Luke Air Force Base - Today

Luke - A Broad Overview

Luke Air Force Base is home to the active duty 56th Fighter Wing and the U.S. Air Force Reserve's 944th Fighter Wing. Luke is the largest and only active-duty F-16 training base in the world with more than 138 F-16s assigned.

The 56th Fighter Wing, Luke's host unit, is composed of four groups, 24 squadrons, including seven fighter squadrons. The 944th Fighter Wing, assigned to 10th Air Force and Air Force Reserve Command, is the largest tenant unit on base and is comprised of two groups and seven squadrons including the 69th Fighter Squadron. Both the 56th and the 944th deploy combat-ready Airmen around the world in support of today's contingencies.

The base population includes about 3,500 military members and 15,000 family members. With about 80,000 retired military members living in greater Phoenix, the base services a total population of more than 100,000 people. More than 280 pilots graduate from Luke annually and proceed to combat assignments throughout the world. The 56th Fighter Wing also trains more than 350 maintenance technicians each year.

An integral part of Luke's F-16 fighter pilot training mission is the Barry M. Goldwater Range. The range consists of 1.8 million acres of relatively undisturbed Sonoran Desert southwest of Luke Air Force Base between Yuma and Tucson south of Interstate 8. Overhead are 57,000 cubic miles of airspace where pilots practice air-to-air maneuvers and engage simulated battlefield targets on the ground. Roughly the size of Connecticut, the immense size of the complex allows for simultaneous training activities on nine air-to-ground and two air-to-air ranges. The Luke Air Force Base Range Management Office manages the eastern range activities and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma oversees operations on the western portion.

In addition to flying and maintaining the F-16, Luke Airmen also deploy to support on-going operations in Afghanistan and to combatant commanders in other locations around the world.

F-16 Training at Luke

The F-16 is the world's premier multi-role fighter; the product of high-end technology and inputs from fighter pilots the world over. It emphasizes flight performance--range, speed, payload, endurance and maneuverability--in the heart of the flight envelope where air combat occurs. The F-16 introduced many very successful technologies, such as fly-by-wire and relaxed static stability, which gives it a quantum leap in capability over other fighters and still makes it a fierce competitor today.

It has the range, payload, agility, and systems required to reach, locate, and destroy its targets as well as the survivability and sortie rates to return to the fight again and again.

Less than half the weight of the F-14, it carries a larger payload; less than one-fourth the cost of the F-15, it has superior maneuverability. In addition, advanced avionics and electronics give it excellent air-to-ground precision. The F-16 can deliver a crippling ground strike and instantly transform into an air superiority machine.

But the heart of the aircraft lies not in the cold hard metal frame or superior technology--it can be found in the everyday men and women that fly this outstanding machine every day. Our students who are training to fly one of the world's most advanced and capable aircraft receive some of the most realistic training available at Luke Air Force Base. They go through a structured syllabus totaling over 265 hours of classroom training, 55 hours of simulator and 80 hours of flight time.

Our students begin their training as fighter pilots long before they arrive at Luke. As pilot candidates, they must first complete a flight screening program (in light civil aircraft) before being assigned to Air Force Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training, or SUPT. They must excel in primary jet training in the Cessna T-37 in order to enter SUPT's fighter/bomber track; and after successfully completing advanced training in the T-38 Talon, F-16 pilot candidate's graduate from SUPT, earning their AF pilot wings. They next learn the basics of fighter employment in the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals course, training in the AT-38, an armed variant of the familiar T-38 Talon. Before proceeding to F-16 school, they receive aircrew survival training, physiological training, and finally, ride the centrifuge to learn to cope with the high "g" forces they'll encounter in the course of their F-16 training.

F-16 students begin their journey being inundated with a crushing load of classroom academics that doesn't abate through the duration of the seven-month course. Nearly the entire first month is taken up with classroom training in basic aircraft systems, with breaks for hands-on practice in a variety of simulators. In this first phase of training called the "Transition" phase, the students learn to operate the aircraft safely and to cope with any abnormal or emergency procedures. Classes and simulators are primarily taught by contract academic instructors, the majority of which are themselves former Air Force fighter pilots with extensive experience in the F-16.

The simulators start with a cockpit familiarization trainer which allows the student to find and actuate switches without the benefit of visual system. This trainer is used for elementary emergency procedures training. The student then moves up to a simulator with a visual display that provides a simulation of the outside world complete with terrain features, runways and "dial a disaster". The instructor can select any of a myriad of emergencies at any point in the flight profile accurately replicating what the student will see in an actual emergency. This simulator also can be used to practice approaches and landings in any weather. Next, the student flies a simulator which is recessed within a visual display that provides a 360 degree image of the world around the aircraft and is linked to another simulator the student can fly formation with. This simulator is used for practicing air-to-air and air-to-ground tactics and is very realistic.

