Holloman Airman named Air Force Fighter Instructor Pilot of the Year

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nicholas Paczkowski
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
The 49th Wing is responsible for training almost half of all F-16 Viper pilots in the U.S. Air Force and producing approximately 25% of all fighter pilots in the entire U.S. Air Force.
Team Holloman’s very own U.S. Air Force Maj. Benjamin Saunders of the 8th Fighter Squadron, was named the 2021 Air Force Fighter Instructor Pilot of the Year.
The award recognizes Saunders’ instrumental role in leading and developing combat-ready F-16 pilots.
“It was a surprise for me to win because I wasn’t really that focused on winning the award,” said Saunders. “For me, the most important part is the teaching, which is my primary duty and I’m trying to do that to the best of my ability every day.”
Saunders has been an instructor since 2018 and is tasked with taking Initial Pilot Training graduates and teaching them to employ fighter tactics in the F-16. He also teaches new instructor pilots the skills and techniques necessary at the Air Force’s largest formal training unit.
A typical day of teaching for him involves giving students a syllabus that focuses on either an air-to-air or air-to-ground missions. After completing the mission, they come back to debrief the mission and assess what happened.
The training can also involve dogfight training in an F-16, where they learn basic fighter maneuvers, starting with a single adversary fight and gradually adding more participants.
“The training is not just for you or your own performance,” he said. “It’s what you are imparting on someone else, because one day someone else will be filling my shoes and I want to make sure that they’re the best they can possibly be.”
Aside from Saunders’ educational prowess, he was chosen for the award because of his knowledge and proficiency in flying.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Billy Ross, chief of scheduling for the 8th FS and a former student of Saunders, expressed little surprise when he heard about his old instructor earning such a prestigious award.
“If you’re going to pick one of the best instructor pilots on Holloman, it would have to be him,” said Ross. “He’s the one that’s basically running the instructor pilot training and making sure that, as instructors, we know enough to teach the basics.”