49 Wing commander leads by example

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Colin Cates
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
The 49th Wing is responsible for providing combat-ready Airmen and F-22 Raptors and for training remotely-piloted aircraft crews to defend the nation at a moment's notice.

Perhaps no member of Team Holloman personifies the wing's readiness better than its commander, Col. Andy Croft.

Croft, who has more than 3,100 flying hours in the T-6 Texan II, F-15 Eagle, T-38 Talon, and T-37 Tweet, is now also flight-qualified in the F-22 Raptor and the MQ-1 Predator.

"I'm able to see the value behind every system, since I'm actively a part of both these platforms," said Croft. "Instead of having to make generalizations of these airframes and what it takes to make their mission possible, I now know exactly what it takes to make it happen. I can really speak to the value and accuracies of these airframes to my leadership or even the community, which is very important to me as a commander."

The commander said knowing how both aircraft systems work is asset for the wing.

"Knowing how processes work, like the RPA training program, munitions on the F-22, and how we operate in this airspace would not be possible unless I was flying these airframes," Croft said.

"The advantage of being qualified on both the F-22 and the MQ-1 is the fact that I'll be more in tune with both the RPA training portion of our mission, which is a very large portion of the mission, and the F-22 side. Our F-22 unit is a real-world combat unit, which means it consumes most of our deployment functions, airfield functions, and has a direct impact on the community with the sonic booms."

Although Croft's background is in the fighter community, he said he still experienced plenty of difficulties learning the nuances of flying an RPA.

"Learning a new airframe at this point in my career is hard in two ways: first, that I'm an old dog that's having to learn new tricks," Croft said. "The construct of how we do business in RPAs is not much different than the fighter, but the biggest difference when flying the RPA is that you have zero feeling of what is going on in the aircraft, so you have to be totally reliant on all the instruments and censors that are provided."

Because they are different in nature, the two airframes give the 49th Wing a unique capability.

"The F-22 and RPAs hold the enemy at risk, but are at two ends of the spectrum when it comes to combat operations," Croft said. "The F-22 is an air-superior aircraft that would be used in a serious combat situation that would call for its capabilities, compared to the RPA that has to be flown where we have control of the airspace but has the capabilities of being flown for long periods without putting a pilot at risk. It's a very unique situation to have both those aircraft and I think we are the only wing that does, which shows how extremely important we are to the Air Force."

In the end, being flight qualified in both the F-22 and the MQ-1 will lead to positive outcomes for the wing.

"By being so directly involved with both airframes, I can be proactive, not reactive, to any future issues that may occur and be ready for the future needs of the Air Force," said Croft. "In the RPA community, we are growing so fast due to the high demand for aircrews. I had the opportunity to fly the F-22 because its move was delayed, and I was already scheduled to fly the MQ-1. Being able to fly both has now become a necessity to be proficient as the commander of this wing."