12th Flying Training Wing Headquarters, (better known as "The Taj") and the missing man monument in the morning sun. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rich McFadden)
12th Flying Training Wing Headquarters, (better known as “The Taj”) and the missing man monument in the morning sun. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rich McFadden)

If the general public was to perform a Google search for “USAF Pilot Training”, almost all of the search results would be from the four main pilot training bases; Laughlin, Vance, Columbus or Sheppard Air Force Bases. What is often lost in most media that covers pilot training is the instructor training program that makes safely training 1,100 students per year possible.


The backbone of the USAF pilot training program is the Pilot Instructor Training (PIT) program. This program is run by either the 12th Operations Group at Randolph AFB in sunny San Antonio, Texas or by the 80th Operations Groups at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. Graduates from Randolph AFB will transfer to either Laughlin, Vance or Columbus Air Force Bases. Graduates from Sheppard will stay at Sheppard to teach the specialized Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) syllabus.

Instructors come from a variety of backgrounds ranging from tanker aircraft to fighter aircraft. Additionally , approximately 100 First Assignment Instructor Pilots (FAIPs) per year attend instructor training immediately after earning their wings as students. Generally, tanker and transport pilots will instruct in the T-1 Jayhawk. Fighter and bomber pilots instruct in the T-38C Talon. Instructors in the T-6 Texan II are from a variety of backgrounds. FAIPs are eligible to instruct in any aircraft that they flew in pilot training.

As you can imagine, teaching qualified aviators from these diverse backgrounds how to instruct the fundamentals of combat aviation safely is a challenging task.

RND T-38
T-38C Talon performing startup procedures

The task of training instructors is up to the members of the 559th Flying Training Squadron (T-6 Texan IIs), 560th Flying Training Squadron (T-38C Talons), and 99th Flying Training Squadron (T-1A Jayhawks) at Randolph AFB. Sheppard AFB (ENJJPT) conducts their own in-house program to supply instructors to both their T-6 and T-38C squadrons. ENJJPT instructors are from the United States and partner NATO nations. These “instructors of instructors” are as diverse in background as their instructor trainees, and have at least one previous tour teaching undergraduate pilot trainees.

The syllabus that new UPT instructors complete mirrors the program that UPT students complete. However, the emphasis is on effective instruction and timely intervention in situations where safety of flight is an issue. The PIT program is often challenging and usually takes 4 months and around 70-100 flying hours to complete. Each instructor trainee brings unique experiences to the table to teach students. Most will struggle at some point to re-learn an aircraft they had previously mastered as a student. This is a humbling experience for any qualified aviator, to say the least.

After completion of PIT, instructors will arrive at their bases and learn the local flight procedures. Once they complete the local familiarization flights, they will be a fully-trained instructor ready to face any situation a student pilot can throw at him (in theory).

Unfortunately, the PIT program isn’t able to simulate the multitudes of situations an instructor can face. If you ever talk to a UPT instructor over a few drinks, they will be more than happy to tell you why!

Happy July 4th!  ’Merica!!