Ukrainian F-16 pilots stand ready; unknown number of pilots return

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The time is drawing near for the F-16s to take to the skies over Ukraine. Fighter jets are ready, but their delivery isn’t the primary obstacle. The main challenge for Ukraine’s Air Force has been the shortage of trained F-16 pilots. Fortunately, this is no longer an issue. 

Photo credit: Twitter

Multiple international sources, including those from Ukraine and China, confirm that the first group of trained Ukrainian F-16 pilots has completed their training. This group received their training in the USA. However, the exact number of pilots remains undisclosed. Additionally, there’s no clear information on the progress of similar training programs in Europe.

Back in late January, a U.S. defense official revealed to Air & Space Forces magazine that four Ukrainian pilots were undergoing training with the 162nd Wing at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona. Simultaneously, 20 support personnel were also receiving training at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas. 

Photo credit: FAR

Last October

Ukraine is set to receive several fourth-generation fighter jets from the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and Norway. These contributions are a part of the coalition fighter framework, which includes U.S. pledges to train Ukrainian airmen. 

Although specifics were not disclosed “out of concern for their safety,” Air National Guard spokeswoman Erin Hannigan confirmed the number of first graduates and their exact graduation date remains undisclosed. However, unnamed sources suggest these airmen are headed to Europe for additional training.

Video screenshot

Last October marked the beginning of the first Ukrainian pilots’ training at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona. Concurrently, other pilots are undergoing training in Denmark, and Romania has also established an F-16 training base for Ukrainian pilots. Earlier this week, the Dutch Ministry of Defense announced the successful completion of F-16 maintenance training by the first 10 Ukrainian servicemen in the Netherlands. 

NATO video

On May 3, NATO released new footage showcasing the ongoing training of Ukrainian pilots in Denmark. Filmed at the Royal Danish Air Force’s [RDAF] Skridstrup Air Base, the video offers an in-depth look at the daily routines and intricate details of Ukrainian airmen’s training sessions. 

“The F-16 is definitely more agile than the MiG-29 RAC,” shared a pilot identified by the codename Moonfish. Drawing from his prior experience flying a similar Soviet fighter over Ukraine, Moonfish added that the F-16 is “a fantastic place to work with.” 

Moonfish noted that much of the training is conducted in the air, with a strong emphasis on mission execution. The video from NATO highlights a two-seat F-16D fighter jet, a model that sources indicate dates back to 1988. 

Over 60 F-16s

Photo credit: RNAF

This wasn’t the first time this Ukrainian pilot, known as “Moonfish,” graced TV screens. As reported by BulgarianMilitary.com, Moonfish was among the pioneering Ukrainian servicemen to undergo training on American-made fighter jets. Back in October 2023, he shared his first impressions of the F-16. 

To date, four countries have stepped up by providing their aging F-16s to the Ukrainian Air Force: Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands. While figures vary, the most frequently cited total is 61 units that Ukraine is expected to receive. Many reports suggest that the first batch of F-16s might land in Ukraine around mid-2024. 

However, according to UK and Danish officials, the delivery timeline isn’t solely in the hands of these supplier countries. The schedule hinges on how swiftly Ukrainian officers can complete their training. The quicker they hone their skills, the sooner these F-16s will make their way to Ukrainian soil. 

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