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Put to the test: 8 FW pilot completes upgrade certification

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Brandon DeBlanc
  • 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

On the morning of Nov. 15, 2023, as Airmen from the 8th Fighter Wing readied themselves for flying operations, Capt. Tyler Hansen took an extra moment in his preparations. Despite more than 600 hours of flight time, the next few hours would be some of the most important in his career.

“This sortie was different because we had more than 30 different aircraft involved,” said Hansen, 35th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot. “That mix of aircraft and capabilities makes the airspace more dynamic.”

The large force training exercise brought together U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortresses, F-16 Fighting Falcons, U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning IIs and Republic of Korea Air Force KF-15s/KF-35s.

The exercise also served as Hansen’s evaluation for his upgrade to mission commander.

“As a mission commander, I’m the one running the entire show,” said Hansen. “It is very planning intensive, because I’m responsible for creating a gameplan that will keep everybody safe, but also have the tactical effectiveness to achieve the commander’s intent.”

Upon completing the sortie, Hansen became one of three qualified mission commanders currently assigned to the 35th FS.

The mission commander upgrade is typically reserved for more experienced instructor pilots who have demonstrated a high level of leadership and proficiency with their aircraft. Before the evaluation can take place, the candidate goes through a learning and observation period with an already qualified mission commander.

Hansen, who arrived at Kunsan Air Base in January, was excited to join a historic fighter community and realized the opportunities that came with operating at the forefront of Pacific Air Forces warfighting priorities.

“Historically, F-16 pilots have been very good mission commanders,” said Hansen. “Flying in a multi-role airframe allows you to understand suppression of enemy air defenses, escort, and protection while also fulfilling the striker and bomber roles. So there’s a good toolkit of understanding for each component you may integrate into an operation.”

A key component of the mission commander's role is force packaging, which is deciding how to best integrate the different aircraft and weapons systems available for a mission. Hansen explained the unique challenges he faced when planning for his evaluation exercise.

“We had to communicate to units across PACAF and with ROKAF to understand what capabilities everyone has and ensure everyone is on the same page,” said Hansen. “It’s pretty rewarding working with our regional partners and coordinating with experts of different aircraft, it opens up your mind quite a bit.”

For Hansen, flying is realizing a dream that he had since he was a kid. Becoming a mission commander is an added opportunity to lead and grow.

“The 8th FW has been very awesome and willing to give me opportunities,” said Hansen. “I’ve always loved the camaraderie and being on a team and we’re all here flying for the same mission — to win.”