Fighter Pilot Basics

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Every member of the 325th Fighter Squadron is expected to know the basics.

The Cockpit

Welcome to the toughest environment you will ever be in. During the heat of an engagement, a fighter pilot is tasked with tracking not only his own movement and the movement of his squadron, but enemy ships, incoming weapons fire, and any and all celestial bodies that may be in the immediate vicinity. This includes asteroids, comet fragments, moons and humanoid-constructed facilities. Fortunately, the layout of a fighter’s cockpit is designed to make all of this just a bit easier to manage.

In front of the pilot lies customizable LCARs instrumentation, including engineering and sensor readouts, speed, and communications gear. This instrumentation can also easily be changed. Fighter damage and weapons loadout are indicated by the panels directly to the right of the pilot, as well as shield status. Damage reports can be programmed for voice recognition and reporting. This is optional, as some pilots may find this too distracting in the heat of battle. Some fighter craft are dual-person craft instead of the more recognizable single-seat fighters. The RIO, or Rear Instrument Officer, utilizes extra sensor readouts and secondary weapon configurations (such as torpedoes or other heavy ordinance) located on panels surrounding them. Target acquisition can be done by the RIO to assist the pilot in better accuracy and efficiency in a dogfight or other engagement. The RIO also has the option with their LCARs console to take over flight control in emergency situations. This is in case the pilot is incapacitated or killed. The Valkyrie class fighters are single-seat and have no RIO.

The HUD, or Heads Up Display, provides target acquisition capabilities for the Pilot and/or RIO. This holographic display takes incoming sensor data and ‘highlights’ objects viewed through the canopy to help the Pilot more easily distinguish between threats and non-threats. The HUD also displays speed and range to target so that the pilot does not have to lose critical seconds viewing his console indicators. Some of the most important equipment a fighter carries is here in the cockpit; and no, it’s not just the pilot. Each fighter in a squadron carries an IFF, or Identification Friend/Foe transponder. This transponder constantly sends out an encrypted signal that is recognized by friendly units so that the chances of friendly fire incidents are greatly reduced. This transponder also provides useful speed, heading and range information to any command & control units in the area.

The Flight Data Recorder maintains an accurate and safe log of all sensor data and ship readouts during the course of a fighter’s use, so that an accurate account of events can be used in the investigation of unfortunate mishaps or other untimely ends. In tandem with this, the ‘gun camera’ tracks performance and tactics during engagements, and records accuracy results from weapons fire from the fighter. This sensor accurately confirms kills and successful attack runs by the pilot.

Mission Types

A fighter is a tool – one of many in a vast organization charged with the exploration and defense of the members of the Federation. This tool is very versatile, and as such fits a variety of missions and duties with a minimum of adjustment. Some fighters are better suited than others, but the following should show you to expect anything.

  • Interception – The most important skill taught to all pilots is the art of air-to-air combat; these skills are most put to practice when tasked to intercept and engage the enemy. These missions will require you to engage the enemy at sufficient range to keep them from damaging that which you are tasked to defend. These can be some of the more strenuous mission types to undertake, and are more likely to have the odds against you.
  • Strike – Air-to-ground combat is another of the primary skills taught to all pilots. These missions put those skills to great use by tasking you with disabling or destroying ground targets or capital ships. These missions may also be in support of ground forces in the area, so great care and precision is needed in being able to deliver your payload with the greatest positive result as well as the minimum negative impact to allied forces. These missions will also test your maneuvering skill, as you will have to close within a minimum range for delivering your ordinance while avoiding heavy enemy fire. Remember, they don’t want the bomb you’re about to give them.
  • Assault – The Assault mission differs from the Strike mission in that your primary task is to suppress enemy fire and movement to assist in the transport of ground troops into the area to engage the enemy. These require a great amount of coordination between ground and air forces for maximum effectiveness.
  • Patrol – Patrol missions can vary widely from situation to situation, and can include: escorting friendly vessels; providing combat air patrol to allied forces in a hostile environment; surveying uncharted territory, or otherwise gathering intelligence on a section of space; and by participating in the sweep of an area of space to secure it. In any case a pilot must keep on his toes and be ready to investigate any anomalies that may crop up on his sensors.

Not all types of missions are listed here – a unit commander may be tasked with completing objectives that do not fall within normal mission parameters. So long as training and good communication exists within the unit, and the unit can perform well as a team, these objectives should be able to be completed as best as is possible by the unit.

