What does it mean to be a good wingman?

Fighter jets rarely fly by themselves. Most of the time, if not all of the time, they fly in a section (2 aircraft) or sometimes a division (4 aircraft). This is for multiple reasons but mainly because a single fighter jet is not very effective alone. A wingman can offer additional firepower and top cover on many different missions.

Safety is another reason. Example: When flying over large bodies of water for extended periods of time, fighter jets routinely fly in section. Having a minimum two ship allows for a margin of safety when operating in remote locations. In case one of the aircraft has an emergency, the wingman can help out.

So this begs the question, what does it mean to be a good wingman?

1. Be a good follower.

A wingman is there to back up the lead aircraft, not lead the section. This means a wingman cannot try and take over the flight, no matter how much he or she wants to. Wingmen are there to do as much as they can to help the lead aircraft with the mission. Notice the word “help” was used, not take over.

2. Keep your comm (radio communication) chatter to a minimum.

“Join up and shut up” is how the saying goes. No one wants to hear a Chatty Cathy on the radio either. Most of the time, the wingman should respond to the lead aircraft’s communication (aka “comm”) on the radio with the tactical callsign or just “Two!”. If you feel the need to say more than that, check #5 below to see if you should say more.

Wingman Debrief, Photo courtesy acc.mil
334th Fighter Squadron instructor pilot debriefs students after a training mission, photo: www.acc.af.mil

Every fighter pilot knows poor communication is probably one of the biggest contributors to a poor hop. Comm is always debriefed after a flight and poor comm is always recognized in the tape debrief. Make sure you don’t add to it!