Col. Berkland, Keeper Of F-35s At Eielson AFB, On Russia, Fear, More

Eielson Air Force Base, just under the Arctic Circle close to Fairbanks, Alaska, is likely one of the extra distant U.S. navy operations. Conditions are harsh up there, particularly in winter, when temperatures can plummet to – 40 F, and the place darkness can take greater than 20 of 24 hours per day. It can also be fairly near Russia, simply throughout the Bering Strait, making it a strategic base for U.S. pursuits.

To fly within the backseat of an F-16D, and to immerse myself in Eielson’s distinctive Arctic Survival School, I visited Alaska final week. As a part of the itinerary, I sat down with Col. David Berkland, Commander of the 354th Fighter Wing. Basically, he runs the present at Eielson, chargeable for some 3,ooo airmen and airwomen, plus various fighter jets together with 49 new F-35s and 18 F-16s. Berkland, 47, an F-35 and F-16 pilot himself, is a 22-year Air Force veteran with a number of fight excursions below his belt, together with Afghanistan. Following are edited excerpts from an extended dialog.


Jim Clash: You’ve flown the fourth-generation F-16 and the brand new fifth-generation F-35. What are the primary variations between them? Also, how does the fifth-generation F-22 slot in?

Col. David Berkland: In some ways, the F-16 and F-35 are comparable. They are each single-engine, single-seat, multi-role Lockheed Martin merchandise, with side-stick controls. The F-16 is difficult to beat as you noticed right now by yourself flight. It’s a muscle automobile, like a Dodge Viper. It’s obtained the thrust, turns nice, is flexible by way of the missions it may do. The F-35, then again, is extra like a really deadly Tesla. It has stealth traits in addition to sensor fusion. In that F-16 right now, your pilot was flipping by means of completely different shows to mix data for three-dimensional situational consciousness. The F-35 lays all of that data over high of 1 show, fusing it. The F-35 additionally has actually good acceleration. The engine is a beast. If you begin at say, 200 knots, the F-16 and F-35 side-by-side utilizing full afterburners, the F-35 will attain Mach 1 sooner. It may even beat an F-22 to Mach 1. But at Mach 1, the F-22 pushes sooner to Mach 2, and can overtake the F-35. The F-35 was not constructed to be strictly an air-dominance plane. The F-16 may even overtake the F-35 between Mach 1 and Mach 2. The F-35 really maxes out at about Mach 1.7, quick sufficient to get the job finished. Think of the F-35 because the quarterback in an air fight battle with a number of different planes due to its stealth and sensor-fusion capabilities.


Clash: Eielson is simply throughout the Bering Strait from Siberia. With the present Ukraine state of affairs, are you on any heightened stage of readiness?

Berkland: To be trustworthy, it’s enterprise as common. We’re at all times able to go. And due to our strategic location right here in Alaska, we are able to get into the Pacific or Europe or wherever within the northern hemisphere in a single-fighter sortie, utilizing air-fueling. Billy Mitchell within the Nineteen Thirties mentioned, “Whoever holds Alaska holds the world.” That stays true right now. That’s why we’ve obtained the F-35s right here. The world map could be very misleading. We are nearer to Beijing than Hawaii is to Beijing. Alaska is definitely additional west than Hawaii. We may also take the polar route. Our base is known as after Ben Eielson, who was first to fly from North America to Europe over the North Pole. [Charles] Lindbergh took the simple route throughout the Atlantic, Eielson took the north route out of Barrow and landed in Spitzbergen, Norway.

Clash: What are some challenges you face up right here within the arctic versus USAF bases in additional forgiving climes?

Berkland: The challenges run the gamut to maintain the set up and infrastructure sound. Our massive thunder-dome hangar was began in 1952, seven years earlier than Alaska grew to become a state. You really feel the acute chilly up right here, and you need to gown rigorously for it. Being in control of the entire airmen and their households is at all times a problem of extremes, darkness and chilly, and it’s at all times on my thoughts. On Dec. 21, we get three hours and 41 minutes of daylight, and that mild simply skims the Delta vary, and never just like the solar is de facto up. It’s bodily in addition to psychological. Look at how a lot Vitamin D you don’t get. Look at your circadian rhythms – they’re not taking place. I’ll be trustworthy, earlier than my first winter right here, I scoffed at how tough I had heard it will be. But in the course of December, I’m laying in mattress consuming carbs, didn’t wish to rise up. So I obtained some “happy” lamps and began downing Vitamin D. In the summer season, then again, the solar by no means actually goes down. Again, that impacts circadian rhythms. You black out your home windows, mow the fast-growing grass. The mosquitos are available waves. The preliminary wave is May and June, and they’re actually massive, gradual and dumb. But later in the summertime, they evolve right into a smaller, sooner, extra clever model [laughs].


Clash: I do know you’ve seen fight in an F-16 over Afghanistan. Any shut calls you wish to point out?

Berkland: I’ve had numerous shut calls in my 3,000 hours within the F-16 and lots of of hours within the F-35. Most of these are whenever you’re youthful and studying the significance of flight self-discipline, meticulous planning, when flying as aggressors. I’ve employed 20-millimeter machine gun fireplace simply 30 meters away from our friendlies from a mile out. The friendlies had been being engaged by the enemy group, and so they wanted my gun to assist them out. Now that’s an in depth name.

Clash: How do you cope with worry, and what are you afraid of?

Berkland: As an American fighter pilot, I don’t worry something. I do have considerations. I inform my children to not be afraid of something, both. If you’re nervous about one thing, it is advisable put together, have a plan. Be able to be versatile, too, as a result of the enemy will get a vote and issues will typically change. And then depend on your teammates. I at all times fly with a wingman. I’ve been a fighter pilot within the Air Force for 22 years, and have by no means gone wherever with out one.

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