On the 5th May 12 F-16Cs and 165 personnel including pilots, maintenance and logistics support from the 93rd Fighter Squadron, 482nd Fighter Wing based at Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida arrived at RAF Lakenheath to begin a two week deployment working with the 492nd Fighter Squadron.
Capt George Cook callsign “Loft” began his F-16 pilot training course in 2016 and has been flying the F-16 for three years. “I started off my career in the United States Air Force at pilot training in Texas, once qualified I was selected to stay behind to become a First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP) instructing students on how to learn to fly the T-38. Following that assignment I moved to train on how to become an F-16 pilot before graduating and being assigned to my first active F-16 fighter squadron the 93rd Fighter Squadron ‘Makos’ which is part of the 482nd Fighter Wing based at Homestead ARB, Florida”. This is Capt Cook’s fourth deployment with the 93rd FS and this is his first to Europe ‘Loft’ explains in detail what this deployment has brought to the 93rd Fighter Squadron and how successful it has been.
“There is quite a vast difference from flat over water south Florida to the hills that you have got all over the UK especially in the low level areas. In addition to all that, just the general aviation flying around navigation is quite a bit different to obviously what it is back home in the USA so that has been both a challenge and an awesome learning experience. In addition to that, the first week we flew here out of RAF Lakenheath we had a lot of bad weather with low cloud ceilings and with all that in combination, the unfamiliar runway, bad weather, different flying rules, just on a navigational and general flying perspective its been invaluable and an awesome learning experience, especially for the new younger pilots. As far as the fighting is concerned, we get use to flying and training against each other down at Homestead all the time - we are all very intimately familiar with the capabilities of the F-16 vs F-16, so to get to come out here to the RAF Lakenheath and improve our interoperability and train with the Strike Eagles from the 492nd Fighter Squadron but also a select few got to engage in some dogfighting with some Typhoons - I was actually one of those lucky guys who got to do that and it was utterly outstanding. Crazy different manoeuvring capabilities and tactics so it was really interesting to get a close view of a different fighter while you were in a dogfight arena.”
“Whilst we have been here at Lakenheath we have just been flying day only with a morning group of sorties and then an afternoon sortie with a lot of low level training in Wales and the Lake District. We get so use to training over the water and the flat land in Florida where there isn’t really a whole lot of terrain features so its an incredible experience and a great opportunity getting to go down low to do some terrain masking, fly through the valleys.” Capt Cook explained. “The low level flying has been amazing, we have been doing a great majority of dogfighting or BFM (Basic Fighter Manoeuvres) with our host squadron here at RAF Lakenheath the 492nd Fighter Squadrons F-15Es. We have also performed 4 vs 4 engagement performing DCA (Defensive Counter Air) where we will have simulated bad guys trying to go attack a point and then our simulated blue guys are trying to defend that. We have been trading back and fourth with the 492nd Fighter Squadron to make sure we have an even distribution of us providing red air for them and then for them to provide red air for us. The other experience that was particularly good was the pond crossing, getting the twelve jets over here, it provided lots of time on the tanker, lots of time over the water to just sit in the jet with nothing to do but to explore the avionics which are all great training opportunities for us which is why we really settled on RAF Lakenheath being our primary location for our overseas deployment.”
The F-16C that the 93rd Fighter Squadron currently fly isn’t just your ‘grandads’ or your ‘dads’ F-16 if you like, it is a totally different machine with all the additions and upgrades, improvements, different avionics upgrades that they continually role out onto the F-16. It is vastly different to the original design as it was created as a day only VFR, missiles and guns platform to what its transitioned to now which is an all weather, air to ground capable, long range capable platform, vastly different to what it was originally designed for.
With the 93rd Fighter Squadron being part of the Air force Reserve Command, it is made up of a mixed bag of pilots. Capt Cook is one of around 9 active duty pilots attached to the 93rd Fighter Squadron. Then there are a handful of reservists that are full timers - just like the active duty they will stay at homestead as the reserve ‘Mako’s’ and they will go to work everyday just like the active duty guys. Then alongside those you have the ‘part-timers’ and those guys have other jobs for example flying for airlines, working as firefighters, paramedics, police. Capt Cook explains how the squadron get prepared for a deployment overseas such as this one. “As we spin up for a deployment like this and to come out here and to execute the deployment for a two week period, it is great repetition, and most of those guys that are part timers will have served as full time initially so this wouldn’t be new to them. Before the squadron leave for a deployment like this we will have a 2-3 week period of work up to train primarily to exercise Basic Fighter Manoeuvres (BFM) which is a high-G environment, getting all the pilots ready for the high-Gs that we pull during the ‘dogfighting’ manoeuvres. We put together a syllabus which we will follow, we also made good use of the simulators to train for the weather as well as our standard emergency procedures while flying at an unknown location where we are not super familiar with our where about. So there is a lot of behind the scenes training that goes on just to be able to fly here at RAF Lakenheath.”
