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IFF mission arrives at Randolph

By Bob Hieronymus | Wingspread staff writer | Dec. 1, 2006

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Two AT-38C aircraft landed here Nov.8, marking the official arrival of the 435th Flying Training Squadron and the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals program for the second time in Randolph history.

Records in the 12th FTW history office show the 560th FTS was assigned the IFF mission in 1993 and held it, along with the regular instructor pilot mission, until the 435th FTS was activated in 1997.

In October 2001, the 435th FTS was relocated to Moody Air Force Base, Ga. For four months, the IFF mission continued here as Detachment 1 of the12th Operations Group, but once the squadron achieved full operational status there, the IFF mission left Randolph.

Under direction from the 2006 Base Realignment and Closing Commission, the 435th FTS was re-assigned to Randolph and is now in the process of establishing itself.

Lt. Col. Dann Carlson, 435th FTS commander, piloted the first of the squadron's AT-38s. Once the transition from Moody is complete, the 435th will have a 24 jet fleet.

The plan is for the first of the squadron's orientation flights to take off Nov. 27, Colonel Carlson said, but the first class of IFF instructor pilots is not expected until February. The first class of IFF students will begin the following month.

"IFF is a specialized course that takes pilots who have recently earned their wings in undergraduate pilot training and prepares them for the kind of flight operations unique to fighter aircraft,"

Colonel Carlson explained. "The student course has 40 training days during which the students work through simulator and flight exercises designed to teach the kind of high-speed tactics and flight discipline required for both air-to-air engagements and surface attack missions." Colonel Carlson said the 435th is the only squadron in the Air Force that will train instructor pilots for the IFF program.

"We expect to train about 130 pilots a year. Thirty five of them will be trained to be IFF instructors. The other 95 will be IFF students," he said. "We've found that the best way to train our IPs is by actually working with students."

Graduates of the IP course here will go on to teach IFF at Columbus, Vance and Laughlin Air Force Bases. The student graduates will transition into fighters, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15Eagle, the F-15E Strike Eagle or A-10 Thunderbolt II, the colonel said.

Colonel Carlson also pointed out that the squadron will have one instructor who is an F-15E weapons systems officer. His role is to work with the IPs who must be able to teach the relationship between the pilot and WSO in the two-seat F-15E Strike Eagle.

This unique aircraft requires a close symbiotic working relationship between the pilot and the WSO who handles the complex electronics suite in the rear cockpit.

The AT-38Cs of the 435th FTS are physically identical to the T-38Csflown by the 560th FTS. The difference in the squadron's missions result in a significant difference in the maintenance cycle for the two aircraft.

The hard maneuvering required by the IFF training syllabus, which involves air-to-air combat, surface attack and fast changes into and out of afterburner, subjects the aircraft to strains well beyond those required of the 560th FTS aircraft.

Ronald Patterson, 12th FTW director of maintenance, explained that the engine maintenance of the IFF aircraft is double that of the other T-38s. While the T-38C engines receive a complete work-over at 900 hours, the AT-38Csrequire the same level of maintenance at 450 hours.

"We cannot mix the aircraft assigned to the two squadrons, even though they have the same equipment onboard," he said. "The equipment, engines and airframes are subjected to such different operational stresses that we must treat them differently."

Seventy-one civilian maintenance technicians are being hired to satisfy the heavy maintenance schedule that will come with the new squadron, Mr. Patterson said. More than one third of the maintainers have already been hired and we are actively recruiting the rest

"The most important thing is to hire well qualified people," he said. "That's the best way to ensure the jobs are done to the highest standards."

The first maintenance task will be to replace the 'MY' tail flash, representing Moody AFB, with the 'RA' for Randolph, Mr. Patterson said. The gray paint scheme used at Moody will remain until the aircraft come in for their regularly scheduled repainting in a few years. Then, they will be painted like the rest of the Randolph T-38s.

After the new paint job, the only visible difference between the 560thand the 435th aircraft, will be a small squadron mark on the tail, Mr. Patterson said.

The 435th will use a new feature on their aircraft that will help evaluate training.

The AT-38s of a few years ago had "hard points" on the wings which carry small training munitions that were dropped on live fire ranges as part of the IFF program. Today the hard points have been removed and all C-models are equipped with electronic devices that almost instantly display how effective the munitions would have been, had they been real and delivered the way the student performed the maneuver. Only aircraft devoted to the IFF training mission use this part of the on-board electronics.

"This way we have almost instant feedback for the student and instructor without having to wait for range reports after the mission," Colonel Carlson said. "That greatly speeds up the training cycle and eliminates the possibility of damage on the ground from inaccurately delivered munitions."

The 435th FTS will be using 14trailer-delivered modules as their offices and training rooms. The complex includes 10 small briefing rooms and one large assembly room that covers approximately 10,000square feet and will be located between Hangars 12 and 13 on the east flight line.

"We're really looking forward to starting our program," Colonel Carlson said. "Our people are ready and we expect the last of the formal paperwork to be completed soon. We're ready to be part of Team Randolph!"