The Buzz

VIDEO: What It’s Like to Train with the U.S. Air Force

While many laypeople might imagine that a typical training flight during a combat exercise like Atlantic Trident 17 means a lot of excitement, reality is somewhat different.

There are the many routine aspects of flying and navigating that a flight of aircraft has to take care off no matter what—even if they were involved in a full-up combat mission. The nature of flying any aircraft—ranging from an ultra high-end Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor or F-35A Joint Strike Fighter to the lowliest Cessna C-172 piston engine general aviation utility aircraft—means pilots have to address certain housekeeping tasks, in this case, navigation.

In this video, Vodka Flight—my pilot Tsar and I were in Vodka 3—is transiting to a nearby range over the Atlantic called Whiskey 386 where exercise is taking place shortly after climbing out or Langley Field. At about the 01:50 mark, you can see Vodka 2—flown by veteran Raptor pilot Fangs—enter the frame.

We maintained a loose formation while climbing up to the correct altitude for the exercise. Initially, we expected to only reach about 14,000ft, but due to the less than ideal weather conditions, Vodka Flight was ordered to climb up to 22,000ft. That was the altitude we entered the range at after the roughly 10 minute transit into the “fight.” Flying is always a dynamic environment—things are always changing and the pilot has to adjust. It one of the many reasons that simulators—while they are useful tools—can never replicate or take the place of being in a real cockpit with real air under your behind.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.