IFF Check – Squawk Three

by Lt. Col. (then Captain) John Larrison (USAF Ret)

In the 1960s the jet powered T-33 (T-Bird) was used as the training aircraft in basic training following primary training in the reciprocating engine T-34 & T-28. To better understand the Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF) check as a T-33 pre-solo requirement, you might want to read the story of the primary pilot training requirement for a radio Direction Finder (DF) steer prior to T-34/T-28 solo. This was a VHF radio procedure where a control tower direction finder would “home” on the students transmitted radio signal. To get a better radio signal for a more precise heading, the control tower would ask the student pilot to “Growl” during the radio transmission.

 Now, fast forward to Basic Pilot Training and the T-33. Radar was replacing the radio DF procedures. In those years most military jet aircraft were equipped with a very basic Identification, Friend, or Foe (IFF). At that time the IFF only had three basic modes of operation: Mode 1, Mode 2, Mode 3, plus an emergency mode. Current Transponders (IFF) have added Selective Identification Feature (SIF) to provide numerous codes to identify and track aircraft. A ground radar controller can request an aircraft to set in a specific mode and code for identification and tracking. This was known in Air Force terms as “Squawking” because the IFF is known as a parrot. Get it — parrot, squawk ?

Now our student pilot has completed primary pilot training in the T-34 & T-28 and is about to solo in the T-33. In this case he was one of my “Table Mates” who shall remain nameless. There were normally three students per instructor. Today he was scheduled for his pre-solo flight with our instructor. 

Prior to departing for the flight, he asked me, “how do you do one of these Parrot Checks?” The Devil made me do it, but I just couldn’t pass up the situation. I told him it was a simple check much like we did in primary during a DF Steer. In this case, you selected the radio frequency of the nearest ground radar site (which we had in our training area) and ask for a “Parrot Check.” They could then identify you on their radar scope and give you a heading to your destination. In this case Home Base, if you happened to be lost.

To accomplish the Parrot check, they would request you to “squawk” one of the three available modes. The correct procedure would be to set in the requested Mode, they would identify your radar return, and give you a heading to home base. But being the joker I was, I told him that it was just like we did in primary training. In this case you go to the radar site radio frequency, establish contact, and request a Parrot Check. They will respond by asking you to turn your IFF on and Squawk one of the three available modes. Then if it was Mode Two, you press the mic-button on the radio and in a loud voice say, “ Squawk, Squawk.” If Mode One was requested, you would only respond with one “Squawk.”  And that’s what he did on this pre-solo flight! 

Needless to say this was a great embarrassment to his instructor pilot. As I said in the beginning, he was also my instructor pilot. So, as you can guess, this joke did not “improve” my student/instructor relationship for a few weeks. But it provided one hell of a good laugh for some of us!

Navy harnessing new technology to restructure aviation training

The Navy is incorporating new technologies into its aviation training curriculum, from hand-held devices to full simulators, to better train airmen to fly and fight their aircraft.

Speaking at a panel over the weekend at the Tailhook Association’s online symposium, service officials touted the use of live, virtual and constructive (LVC) training and said the Navy is working to embed the methods into its pilot training program.

“We are undergoing modernization across the board, and one of the key pillars of that is to leverage the new technology that is out there in the market,” Rear Adm. Robert Westendorff, the chief of naval air training (CNATRA), told the panel.


New Air Force leaders view plans for more virtual pilot training

The Air Force’s new military leaders, Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass, made their first trip with Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett Thursday.

The leadership team traveled to Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas, where they were shown Air Education and Training Command’s plans to take lessons from its virtual reality and artificial intelligence-infused pilot training experiment, called Pilot Training Next, and incorporate them into a new version of undergraduate pilot training, which the Air Force is calling UPT 2.5.


FlightSafety Mixes Reality in New Simulator

An interesting development that might have a profound effect on the training simulation industry is underway at FlightSafety International’s Visual Systems division in St. Louis, Missouri. Some lucky visitors to the Heli-Expo show earlier this year in Anaheim, California, were able to get a private demo of the new technology, which FlightSafety calls a “mixed-reality” flight simulator.

