Cross-functional teamwork key to F-16 landings, broader Wolf Pack vision
KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea – Two F-16C Fighting Falcons (commonly referred to as Vipers) assigned to the 8th Fighter Wing successfully landed on the alternate landing surface at Kunsan Air Base, February 9, 2018.
Although the challenge of landing on a surface area half the width of the runway depends heavily on the skill and training of the pilots, the overall success of the operation stemmed from cross-functional teamwork.
Consideration and emergency planning for use of alternate landing surfaces on base or off is common throughout the U.S. Air Force. However, the activation and execution of the capability is less common.
“Cross-functional coordination amongst [multiple] agencies [and] four groups, is what made activating the Alternate Landing Surface a success and proved that the Wolf Pack is a fierce team, which in turn fortifies our combat capabilities,” said Senior Master Sgt. Kristin Schott, 8th Operations Support Squadron air field manager.
Ensuring different units are working and coordinating among each other is one of the key focus areas among Wolf Pack leaders, and measurements of success were not limited to solely standing up the ALS.
“In the Air Force we often use stovepiped functional expertise to solve problems”, said Col. David “Wolf” Shoemaker, 8th Fighter Wing commander. “The strength of the Wolf Pack is our ability to cross-functionally solve problems. The ALS directly relates to our ability to ‘Take the Fight North’, and Airmen from all corners of the Wolf Pack had a hand in this leap in capability.”
An ALS, as stated in its name, is not the primary surface for landing and is narrower in comparison to the primary runway. While still capable of recovering an aircraft, additional measures for safety must be taken and employed with coordinated efforts between different agencies on base.
“This was a huge test of teamwork for everyone involved, and all who took part were critical in us successfully landing Vipers on the ALS,” said Lt. Col. Paul Davidson, 8th OSS commander. “The most important thing about actually landing was the ability to build a plan as a team, put it into action, and see what worked and what needs to be refined. We have lessons learned that will last us years to come.”
However, before the aircraft ever lined up on the final approach, pilots took time in the F-16 simulator to practice their technique and conducted several real approaches under the watchful eyes of the tower controllers. Thus, both the air traffic controllers and fliers prepared for the real deal.
The 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron ensured the aircraft were mission capable the day of the flight, while the 8th Operations Support Squadron monitored weather conditions and other flightline considerations which they then communicated to the pilots.
To ensure further safety measures, the 8th Civil Engineering Squadron’s power production section oversaw the certification and functionality of the aircraft arresting system. This safety system provides pilots with a capability to arrest, or slow down, an aircraft that lands without the ability to stop on its own.
"You don’t want to have to deal with an in-flight emergency, but it’s better to be prepared with the necessary tools and training if there is an issue,” said Davidson of the prep work for the ALS landing.
Engineers and airfield managers worked together to ensure there was a clear flight path for the F-16s to land, by identifying and removing any structures, like trees and towers, that were in the way.
With the final go-ahead, Airmen with the 8th Security Forces Squadron secured the ALS, limiting ground traffic to primarily air field management and emergency vehicles.
Each of these sections, and the many other unnamed, enabled the two F-16s to land on the ALS without a hitch and, with many eyes watching, the success of their endeavors was felt by all.
“Maintaining our mission capability is our biggest priority here at the Wolf Pack, which means everyone working together to launch and recover jets safely,” said Shoemaker. “The success of our teamwork over the course of many months culminated in live aircraft landing on the ALS for the first time in years. I will always remember driving down the ALS congratulating and high-fiving Airmen from so many Wolf Pack organizations after the successful landings. Every Airman at Kunsan directly impacts our mission daily, and this was a win for the entire team.”
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