After five years of training, seven aircrew members from the 201st ("One") Squadron have finally completed their operational training. Now, when the squadron is called for operational activity, they can finally put on their g-suits and prepare for takeoff.
A siren began sounding during my interview with Lt. G'. Two seconds elapsed before he left the room, ran for his helmet and hurried towards the HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelter). This siren was a part of the training week concluding the 201st ("One") Squadron's operational training.
During the week, the squadron's aircrew members – who pilot "Sufa" (F-16I) aircraft – perform various missions that they were introduced to over the past months. For example: a scenario where the pilots have to protect Ramon AFB, after enemy aircraft enter Israel's airspace with the goal of attacking their base.
"Over the weekend the pilots plan up an operational order and prepare accordingly", elaborated Maj. R', Deputy Commander of the 201st Squadron. "Preparation includes fuel calculation, briefing; things pilots have to do during operational activity. The week concludes in front of a committee, which tests the pilots' knowledge regarding the aircraft's systems, munitions and operational orders. They're also faced with various hypothetical situations and asked what they would do – these are questions that don't necessarily have a clear answer, but they help measure the pilot's discretion".
A New Beginning
In the IAF Fighter Division, a new conversion group made up of two to four aircrew members joins every 18 months. Arriving at the squadron after their Flight Course and basic operational training at the 102nd Trainer Squadron, they begin a four-month conversion period. "During the conversion period, the new aircrews learn about the 'Sufa' aircraft – its various systems and modes of operation. They aren't familiar with the platform, so you have to start with the basics", described Maj. R'. "Its goal is teaching about the aircraft's capabilities, both theoretically and practically".
"After the conversion, there begins an instructional process meant to connect the technical knowledge to the operational part of things. This process lasts four months as well", continued Maj. R'. "Until this point, the aircrews participated in fairly simple scenarios. Now, they have to face simulated SAMs (Surface-to-Air Missiles) and threats from enemy countries".
"After a year of training with the 'Lavi' (M-346) trainer aircraft for WSOs (Weapon Systems Officers) and six months of training with the 'Lavi' for pilots, we began studying the 'Sufa', a more advanced fighter jet", said Lt. Y', one of the WSOs concluding their training. "We studied the aircraft's systems thoroughly. After our ground training, we drilled considerably simple scenarios in order to learn what the aircraft's limitations were. These scenarios became more and more difficult throughout the instruction process, and over the past eight months we learned how to take the aircraft to the max and utilize its full potential".
"One of the most important things for the pilots to learn during their instruction is the ability to use their judgment wisely", said Maj. R'. "Each one of them knows the practicalities of intercepting an aircraft; however, it's important that they think each mission or exercise through in order to prevent errors. It is important that they be rational people in order for them to perform their missions optimally. This takes time and experience – that is, approximately 200 sorties with the 'Sufa' and several hundred more which they performed before joining the squadron".
Paying Their Dues
Operational training in the squadron is undoubtedly important when the force performs such a large amount of operational missions with such frequency. "You learn something new about flight every day. Training with the squadron's most experienced aircrews is helpful – the real training is in the air", emphasized Lt. Y'. "On the ground, each pilot has a position in the squadron, and during this time we undergo instructional processes with experienced aircrews who teach us what we need to know about the position".
"I remember when they taught us how an aircraft should turn back in a two-aircraft formation. I didn't understand why they were so careful regarding a simple turn", said Lt. G', a pilot concluding his training. "When I arrived here I realized that if I wouldn't turn properly, no one would be able to protect me. You see how everything you learned wasn't meant to make things harder on you, but to help you come back home safely".
"During our training, I realized for the first time that the responsibility was on my shoulders. That if I wouldn't do the things I needed to do as well as I needed to, they wouldn't get done. I joined the army so I could help in any way possible, and after a long training process, the moment has finally arrived", said Lt. Y' excitedly. "One significant event I remember happened one Friday, when I was called to come to the base suddenly and assist in planning up an operational order. It felt like it was finally my time to do my duties and give back to my country. It was incredibly satisfying".