"Rattler" first sat at the controls of the F-16 ten years ago, "Goose" and "Stag" are at the beginning of their careers. They are split by their aerial generation. They are combined by the pride of being F-16 pilots.
It is said about F-16 pilots that their heads are high, that they are cocking up their noses…
"Rattler": We fly the best planes in the Polish army. We have been gaining skills for years, we have taken part in international exercises of large scale. We do not cock up our noses, but we also have no reason for false modesty.
"Stag": We know what we want, maybe some people mistake it with cocking up a nose.
Have you always been so determined?
„Stag”: After graduating high school, I submitted papers only for one university and only one degree of course. Nothing more than the Higher Officers' School of Air Forces and jets did not interest me. I can't answer the question differently than: if not F-16, then what?
„Goose”: Determination and setting priorities are essential if you want to be the best. It does not come alone.
„Rattler”, you have begun to serve on F-16 ten years ago. Were you as determined as guys today?
„Rattler”: Yes. I have finished Szkoła Orląt in 2005, two years later I was trained in the USA on a course for F-16 pilots. I was in one of the first groups of WSOSP students who were trained for pilots of these machines. My dreams came true. I have always wanted to become a jet pilot. If you aim, aim high! I think there are no people who, when they come to school in Dęblin, dream about something other than jets.
You're exaggerating. There are pilots of helicopters, transporters who say that it was their conscious choice.„Rattler” (laugh): And what else are they to say…
„Goose”: Each of the candidates who during the qualification for the WSOSP receives the highest category of health, i.e. Z1A, wants to be a pilot of a jet plane. I do not believe in other stories.
„Stag”: Exactly. And that's how it was: either "fast" planes or none at all.
Okay, so your dreams come true. There is an appropriate category of health, then there are studies, the first position, the first unit, and finally…
„Rattler”: And here the differences begin to occur between us and actually between our pilots' careers. I spent two years on the sparks for two years after finishing school, although I was connected with the base in Powidz on a full-time basis. The guys, on the other hand, were sent to the United States much earlier.
How did your courses differ from each other? „Goose”, „Stag”, you finished your course in the USA ten years later than „Rattler”...
„Rattler”: The courses have changed, but not completely. For sure there is another "material", i.e. a future of F-16 pilot, which the Polish army was sending to the USA. In the first group that flew for training, there were people with great experience as pilots of MiG-21 and Su-22 aircraft. They wanted these ambitious and experienced officers to be trained very quickly. Unfortunately, the specificity of training and flying on the post-Soviet and F-16 machines was completely different. You had to expand the course. At first, it covered a dozen or so flights with the Talon T38 training plane, then there were already 80 hours. But after a few years to the States, we started sending young pilots, just after school, without any experience, with too little loftiness to deal with the T38. Thus, the Americans added a course on the T6, which is the plane corresponding to our eagle, maybe with a slightly different avionics. At every stage you learn something there that you will use in F-16. In Poland, however, the training has been a bit complicated: we learn to fly one jet plane, and then on the next one, we have to unlearn certain habits.
„Goose”: We do not have aerial experience with SU-22 or MiGs, but between the spark that we used to fly here and the F-16's, there is abyss.
„Rattler”: You asked about the differences between what used to be and what is today. It will definitely be English. A dozen or so years ago it was at a minimal level. In the meantime, all textbooks, instructions and lectures were in English. It certainly could not be easy.
„Goose”: Today we do not have any problems with it. At the end of the Air Force Academy, we must know English at 3232 [ed. according to STANAG].
Today, after collecting these experiences, has one model of F-16 pilot training been created?
„Rattler”: Even three models. In the case of the first two, it all depends on who this future F-16 pilot is. Is he a cadet after training on TS-11 Iskra after school in Dęblin? Or maybe someone who has experience in flying MiGs or Su? And the third "type", but this one will soon be known, are people who will train on M-346.
Do you already have a plan for pilot training after you have mastered them?
