Thunderbolts storm Tyndall AFB
By Cpl. Jonah Lovy, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort
Fourteen pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, are participating in the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, to sharpen their skills May 6-20,2016.
“The pilots will start out with basic fighter maneuvers, which are one on one engagements between our aircraft and Air Force F-16s and F-22s,” said Capt. Kyle Wilson, the ground safety officer for VMFA-251. “After everyone gets acclimated to the area they begin the missile shoots.”
The program gives pilots experience with flying against real aircraft outside a simulation. The real world training helps Marines be tactically proficient and prepared to deploy.
“When we are out there training and launching missiles the Air Force is going to observe how we perform,” said Capt. Jonathan Gilson, a pilot with VMFA-251. “It is a good experience for all the pilots to actually employ their training and to improve their proficiency. It is good for a pilot to actually have the experience of having something come off the aircraft.”
The program will also help test the weapons systems of the F/A-18Cs that the squadron uses. Ordnance used during the training includes air-to-air, air-to-ground and radar guided missiles.
“Pilots will shoot many different kinds of ordnance,” said Wilson. “We have a number of AIM-7s, AIM 120s and AIM-9s which are different variants of missiles. AIM-7s and AIM-120s are radar guided missiles and AIM-9s are heat-seeking missiles which we use generally within visual range.”
The AIM-7 is a medium range semi-active radar homing air-to-air missile introduced in the late 1950s. The AIM-9 is a short-range, air-to-air missile, and was the world’s first combat successful air-to-air guided missile introduced in the late 1950s. The AIM-120 is an advanced medium-range air-to-air missile with active guidance, and was introduced in Iraq in the 1990s.
“This helps the mission by allowing us to test our weapons systems and collaborate with other branches to ensure our mission readiness,” said Wilson.
The Marines are not the only branch to participate in WSEP. The Air Force is hosting multiple squadrons in this particular program and trains regularly with other branches.
“This is not a training event that we always attend,” said Wilson. “Other Marine squadrons as well as visiting Navy and Air Force squadrons participate in this joint training exercise.”