Lt Col Lytle has been the Commander of the 93rd Fighter Squadron for two years and has been in the United states Air Force for a total of 28 years. He first started out as an enlisted serviceman working of F-16 before he decided he wanted to fly the F-16 and has since been flying the F-16 for twenty years. “This is my very first time in the UK and I have enjoyed it immensely. The 492nd Fighter Squadron and RAF Lakenheath as a whole have been incredible hosts. I have been trying to deploy here to RAF Lakenheath since 2001, but I could never really make it work out whereas this time now I am a Commander of a squadron, I wanted to make it happen. The training that we have received since we arrived here has been invaluable not only with the F-15s but also with the Royal Air Force Typhoons.” Lt Col Lytle explained.
Lt Col Lytle first flew the F-16 in June 1998. “Comparing the F-16 from then to now is that I would say the only similarity that they would have is that, they both have one engine and they both look like an F-16. As soon as you sit in the jet and start cranking up the avionics packages and all the capabilities it has now, it’s night and day. Flying in Florida out of Homestead is massively different to flying over here in the UK. The change in environment for example the weather is hot, humid day after day and we only really get to fly against each other and can old quickly. You couldn’t ask for a better place to fly, the terrain, especially the low fly areas have given the young pilots the opportunity to fly in places they are not used to. To come to RAF Lakenheath was a unique opportunity and with the weather and environment and the capabilities that the Strike Eagle poses, it was an opportunity to try and improve our lethality whilst training against them and sharpen our skill set and work as a team to improve not only ours but but the 492nd Fighter Squadrons capabilities.”
“We are replicating adversary and adversary tactics and they are running their game plan and executing it very well. When we are ‘blue’ they are running adversary tactics against us and we are giving it our best shot and the pilots are learning a lot.” Whilst we have been flying ACMI we have flown the whole gamete - we have flown 1 blue vs 1 red and the also 2 blue vs 2 red and from that we have moved up to working together against a lot of red air aircraft to try to defend a certain point we have on the East Coast. To get the whole squadron out of their day to day grind at Homestead in Florida and get them over here, somewhere completely different, focus on the mission, the personnel have hit the ground running and it has been just a wonderful experience - we have increased our readiness dramatically and increased our confidence, the morale is through the roof, everyone is focused at one mission.”
Lt Col Lytle explained, “I wanted everyone within the squadron to get out of the experience of working with a different squadron, in a different location to build relationships so if we end up some other place later down the line we have friendships and we can re-new those friendships, we have knowledge of what they can bring to the table and they have knowledge of what we can bring too and that interoperability overall increases the lethality of what we train to do.”
MSgt Adam Cartwright is part of the 482nd AMXS and is a flight line expediter and his job is to direct, control and oversea all maintenance actions on the flight line to ensure safe maintenance and make sure the personnel and the aircraft are getting taken care of in the correct way so the Fighter Wing can meet the mission. MSgt Adam Cartwright joined the 482nd Fighter Wing at Homestead in Florida in 2006 and has been working on F-16s his whole career. MSgt Cartwright explains, “The F-16 is great. The F-16 was obviously designed to be a throw away air to air fighter when it was first designed and now it is a multi-role fighter - the modifications that they are doing to it, with the radios, the equipment and avionics, is allowing us to do more missions all over the world so that we aren’t limited to one area or one region, we can go at a moments notice from point A to point Z. Speed is the ‘Vipers’ thing and we can carry weapons on the platform from here to there at the snap of a finger, for our guys flying them it may seem like 10 minutes which is a small fraction of time but for our guys on the ground 10 minutes seems like a lifetime so to get the good guys there faster, to enable our guys get to come home.”
Capt George Cook