A pilot flying a single-seat jet faces many challenges, and all the responsibility lies solely on his shoulders. What does it take to become a single-seat pilot?
Vered Talala | Translation: Eden Sharon
A pilot who flies a single-seat fighter jet bears a lot of responsibility, for operating the jet, its systems, for the success, or alternatively, the failure, of his actions. “From the moment you arrive in a single-seat squadron and begin training, you are the only one in charge of your jet”, says Major Alex, a pilot from the “First Combat” squadron which operates F-16C single-seat jets. “You don’t share the responsibility, and I see it as a great advantage. The fact that there is no one to back you up increases the sense of responsibility toward the mission and the jet”.
Single or Double?
The IAF’s Combat Formation is divided into single and double-seat jets, a division that affects the nature and methods of jet operation. In the double-seat jets, the weapon systems operator seats behind the pilot and usually operates different systems, including weapon systems. The single-seat pilot has no one to help him, and he has to maneuver between flying the jet and operating all of the planes different systems.
“There is a phenomenon called ‘solo sounds’”, says Major Alex. “When you fly solo for the first time, without an instructor, you start to notice things you haven’t noticed before. Things like standard noises will suddenly sound different. The responsibility is solely in your hands from the moment you takeoff. If you fail, you fail alone”.
It’s On You
It is well-known that not everyone is capable of flying a fighter jet alone, breaking the speed of sound, communicating with ground forces, and dealing with unexpected scenarios in the air. As such single-seat pilots are required to possess some unique attributes. “The qualities are acquired and formed from the norms of behavior you’re exposed to while serving in a single-seat squadron”.
Naturally, single and double-seat pilot undergo different training. “There is no distinctive difference”, explains Major Itay, Deputy Commander of the “First Combat” Squadron. “In the flight school, the pilot has someone to support him from the back seat, but during his operational training in the squadron, the pilot learns how to operate on their own”.
The Next Generation
It stands to reason that single and double-seat squadrons will continue to operate in the IAF side by side, both in war and peace. During the next years and with the entrance of the new F-35 stealth fighters into service, the number of single-seat squadrons will probably rise, and Major Itay believes that the balance will be kept: “I think that double-seat squadrons will not vanish in the near future”, he says. “The combination between the two types of squadrons is necessary. At the end of the day, there are distinctive missions for both single and double-seat squadrons, and the balance will have to be kept”.