth, lethality and interoperability to the modern battlefield. Red Flag is the Air Force's premier combat exercise and includes units from across the Air Force and allied nations. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Pilots from the 388th Fighter Wing's 4th Fighter Sqaudron prepare for launch, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Jan. 31, 2019. Pilots and maintainers from the 388th Fighter Wing's 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit are participating in Red Flag 19-1 at Nellis AFB, Nevada. This is wing's second Red Flag with the F-35A, America's most advanced multi-role fighter, which brings game-changing stealth, lethality and interoperability to the modern battlefield. Red Flag is the Air Force's premier combat exercise and includes units from across the Air Force and allied nations. The 388th is the lead wing for Red Flag 19-1.  (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Pilots from the 388th Fighter Wing's 4th Fighter Squadron prepare for launch at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 31, 2019. Pilots and maintainers from the 388th Fighter Wing's 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit are participating in Red Flag 19-1 at Nellis AFB. This is the wing's second Red Flag with the F-35A, America's most advanced multi-role fighter, which brings game-changing stealth, lethality and interoperability to the modern battlefield. Red Flag is the Air Force's premier combat exercise and includes units from across the Air Force and allied nations. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- The desert screams by below. The clouds scream by above. Both stretch on into the horizon. It’s deceptively calm in the cockpit. There’s a constant, seemingly discordant stream of chatter coming through his helmet. The digital screens in front of him, along with images projected onto his visor, provide enough information to save lives and take a few as well. In the sky ahead are more than 60 advanced enemy aircraft, flown by some of the best fighter pilots in the world. They are hunting—looking to kill him and his wingmen. He just graduated pilot training. Welcome to Red Flag.

“I haven’t been flying that long. There are things that stand out in my career. My first solo flight, my first F-35 flight and my first Red Flag mission. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those things,” said 1st Lt. Landon Moores, a 388th Fighter Wing, 4th Fighter Squadron, F-35A Lightning II pilot.

Moores is one of a handful of young F-35A pilots who recently graduated their initial training and are currently deployed to Nellis Air Force Base as part of exercise Red-Flag 19-1. Now they are being battle-tested.

“Going from F-35 training a little over a month ago to a large force exercise with dozens of aircraft in the sky is pretty crazy,” Moores said. “For the initial part of the first mission, I was just kind of sitting there listening. I was nervous. I was excited. Then the training kicked in.”

Red Flag is the Air Force’s premier combat training exercise where units from across the Department of Defense join with allied nations in a “blue force” to combat a “red force” in a variety of challenging scenarios over three weeks.

“For us, the biggest difference between this Red Flag and our first with the F-35A two years ago is that we have a lot of pilots on their first assignment,” said Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 4th FS commander. “Putting them alongside more experienced wingmen is what Red Flag was designed for.”

Combat training has changed dramatically over the years, Morris said.

“When I was a young pilot in the F-16, I had a couple of responsibilities in the cockpit. One, don’t lose sight of my flight lead. Two, keep track of a bunch of green blips on a small screen in front of me, and correlate the blips to what someone is telling me on the radio,” Morris said. “Now, we’re flying miles apart and interpreting and sharing information the jets gather, building a threat and target picture. We’re asking way more of young wingmen, but we’re able to do that because of their training and the capabilities of the jet.”

Capt. James Rosenau flew the A-10 in four previous Red Flags, but he’s brand new to flying the F-35. He graduated from the transition course in December 2018.

“I loved the A-10 and its mission. It’s like a flying tank. Like Chewbacca with chainsaw arms. A very raw flying experience,” Rosenau said. “Obviously the F-35 is completely different. It’s more like a precision tool. After seeing the F-35 go up against the near-peer threats replicated here at Nellis (AFB), I’m a big believer.”

The two aircraft are similar in one way. They do very specific things other aircraft aren’t asked to do.

