News & Notes Search

Flying in the dark

  • Published
  • By Victoria Brayton
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
It's after sunset and while some people are relaxing in front of the TV or sitting down to dinner, that's not the case for the student pilots at the Euro-Nato Joint Jet Pilot Training program.

When everyone else is getting home from work, students, instructor pilots and aircraft maintainers are just getting started. Their mission: night-flying.

Student pilots in the T-37 Tweet only take one night-sortie, for orientation purposes.

"It is a low-pressure sortie for the students," said Capt. Leigh Noel, E-Flight commander and T-37 instructor pilot for the 89th Flying Training Squadron. "It's more of a 'go out there and learn' as opposed to the pressure of having to do perfect."

She said flying at night could get pretty dangerous because of the reliance on instruments, but the training is necessary.

"It's important because so many mishaps occur," she said. "When I was an F-16 pilot in Germany a couple of guys missed each other by about 140 feet one night."

Still, the students don't seem phased by the darkness.

"It's just a different experience, seeing the airfield and just flying the pattern and outside in the local area, it feels like a different place," said 2nd Lt. Chris Bohner, a T-37 student pilot from the 80th Operations Support Squadron.

But it's not always easy. The night gives the students some new challenges to overcome.

"The horizon could look tilted, or based on the lights on the ground, you can interpret things as not what they really are," Lieutenant Bohner said.

Once students move on to the T-38C Talon, a whole new set of trials emerge.

1st Lt. David Nierenberg, a T-38 student pilot from the 80th Operations Support Squadron, said so much more is expected of them in their four night sorties, including proficiency in landing.

"After the first night-flight I wasn't completely comfortable with the overhead pattern landings," he said. "After the second one I did about three or four of them and it was fine after that."

With two night-sorties under his belt, Lieutenant Nierenberg must now complete two night-solos.

"Sometimes (the students) are more apprehensive," said 1st Lt. Dan Summers, an instructor pilot in the T-38 from the 90th Flying Training Squadron.

He also emphasized the change in schedule they all must adjust to when their flights shift from early in the morning to late at night.

"It's hard but at the same time they're almost used to the schedule varying so much at this point that it's not that stressful schedule-wise," he said.

Of course, the students and instructor pilots aren't the only ones who have to deal with the nocturnal calendar.

Wayne Lewis, director of maintenance for the 80th Flying Training Wing, said the maintainers also handle the change professionally.

"It's pretty much business as usual," he said. "This is part of the job, they just adjust to it."

Because not every training flight switches to night-flying simultaneously, the maintainers face the additional challenge of dividing up their personnel to ensure the planes are ready throughout the entire day.

"A lot of the work force stays on the regular hours because of the (Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals) regular hours so we shift some, but not the entire organization," Mr. Lewis said.

Looking at the brighter side of working in the dark, he said at least the flight line personnel can escape from the heat of the sun.

"It's cooler when you fly that late at night when the sun goes down," he said. "The guys enjoy that."

And the view from up high isn't too bad either.

"It's really beautiful out, you can see the cities a lot more easily because you just look for the big clusters of lights," Lieutenant Nierenberg said. "You can see a zillion stars out there."