We are excited to continue building our Ready Room of contributing writers. J. Kirkbride joins us from the Air Force side. He’s been a First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP) for the past few years and now he’s working his way through the F-15 syllabus. Welcome aboard J.K.!
The Pilot Training Machine
The United States is widely regarded as possessing the top air warfare branches in the world. If you asked your standard aviation enthusiast, he or she would most likely state technology, money, or superior engineering as the reason for this. While these are all correct, an often-overlooked reason for the United States’ dominance in aerial warfare would be it’s ability to produce thousands of highly qualified pilots per year to fill it’s cockpits.
In regards to my branch of service (the United States Air Force), we train upwards of 1,100 combat aviators per year. The course that students undertake consists of a year-long program where students, often whom have close to zero prior flying hours, transform from ‘pedestrians to pilots’ in around 200 flying hours. These hours are split roughly even between the T-6A Texan II primary trainer and either the T-38C Talon or T-1A Jayhawk (Road to Wings). In one year, students will go from learning how to- start an airplane, to being proficient in tactical formation, cross-country navigation, low-level operations and complex mission planning.
What kind of operations tempo does this kind of training require? In short, a high one. On a daily basis, every single one of the USAF training bases produces between 175-200 sorties (flights) lasting between 1 to 2 (and sometimes upwards of 3 hours). In addition to training student pilots, UPT bases graduate hundreds of Air Traffic Control students per year who learn the ropes of their trade controlling student pilots some of the busiest airspace in the United States. To put all of this perspective, on any given day, a single USAF pilot training base will be amongst the top 10 busiest airports in the United States for total takeoff and landings, and managing an operation of this size requires top-notch maintenance, air traffic control, and emergency response professionals.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the scale of these operations is the fact that these 175-200 student sorties occur with a near 100% accident-free rate (…knock on wood). The key to this extremely low accident rate is the skill and training of the instructor pilots (IP) and air traffic control professionals, which we will cover in a later article.
In the next edition of this series, we will provide a glimpse into the average day for an Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) student, so stay tuned!
J. Kirkbride is a former T-6 Instructor Pilot who is completing follow-on fighter training in preparation for his first operational assignment. J.K. can be reached at J.Kirkbride@Fightersweep.