Like many aviators before him, Cmdr. Blaine Felloney has returned to his desert home in the Oasis of Nevada.
Felloney assumed command of the Advanced Fighter Weapons School – more famously known as Top Gun – in September and recently he spoke before the Navy League in Carson City to give attendees a look at the history and mission of the premier military aviation training school. The Advanced Fighter Weapons School is part of the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC) about 8 miles southeast of Fallon.
The University of California Santa Barbara graduate attended Officer Graduate School and was commissioned in 2002. He attended flight school and was awarded his wings as an F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot in November 2005.
Felloney, who first came to Fallon in 2008, enrolled in the Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Course. Prior to that, he said his first operational tour was in Japan and overall, he also served six deployments on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and a deployment on another aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington.
In August 2012, Felloney returned to fleet as a training officer in the “Sidewinders” of VFA-86. During his presentation at the Navy League meeting, he told of his experience flying the F-22 Raptor at Nellis Air Force Base east of Las Vegas. He reported to the “Green Bats of the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron.
Prior to coming to the NAWDC, Felloney commanded Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 136, the “Knighthawks” based at NAS Lemoore. VFA 136 had completed a nine-month deployment aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush.
Felloney switched his comments to Fallon and the purpose of NAWDC’s Advanced Fighter Weapons School. Although the base was first established east of Fallon in 1942 as part of a defense network to repel any Japanese attack, Felloney examined the history of the modern-day Top Gun school which was moved from NAS Miramar to Fallon in the late 1990s. He outlined the chronological history of Top Gun’s origins — and importance — in central Nevada.
“The Navy examined the U.S. results (in Vietnam) and our kill ratio was 2 for 1. For every two aircraft we shot down, we lost one of ours,” Felloney said. “That was substantial — in World War II it (kill ratio) was 14 to 1, Korea had a 12 to 1 kill ratio,” Felloney explained.
The politicians and the brass at the Pentagon and Department of the Navy were not pleased with the kill ratio in Vietnam, so the Department of Defense first implemented a study. Felloney said the report investigated and identified solutions was published and was named the Ault Report. The report was based on Navy combat expectations over Vietnam from 1965 to 1968.
“It’s kind like a Bible for Top Gun,” Felloney said. “He identified deficiencies and acquisitions, deficiencies and maintenance, deficiencies in pilots and aircrews and their level of proficiencies in air combat maneuvering,” Felloney pointed out. “To counter that, Capt. Frank Ault recommended the formation of a graduate level Navy fighter weapons school.”
After that report, Felloney said the Top Gun school was funded. Felloney said the mission statement at the time was to win in combat and to turn the tide of the Vietnam War. Hence, an advanced fighter weapons school was established at Naval Air Station Miramar and because of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), the school moved to Fallon in 1999, and Miramar became a Marine air station.
The Navy added a Seahawk Weapons School in 1998 to offer tactical training for crews assigned to Navy series SH-60, HH-60 and MH-60 series helicopters. An Electronic Attack Weapons School for the EA-18G Growler, a carrier-based electronic warfare jet, began in late 2011. NAWSC also has courses in Combat Search and Rescue and Close Air Support.
According to Felloney, the report also established “highly skilled and highly trained aircrew that would ultimately return to the fleet squadron’s tactics instructors.” Currently, Top Gun offers three 13-week programs each year.
“To be selected for Top Gun from those fleet squadrons, you have to be one of the best in the fleet and highly recommended and have all of your recommended qualifications,” Felloney said. “They we go through the selection process.”
Once the pilots arrive in Fallon, they begin a basic maneuvering phase with the Super Hornets, and at one point during the instruction, he said the pilots will report to another installation for up to a week, maybe two, to fly over water.
“They’ll come back to Fallon and begin dropping bombs,” he said. “After our Basic Fighter Maneuver phase, the students come back to Fallon to work on Air-to-Surface phase where they drop bombs, strafe and integrate with Joint Tactical Air Controllers, often SEAL (Sea, Air, and Land) team operators that are getting spun up for their immediate deployment overseas.”
Felloney said surface-to-air training with emitters simulate actual SAM or surface-to air missile sites.
The daily training is quite rigorous for the students.
“They (pilots) are constantly being evaluated, and they fly with the best instructors,” he pointed out. “When the students report, they are highly motivated, and they want to do well,” Felloney said the training requires the pilots to train for 13 weeks, six days a week from early morning to 11 p.m.
Felloney said three events each range from a 5 a.m. briefing to the last debrief, which is at 11 p.m. He said students attend only one of the three evets a day and if they’re not any type of briefing or debriefing, then they’re working on their next event.
“It’s a rigorous course for flying, and they must pass the simulators,” Felloney said. “The No. 1 mission statement is to make sure these guys are ready to go out to teach the future of naval aviation and to make sure our fleet is ready to win in combat.”
Felloney said nine crews are selected to train on the Super Hornets and three pilots on the F35s. Once pilots successfully complete their training, they receive a Top Gun patch.
Felloney also mentioned during his last deployment, actor Tom Cruise flew to the USS George H.W. Bush on a Greyhound to film for a Mission Impossible movie.
“The CO (commanding officer) of the ship had me meet him in the admiral’s stateroom as I was going to be the next commanding officer of Top Gun,” Felloney said.
Felloney told the Navy League members he’s enjoying another tour at Fallon. His wife Ashley and three children Harlow, Rhett and Quinn accompanied him.
“I am happy to be back in Fallon,” he said. “We love the city. It’s a phenomenal place.”