Fighter Alert Status

Being a fighter pilot requires that you be able to be ready to go in the blink of an eye. At any time the scramble order could come and you must be in the air as quickly and safely as possible – and there are some rare instances where safety is an option. The following will help to prepare you in what to expect in the described situations.

  • Condition Blue / Stand Down – Issued when current immediate area (be it sector or star system) are deemed sufficiently secure for personnel to engage in shore leave. Called condition blue when aboard a carrier vessel, due to the high possibility that the ship itself is hard docked to a station. Pilots are allowed to relax and shore leave may be granted. Major maintenance and overhauls on spacecraft and equipment can be conducted, as well as testing new ideas for equipment.
  • Condition Green – Standard operational readiness for the unit is observed. Pilots are on duty on standard shift assignments, tending to maintenance and training when not in the cockpit. Usually a Flight is maintained on hot standby.
  • Condition Yellow – Events involving ship or airbase that are considered dangerous or possibly hostile invoke condition Yellow. A full flight is on hot standby, while the remainder of the squadron is brought to five-minute alert status. Unless otherwise ordered by the carrier's Commanding Officer. Minor repairs are carried out, so long as craft are readily available for the mission. Alert shifts go into effect, where pilots operate on rotating shifts to maintain readiness, while those off duty observe restrictions on off duty activities to maintain a pilot’s readiness.
  • Condition Red – Hostile threat is imminent or a combat situation is quickly unfolding. All ships are brought to hot standby with launch status being deemed imminent. All personnel are restricted to the Flight Deck.

Take-off / Landing Procedures

Regardless of how you get into the air, there are certain things that must be seen to even before you sit down in the cockpit. Preflight checks must be made on all systems, so that you can ensure that your fighter is in the best shape for your mission. Here is a general guide to help you what to look for.

Preflight Checklist

  • Basic fighter inspection – check that all panels and access points are secured; that the craft is free of debris that might damage it during use; visually check external weapons – torpedo pylons, phaser cannon lenses, ECM packages, sensor pallets, thruster nozzles, etc.
  • Once entering the cockpit, basic diagnostics should be run on all systems as they are brought online.
  • Engine checks should be made
  • Flight control checks
  • Inertial dampeners and structural integrity field checks
  • Communications check with Flight Ops
  • Sensors diagnostic – active sensor systems should not be activated at any time before takeoff.
  • Navigation and astrogation system checks
  • Defensive equipment checks
  • Weapons system checks. Weapons are to remain unarmed until the fighter has launched and proceeded to minimum safe distance from landing/takeoff zone.

Once these checks are completed, it never hurts to go back through them if you have additional time. After launch, weapons and sensors can be brought fully online and should be checked again.

Shuttlebay/Flight Deck Takeoffs

Shuttlebay or Flight Deck launches are common due to the fact that most all Starfleet capital ships have at least a primary shuttlebay. When launching from these facilities, clearance for launch is requested by the pilot from the Flight Ops center. Flight Ops will ensure safe takeoff by utilizing sensors to find a clear flight path. Once the flight path is established and clearance for launch is given, the pilot will engage antigravs to lift the craft off the deck to a height of one to two meters. Next, the pilot will maneuver the craft towards the bay doors. After clearing the doors, thruster power is increased to maneuver towards the assigned flight path. Main engines are not to be engaged until the bay doors are cleared, to prevent endangering facility personnel and equipment.

Landing Procedures

The most important part of the mission to any pilot – coming home. But what do you do? How do you do it? Just as you must make sure everything is ready before you take off, you must make similar checks before you land.

Pre-landing Checklist

  • Contact Flight Operations for instructions
  • Ensure that weapons are ‘safe’
  • Ensure that sensors are ‘safe’
  • Check that engines and thrusters are functioning properly
  • Check that fuel/power is sufficient for landing maneuvers or for last-minute switching to another landing site
  • Ensure that Ejection system is operational
  • Ensure landing gear and/or antigravs are functioning properly
  • Obtain updates from Flight Operations concerning all information that could affect your landing
  • Acknowledge landing instructions

By setting your weapons and sensors to safe mode, you are not completely powering them down; This is meant to ensure that these systems cannot be triggered accidentally, and also lets these systems remain available if a wave off or sudden combat situation occurs.

Because of the precision required in making sure that every ship touches down without incident, launch facilities will require craft maintain a holding pattern near the carrier so that traffic can be spaced out to avoid midair mishaps. Holding patterns are also used during takeoffs, when combat fighters that have already launched are awaiting the remainder of their unit to join them. Flight Control vectors craft in for landing according to any and all conditions involving the base and the immediate area that affect the landing and takeoff of craft. With these variables they assign approach patterns for craft, which differ from facility to facility and craft to craft. The approach pattern allows the craft to gradually descend and reduce their speed in preparation for landing.

