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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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U.S.

Ukrainian pilots learning to fly F-16s in Arizona

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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After months of negotiations, a handful of pilots from Ukraine are finally in Arizona. The pilots are part of the first group of Ukrainians learning how to fly the American-made F-16 fighter jet.

The small group of Ukrainian pilots first took English language courses at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Politico reported that the first batch of students to prove proficient in English were transferred to Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona, where they will complete their flight training.

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The Air Force’s 162nd Wing will lead the training. The 162nd is the primary F-16 training hub for the USAF. Every country currently flying the F-16 was taught by the 162nd.

The training regimen starts in the classroom, where students learn the operational basics of the F-16. From there, the pilots will move on to a simulator, and then finally to flying actual jets over the American Southwest. Ukraine’s pilots will most likely see an accelerated training course, as their skills are in dire need back home.

After rejecting the idea of sending F-16s to Ukraine for more than a year, President Joe Biden finally relented in May. At that time, Biden also approved an international effort to not only train Ukraine how to fly and maintain F-16s, but to equip Ukraine’s Armed Forces with the fourth-generation fighters.

F-16s are in wide use by many NATO countries. While they do not have the same sort of stealth capabilities as other fighter jets like the F-22 or F-35, Fighting Falcons are still a substantial upgrade over the Soviet-era aircraft Ukraine has been forced to fly throughout its war with Russia.

F-16s are multi-role aircraft with proven combat effectiveness in air-to-air and air-to-surface missions. They are faster, more maneuverable, and have more advanced radar and targeting systems than anything else in the Ukrainian Air Force.

The United States is part of an 11-nation coalition to get F-16s to Ukraine. The Netherlands and Denmark are also training pilots, and will give Ukraine its first batch of 42 F-16s. The planes should be in Ukraine sometime in the first part of 2024.

The prime minister of Belgium also promised delivery of F-16s to Ukraine in 2025. However, that deal would first require approval from Brussels before any planes trade hands.

Even with expedited training, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the earliest anyone can expect Ukrainian pilots to be flying F-16s against Russia would be next spring.

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AFTER MONTHS OF NEGOTIATIONS, A HANDFUL OF UKRAINIAN PILOTS ARE, AT LONG-LAST, IN ARIZONA. THEY’RE PART OF THE FIRST GROUP OF UKRAINIANS LEARNING HOW TO FLY THE AMERICAN-MADE F-16 FIGHTER JET.

THE SMALL GROUP OF UKRAINIAN PILOTS FIRST TOOK ENGLISH LANGUAGE COURSES IN TEXAS BEFORE GOING TO MORRIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE IN ARIZONA TO START THEIR FLIGHT TRAINING.

THE AIR FORCE’S 162ND WING WILL LEAD THE TRAINING. THE 162ND IS THE PRIMARY F-16 TRAINING HUB FOR THE USAF. EVERY COUNTRY CURRENTLY FLYING THE F-16 TODAY WAS TAUGHT BY THE 162ND.

THE TRAINING REGIMEN STARTS IN THE CLASSROOM, BEFORE THE PILOTS MOVE ON TO A SIMULATOR AND THEN FINALLY FLYING ACTUAL JETS OVER THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST. UKRAINE’S PILOTS WILL MOST LIKELY SEE AN ACCELERATED TRAINING COURSE, AS THEIR SKILLS ARE IN DIRE NEED BACK HOME.

AFTER REJECTING THE IDEA OF SENDING F-16S TO UKRAINE FOR MORE THAN A YEAR, PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN CHANGED HIS MIND IN MAY AND APPROVED AN INTERNATIONAL EFFORT TO NOT ONLY TRAIN UKRAINE HOW TO FLY AND MAINTAIN F-16S BUT EQUIP UKRAINE’S ARMED FORCES WITH THE FOURTH GENERATION FIGHTERS.

THE UNITED STATES IS PART OF AN 11 NATION COALITION TO GET F-16S TO UKRAINE. THE NETHERLANDS AND DENMARK ARE ALSO TRAINING PILOTS AND WILL GIVE UKRAINE ITS FIRST BATCH OF 42 F-16S. THE PLANES SHOULD BE IN COUNTRY SOMETIME IN THE FIRST PART OF 2024.

EVEN WITH EXPEDITED TRAINING, DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN SAID THE EARLIEST ANYONE CAN EXPECT UKRAINIAN PILOTS TO BE FLYING F-16S AGAINST RUSSIA WOULD BE NEXT SPRING.