What do the IAF’s young fighter pilots’ first flights on operational aircraft look like, do they fly alone or in a formation and what old tradition lives on to this day? A peek into solo flights in the “First Fighter” Squadron

Illy Peeri

Last week, the “First Fighter” Squadron’s newest pilots’ took off for their first solo flight on the Squadron’s “Barak” (F-16C/D) fighter jets. “It was a great flight – it was quiet, the sensations were new and I deeply enjoyed myself throughout the flight”, shared Lt. Yarden, one of the young pilots in conversion training. “We might have performed solo flights on the ‘Lavi’ (M-364) in the past, but this is our first solo on a new aircraft in which all of the responsibility rests on us”.

First Solo

Photography: Adi Abu

Independence, Performance and Safety
Upon their arrival to the operational squadrons, the young pilots began their conversion training periods to operational fighter aircraft, in order to familiarize them with the aircraft in the most comprehensive manner. After feeling the jet’s engine, participating in multiple classes on the ground and debriefing their performance many times, the young pilots took off for their first solo all by themselves.

During the sorties that preceded their solo flight, the conversion commander focused on three basic principles that served the young pilots as practical tools for success in their first solo. “In the pre-solo flights, we want them to demonstrate independence, perform at a high level and maintain their safety”, explained Capt. Yotam, a fighter pilot in the “First Fighter” Squadron and conversion training commander. “According to these principles, we perform our training and they are the ones that will get them through the solo flight”.

First Solo

Photography: Adi Abu

Soft Landing
Solo flights involve a lot of pressure and excitement for the conversion pilots, but they aren’t the only ones to experience these feelings. Until the young pilots land, the squadron command, which took a central part in the solo flights, is on edge as well. Maj. A’, the Deputy Squadron Commander, was located in Hatzor AFB’s control tower throughout the flight, talked the pilots through the flight and made sure they operated correctly. “During the take offs and landing, I make sure that everything is performed correctly and in case anything goes wrong, I can assist them and manage the incident from the tower”. Maj. A’ offers more than technical assistance; he provides the young pilots with vital mental assistance as well.

The solo, in which the pilots took off for in pairs – a formation of two aircraft, one manned by the young pilot and another manned by a senior pilot – is a significant stepping stone in the pilots’ training process. What goes through their mind in the days before? “The night before the solo, I thought about myself performing the sortie, what to do throughout it and how to prepare for it. I mostly made sure to keep the solo in proportion – it may be my first time alone, but it isn’t different to anything else we did up until now”, recalled Lt. Eden. “I tried to treat the flight like a standard sortie that I can perform based on everything that I have learned and tried to disconnect myself from the fact that there is no one with me and that all of the responsibility is mine”.

First Solo

Photography: Adi Abu

Flying On
The pilots landed and the excitement was great. The squadron members received the young aircrew members with a round of applause and then, as tradition states, doused them with water. But this isn’t the end. Their conversion training hasn’t ended yet and now the young pilots will delve deeper into the basics of flight and operation of the “Barak” jet for a number of months. Then they will begin their operational training period after which they will be qualified to perform all of the squadron’s routine missions.

First Solo

Photography: Adi Abu

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