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Pilots return to Spangdahlem after training in Turkey

SPANGDAHELM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- -- To the delight of many Sabers, the weather has been a bit warmer this week -- and with warmer weather comes the opportunity for better training and flying options for Spangdahlem's fighter squadrons. However, that is not always the case in the Eifel region, especially during Germany's winter season, so the fighter pilots must train elsewhere. 

"During typical winter months here, (from December through February), we historically lose up to 25 percent of our sorties due to poor weather," said Col. Tom Lawhead, 52nd Operations Group commander. "Conversely, if we are able to send our squadrons to fair-weather locations, they lose significantly less of the schedule." 

Incirlik Air Base personnel welcomed the 22nd Fighter Squadron Jan. 3 and the 23rd Fighter Squadron Feb. 2. Turkey provided the fighter squadrons with beautiful weather and valuable access to the Konya Air Base bombing range. 

"The goal for the 52nd Fighter Wing was to take advantage of (the) good weather and available bombing range, and hone each pilot's skills in a high-quality training environment," said Maj. James Gump, 39th Operations Squadron chief of weapons and tactics at Incirlik. "The leadership of both squadrons expressed their gratitude to Team Incirlik for its support, and were pleased with how much they were able to get accomplished." 

Incirlik in particular was a great location for the fighter squadrons, Colonel Lawhead said. 

"It's a U.S. Air Forces in Europe base," he said. "(Incirlik) has hosted fighters before for a long period of time. Since 2003, though, there have been no U.S. fighters there. It was important for us to establish Incirlik as a potential training location for all of USAFE, so opening the door after almost four years was crucial to USAFE's future training.
"As such, it was a great team effort between the 52nd FW and the 39th Air Base Wing to dust off the cobwebs and get Incirlik ready to host our fighters and support our Airmen so well. Great job and a win for both sides," Colonel Lawhead said. 

The training opportunity in Turkey also helped the pilots achieve specific flying requirements. F-16 pilots require 11 training sorties a month if they are relatively inexperienced. 

"Our experienced Viper pilots require eight sorties a month. This is mandated by USAFE in our Ready Aircrew Program tasking message," Colonel Lawhead said. "There are rules for how many sorties each pilot must get each month, and regression and probation rules to get them back up to speed if they don't get their required sorties in a particular month." 

Since the fighter squadrons' training cycles align with the Air and Space Expeditionary Force deployments, the flying time in Turkey helped the pilots in achieving some of their flying requirements, as well as provided additional benefits, according to 1st Lt. Nicklaus Walker, 22nd Fighter Squadron. 

"The training that took place at Incirlik AB was a necessary TDY in order for our wing leadership to determine whether Incirlik operations could support and aid in getting the 22nd FS "spun-up" for its AEF deployment this fall," Lieutenant Walker said. "The training was beneficial, in more specific terms, because it allowed us to train in a NATO country that has different flying restrictions than our host nation." 

The fighter pilots took advantage of another fair-weather location when the 81st Fighter Squadron deployed to Monte Real, Portugal, earlier this year. Colonel Lawhead said they lost no sorties to weather and the two months of the 22nd and 23rd FS's deployments saw only a handful of weather losses. 

"Although we sometimes can't fly as much as we would like at deployed locations (surge ops are usually tough to get agreement for us to fly), we lose significantly less sorties due to poor weather," he said. 

By Feb. 24, all but two jets were back here. A total of 652 sorties were flown between the two squadrons and rotation training was deemed successful. 

The few remaining 52nd FW personnel are awaiting parts to fix one of the two remaining jets. Once the aircraft is repaired, both jets will be flown back by Major Gump and Lt. Col. David Youtsey, 39th OS commander. 

"Although only one jet is awaiting parts for repair, the second jet was held behind, because "normally single-seat fighters fly cross-country with a wingman," Major Gump said. 

(Editor's Note: 1st Lt. Yasemin Randall, 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs contributed to this article.)