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Behind The Scenes With A Fighter Jet Pilot

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Before the jets head for the sky, there's a pre-flight inspection. Before the jets head for the sky, there's a pre-flight inspection.
The Smoky Hill Bombing Range is 10 miles west of Salina, Kansas. The Smoky Hill Bombing Range is 10 miles west of Salina, Kansas.
A half-hour after they arrived in Kansas, the Tulsa fighter pilots are done and ready to return home. A half-hour after they arrived in Kansas, the Tulsa fighter pilots are done and ready to return home.

By Terry Hood and Dan Bewley, The News On 6

SALINA, KS -- The News On 6 was granted rare access to go behind the scenes to show how our fighter pilots with the 138th have been prepping for their latest mission.

They call him Otter.  His part-time job is flying an F-16 fighter jet.

"29,000 lbs. of thrust, great airplane," said Lt. Col. Scott Stratton.

Lt. Col. Scott Stratton has been flying out of Tulsa's Air National Guard base for 18 years.  He's about to go on a training mission.

"Today's mission we're using the helmet mounted site, test out our opportunities to look at the ground, to be able to support the troops by seeing what's on the ground by the helmet mounted site," said Lt. Col. Scott Stratton.

But, before the jets head for the sky, there's a pre-flight inspection.

"Something might be hanging off, leaking, dripping," said F-16 crew chief Sgt. Spencer Prather.  "Back end of the motor, just checking for burn spots or crimp points.  Making sure nothing has fallen off, broken."

Sergeant Spencer Prather is in charge of the F-16 while it's on the ground.  He checks and double checks the weapons, making sure each is safely installed.

"Very important and they do it every single time," said F-16 crew chief Sgt. Spencer Prather. 

Finally, after three hours of prepping and briefing, the pilots are ready for takeoff.  Their destination is Salina, Kansas.

Ten miles west of Salina you'll find the Smoky Hill Bombing Range.  It is 45 square miles of training ground for America's aerial assault forces.

"Guard units from the central U.S. and then bombers from active duty all over," said Captain Todd Kavouras with the Smoky Hill Bombing Range.

It's a twenty minute flight from Tulsa to Salina for Green Country's F-16's.

"They're always on time, bombs on target. Their professionalism is as high as anybody I've seen out here," said Captain Todd Kavouras with the Smoky Hill Bombing Range.

The training mission combines the dropping of what they call a heavyweight, a 500 pound dummy bomb.  It is followed by 50 rounds each at the sand pit.

Captain Todd Kavouras of the Kansas Air Guard is in charge when the jets cross the state line.  Just like in Tulsa, safety is the top concern.

The pilots are not even allowed to prepare to arm their jets before they get into Smoky Hill's airspace.

"We wait till they're over the range property before they can release the weapon," said Captain Todd Kavouras with the Smoky Hill Bombing Range.

A half-hour after they arrived in Kansas, the Tulsa fighter pilots are done and it's back home, to get ready for the next mission.

The Tulsa Air National Guard is still waiting on the final report from an accident that happened in March.  A 25-pound dummy bomb fell off an F-16 onto a Tulsa apartment complex during a training mission.  No one was injured, and the Tulsa Air Guard has not been using that particular training bomb since the accident.        

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