“In the A-10, I liked being the guy who was called upon to directly support troops on the ground. To bring that fight to the enemy,” Rosenau said. “Now I like being the guy who can support legacy fighters when they may be struggling to get into a target area because of the threat level. We have more freedom to operate. We have this big radar that can sniff out threats. We can gather all of that and pass it along or potentially take out those threats ourselves.”

The threat level is high at Red Flag. From the skill and size of the aggressor forces in the air to the complexity and diversity of the surface to air threats, there is a real sense of the ‘fog and friction’ of war. The adversary force also uses space and cyber warfare to take out or limit technology that modern warfighters rely on. Cutting through the clutter is a strength of the F-35A.

“One of the jet’s greatest assets is to see things that others can’t, take all the information it’s gathering from the sensors and present them to the pilot,” Moores said. “One of our biggest jobs is learning how to process and prioritize that. For the more experienced pilots it seems like it is second nature. … If we don’t, it’s not like we’re getting killed (in the F-35), but we could be doing more killing.”

The pilots say seeing the F-35A’s capabilities being put to use as part of a larger force has been invaluable.

“When we mission plan with other units, it’s not always about kicking down the door,” Rosenau said. “It may be about looking at what the enemy is presenting and ‘thinking skinny.’ With the F-35, we can think through a mission and choose how we want to attack it to make everyone more survivable.”

Engage

Facebook Twitter
RT @ArmedwScience: Do you know B.A.T.M.A.N.? Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided Knowledge is the @AFResearchLab's advanced technology de…
RT @AETCommand: How are you staying active today? Last Saturday, Airmen from @HollomanAFB, @CannonAFB_ & @KIRTLAND377ABW competed in the "B…
RT @AETCommand: In order to support #readiness & build a more #lethal force, leaders must foster & promote resilience among their Airmen. D…
RT @GenDaveGoldfein: Commanding General of the Philippine Air Force, Lt Gen Briguez said it best, our relationship is etched in stone — iro…
RT @HQAirUniversity: What is @usairforce culture? AU's Command Chief Simmons talks about organizational culture and how the actions modele…
RT @thejointstaff: #DYK today marks the 70th anniversary of the Chairmanship? Watch recently discovered footage from the historic swearing…
This week really flew by fast. Be sure to #Follow, #Like & #RT our @AFThunderbirds for more info on the premiere a… https://t.co/5BM8N7sZTR
RT @AFSpace: Chief Towberman, AFSPC Command Chief, knows the importance of recharging, and implements it in his work-life balance. @AF_SMC
RT @AETCommand: What happened in #LasVegas...will help foster a culture of collaboration & innovation in the #USAF: the July 23 @AFWERX Fus…
RT @GenDaveGoldfein: It was absolutely impressive getting a first-hand look at the mission and innovative efforts of the 15th Wing’s Sky Wa…
.@EielsonAirForce Red Flag-Alaska is a series of @PACAF commander-directed field training exercises for U.S. & part… https://t.co/0bKkyvsVf9
RT @US_Stratcom: #24/7 #AlwaysReady 36th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron #Airmen work together to #GetErDone. #CombatReadyForc
RT @DeptofDefense: Cockpit view. Press ▶️ to ride along with the crew of an F-15 Strike Eagle from RAF Lakenheath, England 🇬🇧. The @48Figh
Exercise Agile Lightning concludes after showcasing agile operations essential to the defense of U.S. assets and p… https://t.co/vVR32kvtaP
What innovative way would you like to ease your job and the jobs of other Airmen? #InnovativeAF #USAFhttps://t.co/fKqcPisybt
RT @HAFB: Workers at #HillAFB recently installed the last of 173 new wings on A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, finalizing a project that began…
RT @AFWERX: HAPPENING NOW: We're hosting the first-ever @usairforce #SparkCollider. Tune in live: https://t.co/gTKMNPM9fK https://t.co/xIlJ…
RT @EdwardsAFB: Fix these broken wings – part fabrication saves Air Force time, money - https://t.co/UCvLQ0fAqy #ForTheWarfighter #TheCente