Into the night
By Staff Sgt. Trisha Smeenk, 114th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 22, 2012
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - -- "Because it's dark, we're forced to complete our mission without the visual cues we are used to. Think about doing your job entirely outside at night and you can imagine the challenges we face." was 1st Lt. Aaron Werner's response when asked how night flying is different than flying during the day.
"The difficulty level is raised when we fly at night. There is a lot more going on. We have no depth perception when using night vision goggles and need to rely more on our instruments to assist us. It's challenging yet rewarding at the same time," said Lt. Werner.
1st Lt. Aaron Werner, 175th Fighter Squadron pilot, has served over ten years in the South Dakota Air National Guard. He started his career as an avionics specialist, was selected for a pilot position and has recently graduated and returned from Undergraduate Pilot Training. He explained that they use night vision goggles to assist them during night-time flights. He compared using this instrument, at times, to looking through a soda straw.
Generally, South Dakota Air National Guard F-16 pilots will fly about 15 percent of their flight time during the night. The reason for training at night-time is because many real world operations can take place during the night.
Night flying doesn't just affect the pilot's schedules; it affects the schedules of all supporting Airmen as well. Senior Master Sgt. Jeffery Vanderwoude, 114th Maintenance Group budget analyst, expressed one of the challenges of night flying from his experience in the Maintenance Operations Center.
"Depending on which month it is, sunset times can vary. In the summer we could be working really late. A potential challenge for Airmen working late one week a month is the impact on the family's schedule at home. Fatigue can become a factor." said Sgt. Vanderwoude.
The maintenance shops need to be manned just as they would during the day to continue operations as usual. When night flying is added to the equation, members are scheduled for later shifts to accommodate for the night-time schedule. Training schedules for Airmen at the 114th Fighter Wing always remain flexible. The amount of training in an area like night flying, for example, directly correlates to what mission or upcoming task the unit is preparing.
"Depending on what we have coming up, we may ramp up our night flying schedule to prepare." said Col. Michael Meyers, 114th Operations Group commander. "For instance when we were preparing for our Air Expeditionary Force deployments to Iraq, we did more night flying to prepare since the majority of sorties flown over there are at night."
The 114th Fighter Wing completed this month's night flying training the week of Feb.13-16 and many in the community of Sioux Falls, S.D. were probably aware of this due to the increase in jet noise at night. They can be reassured that this flying is not being done without cause and that the members of the 114th Fighter Wing benefit greatly from this after hours proficiency training.