Training is underway for two USAF pilots from the 390th Electronic Combat Squadron (ECS), a geographically-separated unit of Mountain Home Air Force Base, working out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. 1st Lt Kevin Martin and 1st LT Jonathan Wright will train to become the first electronic attack fighter pilots in the USAF, flying the EA-18G Growler.
‘The opportunity for us to bring them in as brand new pilots and train them in a weapons system that most everybody is unfamiliar with in the Air Force is a unique opportunity for us,’ said Capt Chad Gagnon, 390th ECS electronic warfare officer. ‘Not only to bring pilots, train them and send them back to the Air Force, but to get a different perspective than what we’re used to getting with weapons system officers from the B-1 and the F-15E. The fact that we have these pilots here now is a pretty big milestone for the program.’
In 2015, Air Combat Command and Command of Naval Air Forces agreed to bring fighter pilots to the joint airborne electronic attack program. Although USAF pilots and weapons system officers have flown in the program previously, these are the first pilots flying EA-18G Growlers.
‘One of the challenges for our pilots will be that they have only been learning how the Air Force does things for about two years, now they’re going to spend three years learning how the Navy does things,’ said Lt Col Jeff Kassebaum, 390th ECS commander. ‘The other part of it is towards the end of their assignment here they’re going to have to relearn how to fit back into their follow on fighter squadron to remember how the Air Force does things because both are a little different.’
Training will last roughly 40 weeks, after which the fighter pilots will continue their three years stationed here assigned to a Navy expeditionary EA-18G squadron.
Kassebaum’s goal for the future is to eventually have at least one person who has gone through this program in every USAF community who can serve as a local expert. All that begins now with this first pair of electronic attack fighter pilots, young officers who were given only 24 hours to decide to join this mission and fly a completely different aircraft than they had been preparing for.
The 390th ECS stems from the USAF’s desire to retain a fast jet electronic attack community, so a memorandum was signed in order to embed USAF crews into VAQ-129, starting in the Prowler days and continuing today.
To find out more about the EA-18G training mission, see the forthcoming December issue of Combat Aircraft and our feature on VAQ-129 ‘Vikings’.