Checkerboards, airmen team-up to hone air-combat skills

28 Jun 2007 | Cpl. C. Lindsay

2007) -- One-hundred and twenty-four Marines and sailors of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312, also known as the Checkerboards, returned to Fightertown June 15 after two weeks of air-to-air training with the Air Force’s F-15 Eagles from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

The goal of the Eglin deployment was for the 312 pilots to practice different air-to-air combat techniques with dissimilar aircraft, explained Maj. Keith Topel, the assistant operations officer for VMFA-312.

“The Air Force pilots use different tactics than we do, and the F-15’s have different performance characteristics,” he said.

The Checkerboard pilots flew 233 hours, which allowed several of the pilots to earn various flight qualifications and help get back into their dual-fighter role.

“We have been doing a lot of ground combat training because of what is going on in Iraq … this was a good refresher,” Topel said. “This was a break-up of our normal training and helps us stay proficient.”

During the training the pilots were placed in scenarios, pitting them against as few as one to as many as four opposing aircraft and sometimes with an unknown number of mock enemies in defensive and offensive positions.

It’s important to know how different types of aircraft perform, in case something ever happens, Topal explained. This training will also help the Checkerboards prepare for their upcoming deployment to Japan this fall.

The Checkerboard maintenance Marines also had a chance for some different training with a deployment tempo of 12-hours on and 12-hours off in a new environment.

“It was a good experience,” said Lance Cpl. James Schmidt, an airframes and hydraulic mechanic with VMFA-312. “I learned a lot and would like to go back again.”

And, it wasn’t just the VMFA-312 Marines who benefited from this training; the pilots’ Air Force counterparts also had the benefit of training with dissimilar aircraft.

The airmen and Marines split their flight time up into red and blue air, Topel explained. The Air Force had the red air in the morning and the Marines took the blue air in the afternoon.

"When we deploy in support of operations across the world, we could easily be working with the Marines from Beaufort," said Air Force Capt. Jeff Zurick, an F-15C Eagle pilot with the 33rd Fighter Wing. "So, it's good to build those working relationships now before we have to deploy."
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