The new simulator takes advantage of the many years of development of FlightSafety’s Vital image generator and visual display, marrying the most recent version with virtual reality headwear and hardware controls to create a mixed-reality simulator. 


Pentagon Eyeing More Advanced Virtual, Augmented Reality Headwear

Technology improvements driven by the commercial sector are expected to yield virtual and augmented reality goggles that solve many of the problems associated with the headsets being used by the U.S. military today, experts say.

Virtual reality, or VR, immerses users in a computer generated environment, such as video gaming. Augmented reality, or AR, transposes data or other digitally created images on top of a real-world field of view, such as the yellow first-down marker or the orange strike zone box that TV viewers see when watching football or baseball games.

VR and AR headgear can improve the way troops train for high-end fights against advanced adversaries by providing digitally created enemy forces or other environmental factors that they might encounter in a real battle, officials have noted.


CAE launches new virtual reality trainer

WASHINGTON ? As the U.S. Air Force looks increasingly toward virtual reality for speeding up and cutting the cost of pilot training, Canadian defense firm CAE is stepping forward with own courseware and virtual reality system with the hopes of attracting interest from the U.S. and international militaries.

CAE will debut its CAE TRAX Academy curriculum and Sprint Virtual Reality trainer this week at the Interservice/Industry, Training, Simulation and Education Conference. Throughout the show, the company plans to conduct T-6 flight demonstrations using both products.


Measuring up: ONR tech makes sure aviators and aircraft are a perfect fit

ARLINGTON, Va.–The aspiring U.S. Navy pilot ran through a series of motions–sitting, kneeling, stretching out his arm–to gauge the type of aircraft cockpit his body would fit.

As the pilot completed each exercise, a technician hovered over him and recorded measurements using a tool called an anthropometer–consisting of several metal tubes formed into a large ruler-and-caliper set and spanning the height of a person. Total time: seven minutes.

Another pilot stood at attention while engineers connected a camera the size of a TV remote to a laptop and took a photo. Thirteen yellow-and-black dots–representing limbs and joints–peppered the pilot’s image on the computer screen. Specialized software calculated the distance between each joint to produce an accurate body measurement. Time elapsed: one minute.


Watchdog Praises Afghan A-29 Training as Moody Program Winds Down

?The Air Force?s A-29 training program for the Afghan military has largely succeeded at producing capable pilots, according to a new watchdog report, even as the program plans to ditch its most effective feature: flying in the US.

?US-based aviation training has resulted in a quantifiable improvement in [Afghan Air Force] capabilities and improved professionalization of Afghan personnel,? the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a July 29 report.

The US Air Force trains Afghan Super Tucano pilots at Moody AFB, Ga. Once the pilots return to Afghanistan, American advisers coach them through further instruction and into combat operations. Moody instructors reached their goal of training 30 Afghan pilots and 90 ground staff, including a maintenance crew, in September 2018. SIGAR found the quality of training is improving as well: Afghan pilots are firing weapons more precisely in their home country, with 88 percent of laser-guided munitions landing within 1 meter of targets.


Full Flight Simulators Incorporate VR for Next Generation of Pilots

Modern full-flight simulators are so realistic that a student pilot can learn to fly from scratch in the virtual world and step directly into an aircraft for real-world, leave-the-ground checkout flights.

High-fidelity virtual reality simulators may be one answer to training the thousands of pilots the global helicopter industry will need to meet an expected skyrocketing demand over the next decade. To make that training more efficient and affordable, it is important to tailor training to individual students, according to Nick Scarnato, director of global strategy, training and mission systems at Collins Aerospace.

Growing up in the digital age, raised on handheld computers, immersive video games and the Internet, younger pilots learn differently than the methods employed by many, traditional pilot training programs, he said.


Next-gen aircrew training

Rarely in the life of a large, complex military program do you get the opportunity to reshape it from the ground up. But with two pilot training contracts coming to an end in the mid-2020s, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) is taking advantage of the moment to ?reimagine how we are doing training,? said Col Pete Saunders, director of Air Simulation and Training.