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Winning the MiG Lottery

Posted by aaron on November 23, 2009

We get tons of e-mails from young guys hoping to become a fighter pilot. Some are still in high school, others college or even a military pilot training program. A lot of them ask what's it like to be a fighter pilot and, beyond that, what's it take to become a kickass fighter pilot.  
In an effort to expand the realm of Fighter Pilot University, we have a guest speaker today who will address those very questions. If you want to become a kickass fighter pilot and maybe get to kill something in the process, this is the kind of stuff you need to do and the mind set you need to have.
Dean of Kickassness


I am not a MiG killer, but I did stay at a 5 Star Italian hotel on the beach. I was fortunate enough to be in the 493rd Fighter Squadron, The Grim Reapers, during Operation ALLIED FORCE. For those of you who were counting, the Reapers shot down four MiG-29s during the first three days of the war.  After the squadron had its first taste of blood, some of the pilots (me included) started to get MiG-killitis. Some started to get obsessed with the next kill and temporarily lost focus on the big picture. Remember, overall mission accomplishment is what you are shooting for. But this article is not about me, or the Reapers, or the men who shot down those MiGs ten years ago. This article is about how to win the next MiG Lottery. It’s about getting the next MiG or Flanker kill. The key is TIMING, LUCK, and most importantly, PROFESSIONALISM.
First let’s talk about TIMING. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time. Some of it is beyond a fighter pilots’s control, but most of it can be obtained through hard work and perseverance. You cannot control when or where the next war will start, so I will not dwell those things. I will talk about the things you can control.
Always strive to be CMR in an operational fighter squadron. It starts with kicking ass at pilot training and IFF. It carries through to RTU so you can always have your first choice as to what you fly and where you fly to optimize your chances. Remember that timing is both chronological and geographical. Finishing first optimizes your chances of being in the right fighter squadron at the right TIME. Once you get to your first fighter squadron, your work ethic should motivate you to go to Fighter Weapons School if you have the skill, the drive and the heart. From there you may be lucky enough to get an OPS to OPS assignment. That will once again facilitate being in the right place at the right TIME. Finally, always being current and qualified in every possible tactical event and always being ready to deploy will increase making the “A Team” in the event your squadron gets the call.
Once you are in theater and are gearing up for the first night of combat, you can further optimize your chances of being in the right place at the right TIME. Be proactive about volunteering to help with anything tactical or operational. Diving into mission planning is a great place to start. Once you are familiar with the Strategic and Operational goals of the campaign, you can start looking at the ACO, ATO and target lists. Work with INTEL to get the most current, accurate data about enemy Air Order of Battle and enemy intent. Know your enemy. Know the target and threat locations. Once you are armed with this information, you can help coordinate the tactical plan to increase your squadron’s chances for success.   As a flight lead or wingman, knowing all you can about the tactical situation, game plan, and ROE will increase your chances of being in the right place at the right TIME.
When you are finally airborne on the first night, you need to bring your “A game.” I have witnessed firsthand pilots who were 20 miles in trail when the first shots were coming off the rail. An immersion in the planning process will help you know when and where all the players are supposed to be. A flawless execution of the Admin phases of flight, most importantly refueling, should be a given. Working as a team to ensure push and on-station times are adhered to furthers the chances of overall mission success. In addition, it will ensure you are in the in the right place at the right TIME to execute the intercept, ID, and weapons employment to win the MiG Lottery.
The second critical factor is LUCK. This can best be summed up by the famous quote “The Harder I Work the Luckier I Get.” If you have ever shot an air-to-air missile then you know it takes about 69 consecutive miracles for the missile to kill the target. In the words of a great IP, “That’s why they call them missiles, not hittles.” From the time you squeeze the fat out of your thumb to the time the enemy turns into hair, teeth and eyeballs a lot of things have to work correctly. Some of these things going right or wrong can be attributed to LUCK. If you read the MiG engagement reports from DESERT STORM, you will see that America has a few less kills under its belt due to the “Sand Sparrows,” AIM-7s that all too often glided harmlessly to the desert floor. Even as recently as ALLIED FORCE, pilots missed out on kills because missiles failed to guide correctly to the target. LUCK needs to be on your side. Although you cannot control LUCK, you can work hard to ensure it is on your side.
