By Nate S. Jaros

Continuing our three-part series on a Day in the Life of a Fighter Pilot. If you missed the last segment, we finished our sortie. Now it’s time to debrief!

2nd Eagle Sq, 29 Nov 1941. American volunteer pilots in England. Courtesy Getty

Before we dive in to the debrief itself, it’s important to understand a few things about the fighter pilot debrief. The debrief is not only a time-honored tradition, but a requirement as well. The importance of this traditional discussion cannot be overemphasized. By carefully analyzing everything that occurred during the in-flight execution of the sortie, we can begin to dissect all the actions and see every outcome and learn where mistakes were made, and therefor how to correct them.

After all, getting better is the goal of any pilot. And the debrief is the tool to do just that.

Getting Back to the Squadron – 1200 Local

Getting back into the building after a long sortie. Courtesy DOD

After getting back to the squadron, we get all the gear off and usually have some paperwork to do briefly. There is a little bit of time to get some food and water, but quickly it is time to begin to prepare for the debrief, which today is scheduled for 1300 local.

Prepping for the Debrief – 1230L

Fighter pilots don’t just gather around a table and talk about what happened. That might happen later in the bar! But in preparation for the debrief it is up to each pilot to playback all critical events that occurred during the sortie and take some notes. This is done with the aid of the “tapes” or DVRs that we turned on to record everything at the beginning of the mission.

Critical items that will be needed for the debrief are things like the time of any weapons releases, if they were valid or outside of parameters at release, and maybe any training rule or airspace violations that were committed during the mission. Most fighter pilots take about 20 to 30 minutes to rapidly reconstruct what occurred and any big highlights, and make notes on key sortie events.

Instructor Pilots (IP) use this time to review their tapes as well, and prep the debrief room for the debrief. Writing up the flight objectives and gathering notes from the tapes on what happened for everyone are just a few of the items that an IP must do.

The Debrief – 1300 Local

The debrief starts with another sharp hack of the clock and then it begins. Strict decorum is adhered to and flight members are only permitted to speak when asked a direct question by the IP or Flight Lead, and even then it needs to be a succinct answer. Typical “yes” or “no” answers are preferred, and nothing more if possible.

Debriefing some particulars. Courtesy DOD

The debrief is essentially a massive reconstruction of the day’s events. Everything from the briefing is addressed to stepping procedures, radio frequency errors and basic admin like the takeoff and rejoins, recovery and radio calls are scrutinized and debated.

More importantly, the tactics and actions of every flight member are examined and reviewed. One by one the flight IP or Flight Lead will call up every weapons delivery or key tactical point and the whole flight will watch it on the screen. Key elements are noted and events are reconstructed to help find out what transpired during the mission and what mistakes were made.

Invariably, mistakes are made. Usually they are not gross or severe, but they point to some minor error in execution or understanding by a pilot. Getting “to the bottom” of that error and why it was made and how it affected the outcome of the mission is the true purpose of the debrief. That is why we spend three or four hours going over every detail and “digging out” the root causes for every missed opportunity or mistake.

A Day in the Life of a Fighter Pilot – Part II

Read Next: A Day in the Life of a Fighter Pilot – Part II

The debrief is more than a mass of error collections. It is an in-depth analysis to why something went wrong and how we can all get better the next time. That is what it means to be a fighter pilot.

A debrief in action. Courtesy DOD

The End of the Debrief – 1600 Local

The debrief is over. Every pilot walks out of the room having learned a little something more for next time. Maybe a bit more humble and a bit disheveled, but smarter and wiser and certainly more “tactically capable” for next time.

It’s time to wrap up the day, head home for some rest and get ready to do it again tomorrow!



Vipers. Courtesy Getty

Featured image by Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey, U.S. Air Force, via Wikimedia Commons