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114th Fighter Wing fly the night skies

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- A crew chief guides an F-16C Fighting Falcon into place after completing a night sortie here Sept. 11.  The South Dakota Air National Guard's 114th Fighter Wing is conducting night flying missions during their September unit training assembly.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Mike Frye)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- A crew chief guides an F-16C Fighting Falcon into place after completing a night sortie here Sept. 11. The South Dakota Air National Guard's 114th Fighter Wing is conducting night flying missions during their September unit training assembly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Mike Frye)

SIOUX FALLS, SD -- Pilots and crew of the 114th Fighter Wing set aside one week per month to operate a night flying schedule at Joe Foss Field, S.D. F-16 pilots have a requirement which is put in place by Air Combat Command and the National Guard Bureau to fly at night, and they must meet these requirements to remain proficient and qualified.

"Twenty-five percent of sorties need to be done at night." said Lt. Col. Cory Kestel, 175th Fighter Squadron commander. 

Pilots and crew refer to each take-off as a sortie. 

Kestel stated, "Half of the flying we do during combat is done at night."

With this being said, night flying presents itself with obvious challenges.  The main challenge is not being able to see.  Pilots have various forms of equipment to help them see targets in the dark, one of which is night vision goggles.  The pilots have a requirement to train wearing the goggles once every 180 days at a bare minimum.

When night flying takes place on base, two main groups of personnel are affected: Operations and Maintenance.  The two areas shift their work schedule and work week.  The last sortie must happen about 30 minutes after sunset in order for it to be dark enough to use some equipment.

Master Sgt. Kevin Winter, 114th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, stated, "When it gets dark, safety is key."

The primary form of personal protective equipment the crew chief uses in the hours of darkness are reflective belts.  The ramp also has ample lighting.  The crew must be aware of their surroundings and have a vast knowledge of the jet.  Pilots at Joe Foss Field use light cues, as well.  They flash and steady their lights to give safety signals to the crew chiefs.

"Situational awareness is key to ensure no one gets hurt, it is easy to hit your head." said Winter.

It is the job of crew chiefs to maintain the aircraft for the safety of the pilot and practicing these skills on a monthly basis, in darkness as well as during the day, is essential to the unit's mission accomplishment.

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