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F-15 pilot becomes highest rank pilot to complete B-2 initial qualification course.

Feb 28, 2008 -- WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- One of the first Missouri Air National Guard (ANG) pilots to enter B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flight training was the highest ranking pilot to attend the challenging initial qualification training course at Whiteman AFB, Feb. 22.

Col. Greg Champagne, 131st Fighter Wing Vice Commander, began B-2 flight training with three active duty student pilots last summer, when he was the Missouri ANG's first pilot to enter the B-2 initial qualification training course.

"Most senior leaders attend a four-week basic qualification course so that they garner a basic knowledge of the aircraft to develop an understanding of its mission, requirements and challenges," Champagne said. "Since we're developing the ANG capability from scratch, it was important for me to become fully mission qualified."

There are three B-2 flying training courses. Former B-2 pilots attend re-qualification training to resume currency in the aircraft. Basic qualification training is designed for senior leaders, who are required to become familiar with the aircraft, but not maintain a high level of proficiency. Col. Champagne attended the initial qualification training course, which is for all other pilots. With more than 640 hours of academic and hands-on training, it is the longest of the training courses.

"This training was intensive. I had to forget about my role as Vice Commander and immerse myself entirely in the B-2 for nearly eight months."

According to Lt. Col. Troy Van Bemmelen, 394th Combat Training Squadron Commander, the Colonel's ability to blend in with his classmates was especially important.

"This was new to us as well," Lt. Col. Van Bemmelen said. "He worked just like I would have expected any of our traditional students without putting any of our instructors in uncomfortable situations. That level of professionalism is hard to teach and just shows you the true character of the individual."

During his training, Col. Champagne developed a new respect for a two-seat aircraft. "I'd flown a single-seat fighter for many years, and the B-2 is definitely a two-person mission," said Champagne, who is qualified to fly in both seats. "I learned quickly that crew coordination is paramount. Communication between the pilot and mission commander is critical."

The former fighter pilot had more to learn than a new aircraft. "The B-2 is definitely a different mission, and, like the fighter community, the bomber community has its own culture," he said.

With flight training behind him, Champagne admits that challenges still lie ahead. Col. Champagne is tasked with leading the 131st FW's efforts to become an ANG bomb wing.

"We're building this mission from scratch," he said.

To date, nearly 25 Missouri ANG personnel have transferred to Whiteman and are working in concert with 509th Bomb Wing, National Guard Bureau, and Air Combat Command personnel to establish ANG associate unit operations here. Their thorough planning will pave the way for approximately 600 Guardsmen who will be assigned to support the B-2 mission at Whiteman AFB.

"We need to recruit and train Airmen to fulfill this mission. We are excited about bringing local citizens into B-2 operations as 'Citizen Airmen'," said Champagne. "This is a great opportunity for the young men and women in the Whiteman community."

Col. Champagne embraces the challenge. "In the end, the Missouri ANG's successful transition into the B-2 mission will make this all worth it," he said.