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B-Course Series: student pilots perfect warrior skills

1st Lt. Brock McGehee, Class 16-ABK, looks at the paperwork showing his jet is ready for the mission, in this case it’s to practice basic fighter maneuvers with an instructor pilot in the back seat of this D-model F-15, March 11, 2016. Class 16-ABK has crossed the half-way mark for their introduction to the airframe and is rapidly moving into the heart of the training—learning to employ the Eagle as the weapons platform it is designed to be. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

1st Lt. Brock McGehee, Class 16-ABK, looks at the paperwork showing his jet is ready for the mission, in this case it’s to practice basic fighter maneuvers with an instructor pilot in the back seat of this D-model F-15, March 11, 2016. Class 16-ABK has crossed the half-way mark for their introduction to the airframe and is rapidly moving into the heart of the training—learning to employ the Eagle as the weapons platform it is designed to be. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. -- As 16-ABK crosses the halfway point they leave behind the basic aspects of flying and dogfighting in one-on-one scenarios.

The F-15 does these things very well, but these students are moving toward the core of what the Eagle was born to do--control the air.

Like its namesake, this aircraft has excellent vision and with modern upgrades its radar sees a huge swath of airspace. The wrinkle for these students is that means one more thing to think about. 1st Lt. Brock Mcgehee paints a mental picture of what it can feel like as a student trying to come to grips with the extra layers of complexity.

"It's like driving a race car, while you're playing a video game, while you're playing football on a roller coaster and commentating on it on the radio at the same time," he says tongue in cheek.

The underlying point is that for these students the task of flying and fighting in this aircraft outpaces their ability to keep up mentally, and in these moments they return to a mantra every pilot knows, "aviate-navigate-communicate". That phrase anchors them, when task-saturated, by prioritizing the three most basic elements of flying, get your aircraft right in the air, recognize where you are on the map, and tell somebody.

Capt. Ryan Reeves is the new flight leader for this class and he describes the challenges he and the other instructor pilots are presenting to the students.

"So now the big thing we are introducing to them are contracts," says Reeves explaining that the idea is a student agrees to execute specific tasks in concert with their flight leader. "It's just piling more responsibilities onto them as they are flying, watching their flight lead, watching the bandit and now starting to operate their radar as well as their defensive systems to let them know if they are being targeted by an enemy outside visual range," said Reeves.

The students feel that pressure and note that though their skills are growing, it is unrelenting.

"Every phase you step up, the game gets harder, but you're better too," he says.

"What I'm doing right now, gosh, even a year ago would completely blow my mind, so I'm better than I was a year ago. But the growing process means the pressure cooker never really lets up."

And Reeves says that is by design, "this is a course that continues to get harder, there is not really a point where they know they have it in the bag."

He evaluates Class 16-ABK saying that they are cohesive as a team and are receptive to learning and he complements their good attitudes. The difficulty hasn't eliminated any of the six-person class and he says by and large they have a strong reputation. However, when asked if anything in particular has impressed him he says "no", and it seems to suggest that for this class there are many sorties and many hurdles yet to come, and it will be graduation day before we know if each of these six students earns their Eagle Driver patch.