“From the control zone, I was able to get a gun shot on the F/A-18F before we had to terminate the fight for fuel.” US Air National Guard Capt. Dane Ruhnau, 194th FS F-15C pilot.
Pilots from the 194th Fighter Squadron, 144th Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard, based at Fresno Air National Guard Base, Calif., challenged US Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) students during their graduation capstone event Nov. 18-20, 2022, at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.
Fighter pilots and airframes from military units across the US are invited to oppose the TOPGUN students during their capstone events, which are comprised of simulated one-on-one combat engagements. This time the Griffins were among the opposition.
“Our unit was honored to be invited to participate with these elite Navy pilots,” said Lt. Col. David Allamandola, 194th FS pilot. “These partnerships provide unique and valuable flying opportunities for everyone involved.”
This year’s graduating TOPGUN pilots flew against F-16s, F-35s, F-18s, and F-15s during the event. As told by Staff Sgt. Mercedes Taylor, 144th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, in the article Griffin pilots face TOPGUN students, although each encounter is considered to be a dogfight, the competition is friendly and ultimately facilitates a multi-service military coalition that also meets total force objectives.
“It is important to train with other branches frequently,” US Air National Guard Capt. Dane Ruhnau, 194th FS pilot said. “When the fight happens, we are going to need to execute as a joint force to be successful against a near-peer adversary.”
Ruhnau, one of the five 194th FS pilots who participated, gained the upper hand during his engagement by quickly shifting his tactics based on the capabilities of his F-15C Eagle and the other pilot’s aircraft.
“You don’t know what airframe you’re fighting until you arrive at the merge,” Ruhnau said. “At the merge, you must visually identify your counterpart and adjust your plan according to what you see. In my engagement, I merged with an F/A-18F Super Hornet. I knew he would have the advantage in low-speed maneuvering, and I would have the advantage in power.”
Ruhnau gained the offensive position by using standard, high-aspect basic fighter maneuvers.
“As the engagement progressed, I was able to maintain the offensive position by using my aircraft to perform a vertical loop to end up in the Hornet’s control zone,” Ruhnau said. “From the control zone, I was able to get a gun shot on the Hornet before we had to terminate the fight for fuel.”
Ruhnau describes the feedback received from the TOPGUN school after the event as overwhelmingly positive, and the Griffins now have a standing invite to return. In the meantime, the 194th FS will continue to train and complete missions at their home station to provide air superiority and defense for the US.
The 194th FS is a unit of the California Air National Guard’s 144th FW at Fresno Air National Guard Base, California. The 194th is equipped with the F-15 Eagle and like its parent wing, the 144th Griffins, is operationally-gained within the active US Air Force (USAF) by the Air Combat Command (ACC). The 194th FS started the conversion process to F-15C Eagles from the 120th FW of the Montana Air National Guard with the arrival of the first of 21 F-15s on Jun. 18, 2013.
The F-15 replaced the F-16, the unit’s previous aircraft. The F-15 Eagle is an all-weather, extremely maneuverable, tactical fighter designed to permit the Air Force to gain and maintain air supremacy over the battlefield.
Photo credit: U.S. Air National Guard, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force