„Rattler”: Yes. We work with the 4th Aviation Wing. In September, M-346 Master planes will appear with us in Krzesiny. We will start cooperation between two platforms: F-16 and M-346. We will integrate aerial training in order to maximize knowledge. The point is that pilots from Dęblin should know our expectations regarding the training of candidates for the F-16. We, in turn, need to get to know the capabilities of the new aircraft well. Such cooperation will accelerate and properly direct the training of cadets to M-346. This is not a very distant future, we hope that their first group will fly at the masters next year, and that means that graduates from Dęblin for training on the F-16 will go to us for just over two years.
So the second and third training model is not used, because we do not have (in the case of the master we do not yet have) candidates. We send people from the first group to the United States for basic training on T6 and T38, which includes flying according to instrumental procedures, in formation and IFF (Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals). Then the training on the F-16 takes place in the USA or in Poland - in Krzesiny. No matter where the pilot completes it, he can do the same. In Poland, however, it lasts longer. First, because of the weather, secondly, the instructors who conduct the training also perform other tasks. We do not have people who would only be involved in training.
„Goose”: The difference is also that if you are training in the States, like me, you are flying according to local procedures. In Poland, the pilot needs some time to pass on to our regulations, as well as our version of the plane, which differs from the one we are training in the USA.
You've been in the States for over two years. At that time, even people as decisive as you were caught up in any doubts or crises?
„Rattler”: Yes, during the final training on T38. It lasted six weeks and destroyed absolutely. Instructors forced you to do titanic work. I remember that once I came back home, I said "goodnight" to my wife and went to sleep. It was somehow in the afternoon. I woke up the next day.
„Goose”: At the moment, this training lasts ten weeks. Instructors have a very selective approach. My course started 12 people, it ended ten.
Tell us why it's so hard there!
„Rattler”: The instructors create a very tense, nervous atmosphere, everyone around you is trying to prove to you that you are not worth much. And you are supposed to get up and do yours every time. Do not take offense, do not stand out from the group, do not isolate yourself. The training is very intense, there are a lot of flights, simulator exercises.
„Stag”: Motivation is constantly being checked. There is no person who would perform the first flights flawlessly, it does not happen that someone who gets on the plane for the first time had an exceptional situational awareness in the fight, and he was also great at it. They know that there may be difficulties. That is why you may not be flying, but you must have motivation.
„Rattler”: And even if something comes out, the next time the instructors will make you feel like you absolutely did not know anything.
„Goose”: The instructors also arrange the day's schedule in such a way as to make it as difficult as possible. In the morning - lectures, in the afternoon - simulators, and at the end of the day flights, which are after all the most important and best for the student, if he could have them refreshed, in the morning.
What are the flights? What tasks at this stage do you must be able to do?
„Goose”: Fighting in the air... The first time you see a second plane in such a close distance, even only 150 m from each other. Everything happens very quickly, there is no time to think about anything. You have to make the decision at the same time when some specific data appears.
„Rattler”: Today I think that one-on-one fight in the air is nothing complicated. But when a man does it for the first time, when he feels adrenaline, overload, he is aware of how quickly everything is going on, he can get lost. And he knows that the case is zero-one: he will either win or lose. There is nothing in between. Speaking of the nervous atmosphere... When you try to embrace everything in the air, the instructor yells at you: "kill him!" (Laughs). But as I said, this is the beginning of the road.
Beginning? After this training, the pilot returns to Poland.
„Rattler”: Yes and he must achieve the status of "combat ready". The condition is to complete the MQT training or mission qualification training. Such a course of pilots pass in Poland. After the MQT, we already have well-trained wingers that can be taken to any theater of action, e.g. to Kuwait or designated to perform roster duty. The MQT training lasts three or four months.
„Goose”, „Stag”, have you already completed the MQT?
„Goose”: I recently came back from the United States. Now I am waiting for training on the Polish type F-16. Only after the conversion I will start MQT.
