I’m a brand new AF officer, slated to start UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training) in a few months. It’s been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember to become a fighter pilot in the world’s greatest air force. I know it’s a hard road ahead and the chances of making it into the cockpit of a fighter are low, but is there any advice that you all can give me and my fellow classmates on how to succeed? Thanks!

 Very respectfully,

 FNG Butterbar

Dear FNG,

Congratulations on the opportunity to rush the world’s greatest fraternity. No matter what you fly, you’ll find that military flying is unlike any other. Your key to success is simple – be a bro.

Regardless of what you end up flying, the Air Force is a team. No wars are won alone, and that’s what your instructors will be looking at. Can you pick up the material and work with your classmates as a team to graduate?

It starts from day one in academics.

Columbus AFB: Very First F-35 Drop At UPT!

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Relatively speaking, this is the easiest part of the program. There is no excuse not to do well here. Help each other study the material. Work together to make sure everyone passes. Learn the BOLDFACE cold. It doesn’t matter if you understand it yet, just memorize it so you’ll have one less thing on your plate when you finally hit the flightline.

While in academics, as soon as you’re eligible to get time in the cockpit trainers, take your buddies and sign up. Take turns learning where every switch, knob, and instrument are. The sooner you learn the left to right “flow” of starting the aircraft, the better off you’ll be. Not having to look for switches in the cockpit and being able to confidently execute ground ops (step one of flying) frees up brain cells to learn other things (like the VFR pattern and staying in the airspace).

Student pilot 2nd Lt. Grant Webber and instructor pilot Lt. Col. Mike Jansen perform pre-flight checks on a T-6 Texan aircraft at Vance AFB, Okla. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Brian Hill)
Student pilot 2nd Lt. Grant Webber and instructor pilot Lt. Col. Mike Jansen perform pre-flight checks on a T-6 Texan aircraft at Vance AFB, Okla. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Brian Hill)

Once you hit the flightline, study with your classmates. Practice tabletop EPs with each other so you’ll be less nervous about standup. KNOW THE BOLDFACE COLD. There is no excuse for getting taken off the flight schedule because you didn’t know the procedures. Study the general knowledge stuff. “General Knowledge” (GK) is a low hanging fruit in pilot training. It may not push you to the front of the class on its own, but it will definitely highlight you if you don’t know it. Don’t be that guy or gal.

Instructors are impressed by pilots who are humble, knowledgeable, and have a good attitude. This means taking notes, accepting criticism, and listening more than you talk. “I was thinking” or any similar qualifier should never be uttered by a student in response to a critique unless directly asked. No one cares what you were thinking, and it only makes you look bad to try to make excuses.

If someone in your class is struggling, help them out. Take them to the sims. Chairfly with them if that’s what they need. Pilot training isn’t easy, but there’s no reason not to take time to help a fellow classmate. And in the process of helping them, you’ll also be getting better.

"Shado" runs through his pre-flight checks prior to launching for a Red Flag mission with the 64 AGRS. (Photo by Scott E. Wolff)
“Shado” runs through his pre-flight checks prior to launching for a Red Flag mission with the 64 AGRS. (Photo by Scott E. Wolff)

Whether you get fighters or not depends a lot on luck and timing. You can’t control the needs of the Air Force, but you can control your attitude and the effort you put into it. Don’t stress over drop night and don’t fixate on flying fighters. If you apply yourself and work hard, you’ll greatly increase your odds, but beyond that, it’s out of your hands. Stressing will only degrade your performance and make it even less likely.

Pilot training is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s fifty four weeks of long days, hard work, and constant stress. But it’s also something you’ll look back on as some of the best times in your careers. You will make lifelong friends, have great stories to tell, and learn how to fly in the best Air Force in the world.

Don’t forget to have fun and give yourself time to relax and unwind. This goes back to being a bro. Comradery and class cohesion are important. Look out for each other. Don’t let anybody do anything that will end their careers (Like get a DUI).

So, to sum it up – be a bro, never miss an opportunity to STFU, and have fun. Everything else is just details.

Questions?