Checkerboard pilots undergo WTI training

21 May 2004 | Cpl. Craig A. Sherman

Instructors from Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 are taking two Marines from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 through a seven-week course to become Air Combat Tactics Instructors.

Captains Brian “Rocco” Evans and Kevin “Buzz” Erker, F/A-18 pilots, VMFA-312, began the course aboard the USS Enterprise in February, learning about the different tactics and weapons necessary for dogfighting.

“The purpose of the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course is to ensure we execute air combat safely and accurately,” said Capt. Wade Wiegel, pilot training officer, VMFA-312. “The certification program is to turn our senior first tour pilots into Air Combat Tactics Instructors who can instruct the younger first tour pilots how to safely and professionally engage another aircraft in close quarter fighting.”

Certification courses are held in December and May for squadrons to maintain a certified group of pilots to ensure training is completed at the squadron level, according to Wiegel. 

The course contains three different phases that pilots must pass to move on in their training.
“The first phase of WTI is basic flight maneuvering,” Wiegel said. “During this phase we teach pilots how to dogfight in the visual arena."

Dogfighting is when two or more aircraft are maneuvering to acquire a weapons lock on each other. In the next phase pilots work on section engaged maneuvering, which covers how to operate as a section in the visual arena. Finally, the pilot’s abilities are tested during the beyond visual range training.

“During this phase, pilots learn how to take and intercept enemy aircraft from 40 miles out to the visual arena properly,” Wiegel said.

The VMFA-312 Marines began their training with the written portion, so they would only have to fly after they left the boat, according to Wiegel.

Many of the Marines in VMFA(AW)-312 feel that the WTI program is great for pilots.

“I think WTI is a great course that allows for Marine pilots to hone their combat skills with the ground element with an emphasis on Marine Corps tactics,” said Capt. Ben Wilson, scheduling officer, VMFA-312.

The program ensures squadrons have at least one instructor a year teach the pilots how to dogfight, according to Wiegel. As long as the course does not interfere with squadron operations, any senior first-tour pilot can take the course.

Each year the MAWTS-1 recommends several pilots to become certified as Air Combat Instructors.

“The training and certification is as much of a learning experience for the pilots as it is for the entire squadron,” Wiegel said. “Before a pilot can even begin to become certified the squadron must prep their F/A-18s for the stresses of training. Because the course only occurs twice a year, the certification is a squadron-wide project that we all take pride in.”