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Musings After Completing Air Force Pilot Training

Do you ever feel like months or years at a time go by and you know that a lot of things have happened, but when you stop and think about it, or sit down to write about some of the cool things you have done, you really just don’t know what to say?  That’s kind of where I am at right now.

As you are likely aware, I attended Air Force Pilot Training over the last year or so, which I completed back in September, earning my wings, and furthering my lifelong dream of being a pilot.  I still count finishing my private certificate back in 2008 as when I became a pilot, but this was a big deal and an even bigger step on my career path, wherever that may lead.

There is no reason to give a play by play of everything that happened at pilot training, especially since I am sure someone else already has, and they probably did it better, but I figured I would put some of my own thoughts and experiences down for my own benefit, and maybe it will help someone else in the at the same time.

One of the things a lot of people ask is how they can best prepare for pilot training.  The reality is that every single person is different and would benefit from different preparation.  The one thing that I feel is universal is getting as much aviation experience as you possibly can.  Ideally that means spending as much time in any flying aircraft you possibly can.  There is simply no substitute for time in the seat and in the air hearing and seeing and smelling and feeling all of those different inputs.  That may not be feasible in many cases, but beg, borrow, or steal your way onto any flight in a cockpit you can get.  It doesn’t have to be formal training.  It could be bumming a ride for a $100 hamburger, or just beating up the pattern, but any time you can get in the air will help you.

All of my experience in the Air Force flying was a definite advantage in many aspects of the training.  If nothing else I was familiar with many of the terms and expressions that made me feel more comfortable in the environment as a whole.  I am not saying you should spend 8 years as a Navigator before going to pilot training, though honestly it is not a bad way to go, but

Right before I took the T-6 solo in formation. What a ride!

I am saying that every little bit of comfort you can gain from experience is worth it to help you get through what will inevitably be an uncomfortable year.

In the theme of the Thanksgiving season, I am incredibly grateful for the chance I had to fly such a dynamic plane as the T-6.  I realize what a special opportunity it was to fly an fully aerobatic, complex, turbine, bad-A airplane.  I even got to fly it by myself, which is even more cool when I look back on it.  The one part I was really not looking forward to was the formation phase because frankly it is uncomfortable being that close to another plane doing the maneuvers we do.  By the time we finished the phase and I had the opportunity to solo in formation I had a little idea what I was doing and I actually really enjoyed it.  It was a huge confidence builder for me, and just a great time in the air.

All of that being said, I am perfectly content never flying the T-6 again.  That probably sounds a little contradictory, but it is just not my type of flying.  Sure it would be fun to go out with a buddy and range around for an hour in the mountains with such a high performance aircraft, but having to fly with an instructor with syllabus items to accomplish would not be as fun.  I’m also old and grumpy and having to wear all of that extra gear is not my style anymore.

View from the backseat of the T-1 enjoying my time with a crew.

Moving onto the T-1 after the T-6 brought me back to my type of flying.

I LOVE flying with a crew.

I love being able to interact with other crewmembers.  I love that we are there to back each other up and keep each other safe.  I love the more laid back environment where we get the mission done, but we can also have a good time doing it.

The T-1 is a massive pig compared to the T-6, but it was still a lot of fun to fly.  I had to keep reminding the people in my class how lucky we all were to get this training.  Not many people in this world get the opportunity to fly a business jet with less than 100 hours of experience, but that’s what we were doing.  It is not the flashiest plane, and like I said, it flies like a pig, but it was still a great time learning a more complex aircraft and adding to my skillset.

It is worth mentioning the importance of the people you go to pilot training with.  I had the unfortunate experience of being at pilot training not only during Covid, but during massive class shifts at UPT.  Shortly after starting pilot training my class was split up into multiple classes with me personally rolling back three classes.  Over the next year or many of those people changed classes again both backward and forward.  As it turned out I ended up graduating with only 2 of the 22 people that I originally started with.  No one graduates with the exact class they started with for any number of reasons, but it was a real bummer having the whole thing blown up like that.

One of my last flights at pilot training. Enjoyed getting back into the low-level environment.

At the same time, all of the people I had the chance to interact with were exceptional people.  We had great laughs, and worked hard, and got through to the end together.  It was truly a pleasure to work with such exceptional people, and I look forward to following them all through the rest of their careers.

UPT was also a unique experience for me because of my own personal circumstances.  I have mentioned it previously, but being 38 when most of your classmates are in the early 20s made for a slightly different dynamic.  I also was married with three kids, one of whom is almost a teenager, added to the dynamic.  I am also a winged navigator with a fair amount of experience.  Not to mention that I am also a Major which meant I outranked almost all of my IPs.

Some of these things people said were a disadvantage, and others an advantage, and they are probably right.  There is no such thing as a normal UPT experience, and everybody has their weaknesses and areas that require special effort.  At the end of the day, getting through UPT is all about your attitude and your effort.  Anybody can be taught to fly, and anybody can be taught to fly the Air Force way, if they are willing to put in the time and the effort.  It was amazing to watch the effort that some of my classmates put in to become pilots.  Like anything in life it was easier for some people than for others, but at the end of the day we all walked away with our wings, and we all get to have one of the coolest jobs in the world: pilot.

