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Fighter Sweep welcomes new Freelance Writer: J. Kirkbride - The Pilot Training Machine Part I

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Instructor: “Lieutenant Smith, you have the aircraft.”

Student: “Sir, I will maintain the aircraft, analyze the situation and take proper action.

Instructor: “Sit down Smith. Lieutenant Jones, you’re up.

Are you having trouble understanding why Lieutenant Smith was told to sit down? You’re not alone. Lieutenant Smith is probably asking himself the same question. You just read a script of an event called ‘Stand Up’ that is a daily occurrence for USAF student pilots.


UPT (UNDERGRADUATE PILOT TRAINING): AN OVERVIEW

The UPT program is broken down into three parts; academic, primary and advanced phases. During the academic phase, a student will undergo a day filled with academic classes and basic cockpit switchology simulator lessons. In the primary phase students will become proficient aviators in the T-6A Texan II. The advanced phase requires the student to become proficient in either the T-38C Talon (fighter/bomber track) or the T-1A Jayhawk (transport/tanker track). Each phase or program has their own challenges, but the goal of all phases is the same: produce a completely capable combat aviator.

A DAY IN THE LIFE…

The average day of a USAF UPT student is long and often times frustrating. It may seem like a hazing process to most people (including the student). It will often begin before 6 AM, and end 12 hours after the student shows up to work (not including the required at-home studying). Each day, a UPT student will complete several graded events. These events will be a combination of academic classes or examinations, simulator flights and flights in the aircraft.

A UPT student can expect a schedule similar to this:

Showtime: 0600

Breaking: T-45 Goshawk Crashes Near NAS Kingsville, TX

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Formal Brief: 0610

Standup: 0620

Brief /Flight/Debrief: 0730-1200

Simulator Brief/Flight/Debrief: 1300-1500

Classroom instruction: 1500-1730

Group feedback & lessons learned: 1730-1800

Briefings

Formal briefing is typically the first event of the morning and includes all of the weather, flight schedule and pertinent FAA NOTAM (Notices to Airmen) information for the day’s activities. The individual flight briefs allow for a one-on-one meeting between instructors and students prior to the flight to discuss the events that will happen during the sortie.

Stand Up

The ‘Stand Up’ event requires the student to talk his or her way through a presented aircraft emergency in front of his peers, and usually take places between the formal briefing and the individual flight briefs. Students will face both failure and success during ‘Stand Up’. It is often viewed as more stressful than any flight even a student must complete.

Lieutenant Smith made his mistake in stand up by failing to recite the required phrase of “Sir, I will maintain aircraft control, analyze the situation, take proper action and land as soon as conditions permit,” to his instructors. Even if that verbiage had been correct, he could have been told to “sit down” for failing to complete the checklist actions in the correct order or failing to take the emergency procedure to a logical conclusion. If he had talked his way through the litany of correct procedures correctly, he would have been rewarded with a simple “take a seat” command.

Lessons Learned

At the end of the day, students can expect to fess up to all of their mistakes during the day to classmates in a formal setting. It isn’t always easy, it teaches one of the most important things in aviation: you can’t live long enough to make every mistake, so learn from the mistakes of others!

Home at last…

After students are released, they can count on up to 2-3 hours of self-study at home to complete his/her preparation for the next day. This self-study session is often accompanied by a cold beverage or two of the student’s choice (I prefered an IPA, personally).

There’s no question that this environment is challenging and requires the utmost dedication to success. Next week, expect an overview of the training instructors receive to turn pedestrians into pilots.

-JK