After several weeks of academics, students move from the 56th Training Squadron to their fighter squadron to begin flying. After five flights in the two-seat F-16D, the students are cleared for solo flight in the F-16C. After solo, the next major hurdle is the Instrument/Qualification checkride, during which each candidate must demonstrate mastery of the aircraft in formation flight, acrobatic maneuvers, and operations under simulated instrument conditions. They must also pass an emergency procedures simulator which tests their ability to recognize and correctly respond to a cross-section of potential aircraft malfunctions. After six weeks of training, the students are now competent at flying the aircraft--but have yet to begin to learn to employ it as a weapon.

The next phase of training, air-to-air, provides an introduction to air-to-air combat in the Viper. Beginning with 1 v. 1 visual maneuvering, meaning one ship vs. another, the students progress to fighting as part of a two-ship team in the visual and beyond-visual arenas. They learn to operate the aircraft's fire control systems correctly and skillfully while maneuvering under heavy g-loading while maintaining briefed formations. "G" loads are the pressures a pilot senses as he makes a hard turn. 1 "G" is the pressure we all sense sitting in our armchair (one times the force of gravity). In a 6 "G" turn, the pilot experiences 6 times the force of gravity. If you arm weighs 7 pounds at 1 "G", it weighs 42 pounds at 6 "g's"!

Students also practice in-flight refueling for the first time in the air-to-air phase. This is a crucial skill for a fighter pilot. In today's environment, fighters often must traverse distances of hundreds or even thousands of miles before reaching a target area necessitating inflight aerial refueling. Each new topic is introduced by an instructor flying in the rear cockpit of an F-16D; and, after practice, the student's solo performance is evaluated against course training standards before he/she can advance to the next stage. At the completion of the air-to-air phase, the students are over halfway through the six-month Basic Course.

During the latter part of the air-to-air phase, academic and simulator training shifts its focus to air-to-ground operations. When the air-to-air phase is finally complete, bomb racks and long range tanks are loaded onto the squadron's aircraft for the next phase of flying training; the air-to -ground phase.

Students begin their introduction to "air-to-mud" with low altitude stepdown training where they learn to fly at 500 feet, first as a single ship, then as part of a formation. They juggle low altitude navigation, formation-keeping, and systems operations tasks with the imperative of avoiding the ground. They then practice basic surface attack--dropping unguided bombs and firing the F-16's 20mm cannon from medium and low altitude at clearly marked targets, on a sanitized firing range, while under strict procedural control.

The students do their training over the Barry M. Goldwater Range located just outside of Gila Bend. This national treasure provides students the vast open area needed to practice the advanced munitions now carried by the F-16s. Twenty years ago, munitions were simple and unsophisticated bombs. Now, with the advances in technology the bombs are "smarter" and much more complicated to use, which demands that we train a smarter, better trained pilot.

After being cleared solo, and as the students' proficiency increases, the attacks grow more challenging, laying the groundwork for more realistic tactical training to follow. Students drop live munitions, and work with ground or air-based forward air controllers to learn the basics of Close Air Support. They practice blind bombing using aircraft systems, rather than their eyes, to locate the target. Low altitude air-to-air training is introduced--again with an emphasis on balancing mission- and terrain clearance tasks.

Until this point the training has all taken place in the daylight; however, today's Air Force frequently fights its battles at night, and training in the Basic Course reflects that fact. Students fly air-to-air and air-to-ground missions at night, and many will do so with the help of night vision goggles, or NVGs. NVG training for new F-16 pilots is a priority for operational commanders -- our customers.

The final phase of training, Surface Attack Tactics, pulls everything together. In this phase, students fly as part of a large force, fighting their way into a defended target area, identifying and destroying their targets before egressing safely from the threat.

The biggest day of the Basic Course is, of course, graduation. Here instructors, graduates, friends and family gather to recognize the class's top performers and the Air Force's newest F-16 fighter pilots.

Soon all of the graduates depart for their operational assignments, and a new class begins the Transition phase. Out in the field, the new pilots begin mission qualification training which acquaints them with the unique aspects of their unit's mission and theater-specific flying rules and regulations. Their gaining commanders rate them and provide us with feedback on their performance, which we use to update and improve training for the next group. Many of these graduates could be in combat within 60 days of their next duty assignment.

We train more than 280 F-16 pilots per year, and take pride in each one of them. It is a process, which develops well trained pilots that will go on to their first operational assignment ready for the fight. We cannot afford to slow down.