Hello again beautiful!

This last week I got to start my C-130 specific training back in Little Rock.  It felt a lot like coming home since I was stationed here about five years ago.  We still have some friends that never left, and others that we got to know during our time in Japan that have since moved here.  It is so awesome going somewhere that you already have friends.  On the first day of class we went out to walk around the plane, and it was a beautiful reunion to be back with my beloved C-130.

I will spare you the love story which you can read about in previous articles I have written (here, here, and here), but suffice it to say I am thrilled to be back here on the plane I love.  There is still a lot of work to be done to learn a new job on the same plane, but I already feel so at home in so many ways.  I think it is one way of knowing you are where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to be doing, when it feels like coming home after far too long apart.

Hopefully, I can do a better job putting my thoughts down because I know it is good for me, and I hope that others can benefit from it too.  I have said it before and I will say it every time I write.  If there is ever any question I can answer, or anything I can do to help you in your aviation journey please don’t hesitate to ask.  We are all a part of the best community in the world, and it is the people that make it that way.

I hope you all have a fantastic Thanksgiving, and get the chance to get out and fly as much as possible.

November 22, 2020 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

My First Week at Air Force Pilot Training

It’s been almost a month since I last posted, and I can’t believe how fast that month has gone.  I feel like it has been much longer with everything I have done since then.

It was kind of nice to have a little bit of free time with my family for a couple of weeks after we got here, though free time is probably the wrong word.  It was nice to not have work requirements because I was able to help my wife get the house unpacked, take the kids to dance and swim lessons, and enjoy a couple of lunches with my Queenie before my life revolves around flying for the next year.

It makes me laugh a little as a type that because many people would probably say my life has always revolved around flying, but it had increasingly become more about desk work before I left.  It is super nice to just be learning about flying again, though I know that will change again when I get home, and that’s okay.

So what is the first week of pilot training like?

In a word, fast paced.  (okay, that is two words)

The first day was just briefings to get us ready for the year ahead and what the policies and procedures of the unit are.  Then starting the next day we were right into full days of academics.  With the pilot shortage they are trying to get through as many people as they possibly can.  That has led to them shortening the course by a few weeks by deleting some of the topics they deemed non-essential.  I won’t complain about getting done here sooner and getting on to C-130 training.

In the first week we have been mostly focusing on aerospace physiology, which is probably one of the least studied topics that has immense impact on effective flying, if that makes sense.  We covered topics ranging from hypoxia to G-tolerance to egressing from the aircraft.  While none of the information was new to me with my background, it was a good reminder of the importance of these topics.  It was also eye-opening to some of the guys that don’t have a background in aviation.

If we needed a reminder that this is not a take your time kind of course, our first test was a week to the day after we started and covered the full range of aerospace physiology topics.  I was happy to have done well and crossed the first hurdle in training.  I was confident about the whole thing because, as I said, none of the information was really new to me, but there is still always that little bit of fear that I won’t give something the time it deserves and I will blow it.

No time for a break though as after the test we were right back into class and CAI’s.  It is worth explaining the different ways in which we get instruction in formal courses like this.  There are basically three different methods of training: Instructor Based Training, hands-on training, and Computer Based Training.  My entire career the computer based training has been referred to as CBTs, but here it is referred to as CAI’s because why leave something alone when you can change the name for no reason.

My favorite training, like most people, is the hands-on training, but they actually have a pretty good system set up here.  Generally speaking, you spend some time learning about new topics on the computer, then you have a class with an instructor to clarify and expand on the topic, then you get into some sort of simulator, or part task trainer, or eventually the actual aircraft, to bring the whole thing together.

Now that we are mostly done with aerospace physiology, we actually have to do the altitude chamber on Monday, we have started to get into the aircraft systems of the T-6 which has been super interesting.  While we did utilize the T-6 in Nav school, that was 8 years ago, and we are going a lot more in-depth than we did back then because now I will be in control of the plane and not just sitting in the back seat.

If that sounds like quite a bit for a first week, it is, but the pace only quickens from here.  Monday will mostly be taken up by the altitude chamber, then Tuesday we have our first sims, and Wednesday is our next test.  From there it just keeps going, and I am loving every minute of it.  I’m not worried about scheduling people for stuff, or tracking training, or writing memos, or going to meetings, I am completely focused on learning to fly, and it is awesome.

It really hit me this week just how blessed I am to be here.  I am 37 years old, when the age limit was 30 when I was selected.  I started this journey to become a pilot 16 years ago when I enlisted, and now I am here.  Don’t let small hiccups or speed bumps get in the way of you getting where you want to be.

To be clear, there are some things that there is nothing you can do about, like being blind or something of that nature.  But, if something like money, or age, or scores, or even just doubt are holding you back, then don’t give up.  You can find a way, and you can get there, just don’t give up, and ask for help.

There are doubters and haters out there, but there are also a ton of people out there that would love to help and return the favor for the help they received.  So reach out to anyone and everyone and figure out how to make it happen.

If you have any questions about the stuff we are learning or how you can get here too, let me know and I would be happy to help you.

September 14, 2019 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.