By Major Tilman Schonoor, German Air Force instructor pilot
/ Published September 08, 2006
HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Some say the Tornado Training Squadron is the heart of all German units located at Holloman Air Force Base. On the one hand, they are right: this is the place where we train our young and experienced aircrews. On the other hand, they are wrong: without the help of everybody else, including host nation support like air traffic control and the fire department, we wouldn't be able to fly a single mission. It's all about teamwork!
And this for the young pilots coming from Sheppard AFB, Texas, and our navigators from Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida, is a big challenge: to work as a team. Pilots, who are trained to fly a single-seat fighter, have to get used to sharing their workload and to trust their weapon systems operator. The latter is responsible for the navigation, weapon employment and tactical maneuvering in a hostile environment. But this is just one part of our training.
We distinguish between four different flying groups. Obviously the first group conducts our basic conversion training to the Tornado called weapon systems training. Challenges, besides teamwork, are the basic system handling and introductions into bomb deliveries and basic fighter maneuvers. It takes about nine months and nearly 100 flying hours to graduate on the Tornado.
The second group conducts the Tornado instructor course. This is where experienced aircrews get a special training to qualify as an instructor. It actually doesn't matter if this is a pilot or a navigator. Besides the transition phase, where the pilot has to learn to land the Tornado from the backseat where visibility is restricted, the training itself is the same for the navigators. They have to learn how to brief a mission, instruct in the air and how to point out mistakes made during the flight in the "so-called" debriefing on the ground. After about five months of academics and flying training you'll achieve the qualification as an instructor.
This leads me to the third group: as a prerequisite to participate in the fighter weapons instructor course you have to be an instructor. It is the most challenging course in the Tornado world. Qualified aircrews get a chance to concentrate on all aspects of tactical flying for six months. This course includes deployments to various other places to fly with and against other NATO partners.
There is a temporary fourth group as well. Aircrews from Germany participate in advanced tactical training for a period of three weeks. This training takes advantage of the suitable facilities at and around Holloman and concentrates on low-level flying, air-to-air maneuvering and live weapon deliveries.
To provide this flying training, our squadron commander can rely on his 30 highly motivated instructor pilots and instructor weapon systems operators. Due to the amount of students, each instructor will normally fly one mission per day. This mission consists of a mission preparation phase where we concentrate on the mission content in general and the weak areas of the student. Using this information, we set key points during the mission briefing where we talk about the specific mission profile.
This normally takes 60 minutes. After that, we are ready to rumble: depending on the profile we fly between 50 minutes (basic fighter maneuver) and 120 minutes (basic transition). The mission is far from over after coming back.
Now we have to point out what was good and bad during the flight and how the student can improve his performance. This is a major part of the instruction phase due to the limited time in the air. Normally, the student is able to proceed to the next stage, but sometimes the training goal is not met. In extreme cases the student is suspended from training.
Unfortunately our assignment as an instructor in the Tornado Training Squadron is restricted to a period of three years -- so in the end everyone has to go back!