Carrier Landings

Because of the tighter precision that is required to land on a carrier versus landing on an airfield, these vast squadron and wing homes employ a Landing Signal Officer, or LSO, to guide pilots in to the correct pattern for approach. The LSO signals the pilot once he has been cleared for final approach, asking him to ‘call the ball’. This is a simpler way of acknowledging whether or not the pilot has the landing target (referred to as a meatball, due to its size) in sight. The pilot must acknowledge his line-up with the target, or he is immediately waved off and must come around for another pass.

The LSO, from his small station above the landing doors of the flight deck, has eyes unmatched in keenness. Through his porthole and sensors, he can ascertain whether or not the pilot is lined up correctly for landing, even at the extremes of visual range. By lining the pilot up on the meatball, the LSO directs the pilot into the ‘funnel’, or range of the landing tractor beams. If the pilot maintains his course evenly and reaches the funnel, the tractors are activated and he has made a successful trap. He can then shut down his engines and let the beam bring him in. If the fighter comes in too fast or too loose (meaning too outside the funnel or too close to the extremes of the funnel’s range), he is waved off and must come around for another try. This is referred to as a bolter.

Wave-offs can occur if the pilot’s approach is unsafe, if there is a malfunction with the ship’s landing equipment, or if the deck is not ready to receive another craft (referred to as a foul deck). During these instances the LSO can activate the 'wave off' indicator. This changes the landing target’s signal to a flashing red beacon to warn the pilot and signal the wave off. The pilot should pull up and away from the craft and increase thrust to full power and clear his approach pattern. Once clear of the landing zone, the pilot must contact Flight Ops for vectors back into the landing pattern.

Briefing / Debriefing Procedures

Briefing

Prior to any planned mission, the unit commander (be he Squadron, Wing or Group Commander) will usually address his or her pilots on the particulars of what they are about to do. He receives his orders from the CO or XO, and must pass these orders on to his personnel. This may be done with each pilot individually if each is assigned a separate task or the Squadron as a whole if all objectives are the same. As a form of training, the Squadron CO may assign his Flight Leaders to conduct the briefings of their flights, and observe their performance.

In any case, what is covered in the briefing is always the same: the objective(s); pilot assignments; flying conditions; and what is expected to occur during the mission. Pilots and staff should voice any concerns or questions they have during the mission at this time, before the fighters are loaded and the mission is well underway. After the briefing is the actually flight of the mission, so it is imperative that everyone knows what to expect and what is expected of them without any doubts.

Debriefing

Once the mission has been completed and all craft have returned to hangar, a second meeting is held by the unit commander to go over the mission’s completion. At this time any and all grievances – from pilots or commanders – are aired. Any and all damage to individual craft are reported at this time to inform maintenance crews of what needs attention, and verified kills are registered.

The main purpose of the debriefing is to discuss the mission objectives; why and how they were or were not completed. This is a learning situation, where pilots and commanders alike can work on what tactics work best for situations presented to them, and be able to work towards a stronger and more unified unit. These are not situations to belittle other pilots in front of the rest of the unit. The unit commander may ask that a pilot or pilots remain after the debriefing in order to provide pointers or go over individual performance. This kind of one-on-one should not be viewed as a reprimand, but as a chance to go over what you’ve learned with a senior pilot who’s been in that kind of situation before. After the debriefing, all pilots are released.

Credits

  • Collected & Compiled by Lieutenant Commander Walsh
325TH FIGHTER SQUADRON
IMPORTANT ERRATA 325th Fighter Squadron325th Fighter Squadron PositionsFighter Pilot Basics
Fighter Pilot Duty ShiftFighter Squadron Duty Roster
IN FLIGHT INFORMATION Flight SuitDefensive ManeuversOffensive Maneuvers
FIGHTER CRAFT 21x Gryphon Fighter
NOTABLE LOCATIONS Flight DeckFlight Ops Briefing RoomSquadron Command Center
Squadron Commander's OfficeShuttle Storage and Maintenance
PERSONNEL FUNCTIONS Alert StatusCabin AssignmentsComputer Access LevelsDeck ListingDepartment HeadDuty RosterOperating ModesSecurity ClearancesStarfleet Rank GuideUniforms
DEPARTMENTS CommandFlight ControlIntelligenceOperationsEngineering
Security/TacticalMedicalScienceSquadronCivilians