The Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing deployed approximately 150 pilots, maintainers, operations support personnel and F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets to MacDill Air Force Base, Florida to conduct a two-week training exercise Jan. 20, 2017.
They spent two weeks flying simulated combat missions, taking full advantage of the optimal Florida weather. Flying operations can be difficult in Ohio due to the frigid winter weather, but at MacDill, the sunny skies allow Airmen to train daily.
“Being down here offers us the ability to go and fly each day,” said U.S. Air Force Captain Robert Welch, an F-16 fighter pilot assigned to the 180FW. “We’re flying eight jets at a time, two times a day. Back home, we might only fly one day a week.”
The pilots also trained against F-18 Hornet fighter jets from the Canadian 425th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in order to get experience training alongside and fighting aircraft with different capabilities.
“For training, you’re usually flying against other F-16s, if you’re doing air-to-air. So you kind of get used to that,” said Welch. “Here, we’re fighting something we haven’t seen, or we don’t see every day. For me, this is the first time I’ve gotten to fly against an F-18 Hornet. We’re getting increased combat capability.”
Additionally, the training grounds over the Gulf of Mexico provided more freedom for the fighter pilots to push the limits of their aircraft and hone their skills. Flying over the populated areas of the Midwestern mainland puts restrictions on speed, maneuvers, elevation and distances the pilots can achieve.
“Here the airspace is larger, geographically speaking. When you’re flying over the water, you have much less restrictive rules,” said Welch. “You can go super-sonic and you can fly closer to the ground based on the terrain.”
However, the exercise wasn’t only valuable for the pilots. Part-time maintenance personnel got a chance to experience high-tempo flying operations over an extended period of time.
“You get to find your jet’s personality, what it likes and what it doesn’t like,” said Senior Airman Joshua Wakefield, a crew chief with the 180FW. “It’s great for the Guardsmen who don’t get to do this a lot, they might run into issues they’re not used to seeing. We’re all learning and training together.”
Training in new locations and with international partners ensures the Airmen of the 180FW are ready to deploy around the world at all times.