IAF fighter division flight school cadets in the advanced stage of their training, underwent their concluding training exercise weeks before they receive their flight wings. A gurney march, escape exercise, deployment to a different base and attack missions in uncertainty conditions, these elements prepare the fighter pilots of tomorrow for what’s to come
Blindfolded, the cadets are left in the field on their own, simulating downed pilots in enemy territory. In the helicopter that arrived to extract them, Hatzerim AFB, their home for the past three years, is revealed to them and reminds them that this is another training exercise. Minutes later they are already seated in the Squadron’s Briefing Room, shinning their shoes and brushing of the remainders of sand and dust the desert left them with. An instructor steps in and announces that Israel is in war and that their performance in the air in the next few days will have a direct impact on its outcome. None of the cadets expect how the next days will play out.
Simulating Downed Pilot Extraction | Archive Photo
Practical Tools to Deal with Pressure
“An operational command arrived from the operations department this morning. The Israeli army attacked two enemy missile launchers and in turn, they launched missiles at northern Israel. There are no casualties. The IAF is preparing and the infantry battalions are ready for a ground maneuver. Our squadron is on air-air ready alert”, the instructor explained in the briefing. “From now on, no one leaves the squadron for anything other than flight. From now on, the only thing you do is sleep, eat, prepare sorties and fly”. This was the scenario that the cadets faced in their concluding training exercise that included night flight, “dog-fights” (air-air combat) aerial strikes and preparing sorties. The conditions were challenging on their own – sleepless nights, basic food and the possibility of taking off for 20 sorties or not at all.
The fighter division cadet’s concluding exercise, the final stage of flight school, is held about three weeks before their concluding flights and about a month before they say goodbye to the Flight Academy and become aircrew members. “Throughout the advanced stage, we taught the cadets the basics of flight and how to manage a combat-oriented mission in the air. In the concluding exercise we integrate the basics into operational scenarios and give them a peek into the reality that they will meet in the operational squadrons”, explained Capt. Uri, the Course Commander. “We surprise the cadets with unplanned scenarios in the air and on the ground and have them face many elements for the first time, such as encountering an F-16 in the air, deploying to a new base or one against two dog-fight. Part of the point is to create an experience of failure and mental difficulty, so that they don’t face these for the first time in battle and give them practical tools to deal with pressure”.
Where are the Jets?
The question, if they were going to be scrambled soon was answered by the squadron siren in the afternoon that announced: “Cadets, to the jets”. The cadets quickly took their helmets and ran to the line together. The surprise in their eyes when they realized that the sheds were empty was priceless.
The line might have been empty, but the alert was not void of educational meaning. “As operational pilots we are scrambled constantly, even in the middle of the night. Dozens of accidents happened when aircrews rushed to the HAS and it is important to dedicate time to the transition between what you were doing before and sitting in the jet”, said Capt. Uri. “You are required to be at your peak alertness and every detail is crucial. You must understand the mission you are called to even if it takes another minute. You will often have details ‘thrown’ at you and you will have to be able to construct the full image for yourselves, on the ground or in the air”.