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IFF: Where fighter pilots begin their careers

Senior Airman Chelsee Vargne, 49th Fighter Training Squadron aviation resource manager, checks pilots’ flight records before a training mission Jan. 30, 2019, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Aviation resource managers that are assigned to flying training squadrons handle squadron aviation resource management documents and day to day training missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

Pilots from the 49th Fighter Training Squadron, conduct their pre-flight briefing Jan. 30, 2019, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. After graduating from Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training, pilots selected to fly fighter aircraft will train at the 49th FTS to learn basic fighter maneuvers and surface attacks in the T-38C Talon in an eight week course called Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

Maj. Andrea Matesick, 49th Fight Training Squadron weapons system officer, tightens her G-suit before a training sortie March 7, 2019, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals builds upon the training learned in Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training with a major focus on the fundamentals, or basics, of tactical aviation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Hannah Bean)

Maj. Andrea Matesick, 49th Fight Training Squadron weapons system officer, tightens her G-suit before a training sortie March 7, 2019, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals builds upon the training learned in Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training with a major focus on the fundamentals, or basics, of tactical aviation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Hannah Bean)

Maj. Michael Overstreet, 49th Fighter Training Squadron assistant director of operations, and Maj. Andrea Matesick, 49th Fight Training Squadron weapons system officer, check over a T-38C Talon in preparation for a sortie March 7, 2019, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Pilots dedicate a great deal of time and effort to ensure the aircraft is fully prepared for flight and soundly running. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Hannah Bean)

Maj. Michael Overstreet, 49th Fighter Training Squadron assistant director of operations, and Maj. Andrea Matesick, 49th Fight Training Squadron weapons system officer, check over a T-38C Talon in preparation for a sortie March 7, 2019, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Pilots dedicate a great deal of time and effort to ensure the aircraft is fully prepared for flight and soundly running. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Hannah Bean)

Maj. Andrew Pence, 49th Fighter Training Squadron instructor pilot, and 2nd Lieutenant Kennan Allen, 49th FTS student pilot, move to the runway to begin flight for a training sortie, March 7, 2019, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. The 49th FTS holds a high standard in Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals to ensure the pilots that leave the squadron are highly capable of adapting and overcoming challenges when needed with their wingmen in an extremely challenging career. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Hannah Bean)

Maj. Andrew Pence, 49th Fighter Training Squadron instructor pilot, and 2nd Lieutenant Kennan Allen, 49th FTS student pilot, move to the runway to begin flight for a training sortie, March 7, 2019, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. The 49th FTS holds a high standard in Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals to ensure the pilots that leave the squadron are highly capable of adapting and overcoming challenges when needed with their wingmen in an extremely challenging career. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Hannah Bean)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

Before pilots step into fighter aircraft, they must go through Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals.

IFF is an eight-week course designed to transform newly graduated pilots selected to fly fighters into fighter wingmen. Team BLAZE’s 49th Fighter Training Squadron teaches pilots the discipline, attitude and culture of what it takes to be at the peak of combat aviation.

“It’s their first glimpse of the fighter culture,” said Maj. Michael Overstreet, 49th FTS assistant director of operations. “We are a fighter squadron. All of our instructors are fighter pilots. We have a culture that is unique and to our own.”

Before a pilot enters IFF, they must earn their wings by graduating Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training, a 53-week course designed to teach students aircraft flight characteristics, emergency procedures, takeoff and landing procedures, aerobatics and formation flying.

To ease the transition into more complex fighter aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor and the F-35A Lightning II, IFF builds upon training learned in SUPT with a focus on the basic fundaments of tactical aviation in the familiarity of the T-38C Talon.

“We try to help shallow the learning curve from pilot training to that B-course, or formal training,” said Capt. Cole Stegeman, 49th FTS chief of scheduling. “That’s why we use this program as a means of that indoctrination of fighter culture and what it means to be a fighter pilot.”

In addition to learning the basic fundamentals, students are taught how to become better wingmen. As a fighter pilot, you never fly alone. The term ‘wingman’ is not just a phrase, it’s a specific term that means so much more in IFF and carries a lot of responsibility in the world of aviation. Wingmen have the supporting role in the flight. They help the flight lead plan and organize the mission. They have visual lookout and sensor responsibilities and provide backup navigation for the flight as required. Wingmen execute as briefed or when directed by the flight lead and provide mutual support throughout all phases of the mission.

Columbus AFB is one of three Air Education and Training Command bases that train students to become fighter wingmen including Randolph AFB and Sheppard AFB, Texas. Communication and connecting with the other IFF squadrons is vital to ensuring they create pilots who are consistent and high quality.

“The mission of each IFF squadron is closely aligned to produce a high-caliber wingman,” Stegeman said. “We want to make sure that our buddies that are still in those fighter airframes get a good [pilot] they can further mold into a tactical aviator specific to that major weapon system.”

IFF is the first step toward building a mindset designed for the diverse and challenging environments of fighter aviation. As pilots progress through training, they gain self-confidence and develop a respect for the career field’s heritage.