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Reserve, active duty pilots battle for air superiority

HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. -- An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off from here for a dissimilar aircraft combat training mission against F-15 Eagles.  The F-16s are assigned to Homestead's 93rd Fighter Squadron, and the F-15s are from the 58th FS at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Lisa Macias)

HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. -- An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off from here for a dissimilar aircraft combat training mission against F-15 Eagles. The F-16s are assigned to Homestead's 93rd Fighter Squadron, and the F-15s are from the 58th FS at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lisa Macias)

HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- In the animal world, a 500-pound gorilla would pose relatively no threat to a 1,200-pound Mako shark swimming at 65 mph. However, when these two creatures take on the form of fighter pilots and step into an F-15 Eagle or F-16 Fighting Falcon to face off in the sky, anything is possible.

For two weeks, F-15 “Gorillas” from Eglin Air Force Base’s 58th Fighter Squadron engaged their adversary, F-16 “Makos” from Homestead’s 93rd FS in a head-to-head competition for air superiority known as dissimilar aircraft combat training or “dog fighting.”

The training emphasizes air-to-air fighter tactics between combat aircraft which differ in the areas of speed, maneuverability and size, said Lt. Col. Greg Lee, an F-16 pilot.

For these pilots, the possibility of being confronted by enemy fighter jets is a real threat for which they continuously prepare, officials said. Knowing whether the enemy aircraft has one or two seats, the types of weapons it carries, its climb and turning ratio, as well as its max speed may mean the difference in being shot down or returning home.

Coming from two different fighter pilot communities, the match-up here proved extensive. The Gorilla pilots, whose main mission is to provide air superiority, held a slight advantage over the Mako pilots whose missions are split 40 percent air-to-air and 60 percent air-to-ground missions.

The Air Force Reserve Command Mako pilots fly six to eight sorties per month, and the active-duty Gorilla pilots fly 10 to 12 sorties per month. A sortie consists of a takeoff and a landing.

“For a Reserve unit, they have a great amount of experience, and no matter how good the aircraft is, experience plays a big part in air-to-air dog fighting,” said 1st Lt. Glen Whelan, an F-15 pilot.

Experience, however, was not the only thing required when flying against a powerful F-15.

“We had to be on our game,” said Maj. Dave Chaney, an F-16 pilot.

“Merely slowing down or failing to turn at just the right minute might give the opponent enough time to get in position to take the offensive,” Lieutenant Whelan said.

The training also increased their level of understanding and appreciation for each other, Major Chaney said.

“If called upon to go into combat, these are the guys we would be going in with,” he said.

The Gorilla pilots said they hope to return next year, but until then they stand ready to back each other up when called upon.