„Stag”: I'm already finishing the MQT. It's a completely different flying experience than during the basic training that we went through in the States. During MQT, the emphasis is on tactics, mainly on aerial defense missions.
What operations do pilots train during this stage?
„Rattler”: Each of the F-16 users arranges the program in their own way. Some want to be well prepared e.g. for roster duty, others to support land forces. It depends on the needs of a specific country.
„Rattler”: For the defence. Our tasks are defensive, include air-to-air combat as well as air-to-ground tasks. This results from our defense doctrine, we adapt the training program to it. In such operations, everyone has a role. "Stag" is, for example, a wingman.
„Stag”: The wingmen perform tasks ordered by the flight leader. Our task is to react to his commands as soon as possible. We also have to fulfil our "contracts", i.e. to perform certain activities without issuing instructions.
„Rattler”: If we have detected a target at a specific altitude and the conditions set out above are met, then as a flight leader, I expect my wingman to launch a suitable missile in the direction of the target without my command.
It sounds as if you act like automatons...
„Rattler”: Often in conversations with pilots of other aircraft, I meet with such an opinion: "You have all standardized on these ef's and if you were to surprise you that way, you would not be able to do it." I always say, "Give me an example of how you can surprise us."
„Goose”: It turns out that for each example we have the right procedure.
„Rattler”: People think that something new is appearing in tactics every now and then. Meanwhile, the idea is to know the weaknesses and strengths of the opponent. And stay as far away from those strong ones as possible.
Do the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent during your exercises correspond to what is happening in reality?
„Goose”: Yes. Airplanes - our and potential opponents - fly by the same parameters, pilots use the same tactics. The more real scenario we can build, the better.
How is the pilot trained further? When is it directed to more complex missions?
„Rattler”: MQT is just the beginning. Pilots are flying, have battle duty, fly to trainings. They gain their plumage and only when they spend 300-500 hours in the air at the controls of the F-16, they can start their training as a group commander - two aircrafts. When they pass this level of training, we either give them time to fly as commanders and get experience or immediately throw them into deep water and train them to command the key of the planes. The next step will be acquiring the skills of the mission comander responsible for the COMAO missions. And when the pilot in the F-16 has already 500 to 1000 hours, he can start instructor training.
„Goose”: We are aware that in this profession you have to learn all the time…
„Rattler”: It is true. It works more or less like this: once the pilot has the conviction that he is a super wingman, he starts the command course and again shows that he can not do anything. And later, when as a commander of the key feels comfortable in the air, he goes to an instructor course. And suddenly it turns out that he can fly and does it well, but passing on knowledge to others is a completely new challenge. This is my case. I had to learn how to teach others. Americans rightly claim that every student is a showcase of the instructor. And even the best pilot in the world, if he can not pass on his knowledge to the younger, is of no value to the armed forces.
„Rattler”, when you started your service in Krzesiny, the F-16s were only in Poland for three years. The plane was impressive, its possibilities were impressive. How do you look at it today? Do younger colleagues share your admiration from years ago?
„Rattler”: It was like a dream come true at the time. Oh wow! We did everything for the first time. When I heard that Poland was flying to the "Red Flag" exercises in Alaska, I knew that I must also be there. After almost a decade spent in F-16, this plane still impresses me. It's beautiful and good equipment.
„Stag”: This plane makes a huge impression. Look how it starts, how it lands! It's still this wow effect!„Goose”: I am delighted that I can pilot the F-16. I will never forget the first flights at a low altitude - about 170 m above the earth's surface. You can not compare anything with this adrenaline, speed. This is what I've always dreamed about.
„Rattler”: Adrenaline, speed and fulfilment are just ahead of you. You will see how cool it is. When I flew to the international training last year in the company of young pilots, just after the MQT, they were delighted. They saw why they are being trained. It turned out that it was not just kicking a ball in pairs, but a real match! Soon not only will you fly on the F-16, but also meet in the air with other types of aircraft. This is what aviation is with a capital A.
autor zdjęć: Bartosz Bera, arch. prywatne