Finally, the most important ingredient in winning the next MiG Lottery is PROFESSIONALISM. This starts during pilot training. It means always being ready for each sortie and always being ready for stand-up. It means chair flying on Sunday afternoon and grabbing an extra practice sim the day before the checkride. Once you earn your fighter aircraft the work really begins.
PROFESSIONALISM is a lifestyle and a mindset, not a word you read on an Air Force recruitment pamphlet. It means showing up early for the brief and staying late in the bar to listen to old war stories. It is reading 3-1 shot/kill criteria every day before you fly so you can make accurate, real time decisions in the jet to be a better warrior. This will carry forward to combat so you know when to take a second, or third, shot to ensure you kill the enemy.
A fighter pilot wanting to win the MIG Lottery should volunteer for every tactical school possible to try to learn more about his jet, its systems, and the missiles we shoot. This includes AMRAAM school, AIM-9 school and Electronic Combat Schools. It means volunteering to go out and listen to Fighter Weapons School academics while having a good time in Vegas, baby. It means volunteering to teach SWATT even though you are a young wingman because your squadron just got a new radar tape, and you want to be the first one to know it cold.
On each sortie you should train like you fight. You should be professional in each phase of flight: Brief, Execution and Debrief. While briefing and execution are important, most of the learning occurs in the Debrief phase. Take the gloves off, fess up to mistakes and make sure you capitalize on every learning opportunity. During your upgrades, you should prepare to the point where you are confident in your knowledge and your brief so you are sure you will succeed. On checkrides, you never want to look back and wish you had done one more practice EPE prior to the real thing.
The PROFESSIONALISM you exhibit every day will determine which jobs and additional duties you are assigned within the squadron. The more professional and tactical you are the more likely you will be assigned to work in the weapons shop to further your warrior skills. The PROFESSIONALISM you exhibit during your first assignment will determine your next assignment and ultimately the course of your career (reference TIMING).
If you finally make it to the show and you are preparing for the first night of the next conflict, this is where your PROFESSIONALISM meets the road. Knowledge and PROFESSIONALISM go hand-in-hand. Know the INTEL. Know the SPINS. Know the ROE. Know the THREATS. Know your jet and all of its weapons and systems inside and out. Know everything you can to make that first combat mission a little easier.
PROFESSIONALISM is being on-time and ready to fight that first night and every night. It’s about integrity in combat to ensure overall mission success over personal glory or ego. It’s about getting the job done no matter how difficult the task or how insurmountable the obstacles. It’s about taking valid shots and following up if necessary. It’s about employing the standards as a team so that no MiG or Flanker returns to its base, and its pilots RTB in the back of a pick-up truck with their heads hung in shame.
If you have TIMING and LUCK, you will still not get the kill and win the MiG Lottery without PROFESSIONALISM.
Kill ‘em all.

FU Store Kickass T-shirtNow that you're all psyched up to go out and kill something, stop at the FU Store first so that you're properly attired. You'll want to wear this shirt under your flight suit all the time. Plus, get a second one so that you can wear a clean one out on the street. That way people will always know that you do indeed kickass. Available in the Kickass Fighter Pilot Stuff section of the FU Store.


Posted by Jolly on
Shack Homer! Can I use that word?
Posted by borg on
That is ONE KICKASS ARTICLE. The young folks and old hats in the system had better listen to it. Thanks and for those of you out there reading this stuff, we could use a thousand more quality artcles and opinion pieces just like it. We
are an institution of higher fighterpilot learning and this shit is just what we need. help some brothers out and take some of the key punching out of our humble hands. Thanks Homer; well done!
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