Are You Experienced : A Fresh Look at the Fifth-Generation Fighter Experience Model
AIR COMMAND AND STAFF COLLEGE, AIR UNIVERSITY MAXWELL AFB United States
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Experienced fighter pilots are required in many positions both inside and outside the cockpit, including squadron supervision, flight instruction, and headquarters staffs. The definition of fighter experience has changed little since its creation over thirty years ago. Based solely on flight time in either the primary weapons system or high-fidelity simulator, the definition needs to be reexamined as the USAF acquires new aircraft. Fifth generation fighter aircraft, the F-22 and F-35, provide incredible performance and capability, but also present risks to the growth of the experienced fighter pilot population. Decreased aircraft utilization rates and pilot flight time results in a substantially longer period before a new pilot achieves fighter experience. Fifth generation utilization rates are less than fourth generation rates due to increased maintenance requirements and periodic software changes. As a result, a fifth generation pilot can take nearly 40 more time to accrue the requisite flight hours to achieve experience. As a result of longer time to experience, the pilot production pipeline is slowed and vacant pilot positions are left unfilled. Despite flying at a slower rate, many fifth generation pilots complete the Flight Lead Upgrade along similar periods of time as their fourth generation counterparts. This upgrade teaches a pilot the leadership traits necessary to lead formations of aircraft in combat. Those same traits are qualities needed to fill experienced pilot positions.
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