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NEWS | June 14, 2023

71st FS kicks off inaugural F-22 basic flying course

By Airman 1st Class Adisen Smith 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

“My first flight was mind blowing,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Chas Ballard, a F-22 pilot in training. “As soon as I took off and started pulling back on the stick for the first time, I could feel the immense amount of power that the machine had to give and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever flown before.”

Ballard, along with five other future F-22 pilots, are participating in a nine-month long F-22 Basic Flying Course at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

The future F-22 pilots are assigned to the 71st Fighter Squadron and will undergo a multi-phased training approach combining academics, simulator training, and in-flight instruction.

“The whole intent behind the course is to not only be able to fly the F-22 but be able to effectively employ it,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Spencer Bell, a 71st FS flight commander. “We send people off to Combat Air Force squadrons, who are ready to deploy and ready to do the mission.”

Throughout the training, students must complete three-months of academic instruction and begin overall familiarization of the F-22 in simulators and classrooms under the instruction of expert civilians at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

“Doing the simulators at Tyndall was really cool and the instruction we got there was unparalleled,” said Ballard. “The program itself is super well-regulated and all the instructors cared, so we are super excited to do the training.”

The instructors at the 71st FS and Tyndall AFB work closely together to ensure portions of the course being geographically separated does not impact the overall quality of the student’s learning environment.

After completing academic and simulator instruction at Tyndall AFB, the pilots return to JBLE and begin the four phases of the flying portion of the program. According to Bell, each phase consists of specific tactics and lessons; the student must meet course training standards to move to the next phase which builds upon the skills mastered in previous phases.

The phases of this course include transition, advanced handling characteristics, basic fighter maneuvers, beyond visual range intercepts, and air combat tactics.

“The phases are designed to get the pilots from not knowing anything about the airframe to graduating and being our next air dominance professionals.”

Bell emphasized that although it’s not a part of the lesson plans, a critical part of building the next generation of F-22 pilots is immersing them into its tight-knit flying community.

“We want to get them in the mindset of what it’s like to be in a fighter squadron, what our mission means and why it’s important,” said Bell.

One of the ways this is accomplished is by aligning the training environment with the flying traditions and daily routines they can expect once they are assigned to fighter squadrons. 

“For every flight, we will conduct briefs and instruct the students on every aspect of the mission,” Bell said. “From there, we get a briefing from the operations supervisor, put on our flight gear, and go out to the jets to fly.”

Since the F-22 is a single-seat fighter jet, the instructor pilots must find different ways to oversee in-flight training.

“We give them all the tools to fly the jets themselves and when they’re actually airborne instructors monitor the student pilots either electronically or from a chase formation position and are on a radio frequency communicating with the pilots the whole time to help them out as they go along.” 

Like real-world flying operations, after the flight they are debriefed and receive feedback so they can continue to improve their skillset.

As the students’ progress through the course, they’ll transform from not knowing how to fly the F-22, to being the next generation of air dominance professionals.

“It’s probably the most important mission that I’ve done in my career thus far,” said Bell. “It’s going to be the biggest impact I’ve done because we are forging the next generation and getting them ready to go out and deploy in support of our national objectives.” 

Bells says, once the students graduate, they will be assigned to a Combat Air Force Squadron where they will continue to gain more mission experience and stand ready to deploy anywhere.