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AETC leaders, instructors team up to change flying training curriculum

By Marilyn C. Holliday | Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs | July 30, 2018

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — Instructor pilots from across Air Education and Training Command Undergraduate Pilot Training bases came together March 7-8, after brainstorming for 8 months on ways to improve the quality of flying training.

The final touches to the new syllabi were adjudicated and are now in the initial stages of execution. AETC officials are starting to see the early results of the first few classes implementing the BETA redesign that allows squadron commanders the ability to refine training to better meet the needs of individual students.

“The opening discussion and question to the instructor corps was how can we make better pilots in the future,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, 19th Air Force commander at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. “The team of active duty and Air Force Reserve instructor pilots and civilian simulator instructors, worked the homework assignment for eight months and culminated with a syllabi conference to brief the results and recommendations.”  

The team’s first change involved downloading generic aviation fundamentals at an earlier point in Introduction to Flying Training and eliminating other redundant academics and training. At the same time, the IPs front-loaded all simulators into a simulator instrument phase with a simulator checkride before hitting the flightline. The checkride focuses on basic aircraft control and local-area instrument procedures in preparation for what pilots will see in the aircraft.

“The conference was truly ground breaking,” said Capt. Eric Sullivan, 47th Operations Group standards and evaluation T-1 branch chief at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. “We were empowered to make changes. At Laughlin we face many challenges that are unique to our location.  Weather places an even greater strain on our timeline here. It was crucial for us to ensure these types of challenges were mitigated when we were all working on a combined solution.  Opening up the syllabus with more options on each flight helps us to streamline the timeline for all three airframes.”

The more robust simulator training enabled the instructors to combine the previous aircraft contact and instrument phases into a single phase of training called transition. 

“This allows students to fly either contact or instrument maneuvers, depending on the weather, getting rid of any weather related bottlenecks,” said Lt. Col. Tracy A. Schmidt, 71st Operations Group standardization and evaluations chief at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma.  “This alone will accelerate training timelines and negate the need to fly additional sorties to regain flying proficiencies after a break in training. The proposed syllabi design also puts students in the cockpit with significantly more proficiency than they had in the past, which allows them to multi-task and prepare for and execute a more robust complement of mission sets much earlier in the flight training, as well as helps the instructor corps to identify talent and specific skillsets sooner. This allows the students to select their follow-on training track earlier in the program, and allows the Air force to produce better focused skillsets and aviators.”

In the past, students went back and forth from the simulators to the flightline. The new syllabus moved 11 simulators that had been previously spread out over a three- to four-month timeframe, into a single block of training prior to the first flight in the aircraft.

“The new syllabus incorporates several best practices from advanced military flight training and civilian flight training,” said Col. Lee Gentile, 71st Flying Training Wing deputy commander at Vance Air Force Base and director for the syllabus team. “By front-loading simulator training, the instructors have noted that students are more proficient with basic aircraft maneuvers and basic procedures. As a comparison, students on their first flight in the new syllabus are performing at a proficiency level that was normally achieved in the sixth or seventh sortie in the old syllabus. This increased student proficiency has allowed instructors to focus on more advanced maneuvers and concepts sooner, and improved the safety of the early block of flight training.”

“When students move to the flight line, instructor pilots can tackle contact and instrument training with more flexibility and less time delay,” he said. “Meaning, if the weather conditions are not conducive for contact, they can train on instrument and vice versa. Before, instructors and students waited for better weather if in the contact phase.  Keeping a student out of an aircraft for an extended period of time is the worst thing you can do to a fledgling aviator.”

Currently, syllabus changes are expected to decrease the time required to train from 54 to 49 weeks, once the redesign has been fully implemented.

“We are still in the early phase of executing the syllabus redesign, but initial performance from students indicates increased pilot performance,” Doherty said.  “I realize that we began this homework assignment to improve the way we train more than 10 months ago and I’m proud to say that our instructor pilots came up with the changes and are excited to see the results of their ideas. Also critical to the new curriculum is the new authorities given to squadron commanders, ridding the syllabi of the normal bureaucratic, stifling processes which eat up time.”

One of the tenets of the new curriculum is that students will be able to proficiency advance, based on performance. This means that individual students may be able to complete the course faster or slower than the planned norm. The formal course length will not change, but the length of time a given student spends in the course could change.

“Some student pilots will progress faster than others depending on how fast they learn,” Gentile said.  “That’s the great part about the changes.  We’ll always be looking for efficiencies, but the bottom line is that our standards won’t change as we change to meet the future needs of the Air Force and continue to produce the world’s best pilots.”

Another change to curriculum comes with the timing for the announcement of the student’s future assignment to a specific airframe, which is referred to as a student’s track. The track assignment is expected to be made a few weeks earlier.  In general terms, this means students track for a fighter/bomber path (T-38) or mobility path (T-1) sooner and prior to the Phase 3 portion of undergraduate pilot training. Students on the T-38 track receive the same training as their counterparts in the old syllabus, plus additional advanced formation, advanced aerobatic, and two-ship off-station and low level formation training.

“For a T-1 student, he or she will get exposure to traditional formation maneuvering, but the emphasis will be more on instruments and advanced navigation, including two-ship off-station & low-level formation flying, since that’s what’s necessary when flying the T-1,” Schmidt said. “Tracking sooner increases the efficiency of training by providing an exposure to all basic skillsets to ensure students track appropriately to their strengths and desires, but also reduces the focus on unnecessary skillsets and allows students to refine the skillsets that are transferrable to their follow-on training and their future operational aircraft.”     

The flying training program dropped from 53 weeks to about 49 weeks in the early 70s, with the consolidation of the flight screening program at Hondo, Texas, and it stayed generally at that length until changes were made to the training calendar in preparation for the transition to the Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training program. That program changed the entry cycle and phase lengths to be ready for the SUPT construct and syllabi to give us a 52-week program. 

As instructors implemented the transition from T-37 to T-6A there was an increase in time for the preflight phase, taking the training to about 53 weeks, in order to accommodate the increased ground training requirements. These additions happened again in 2000, taking training to 53.7 weeks.  As part of the revision to the syllabi in 2008 the preflight phase once again was increased, bringing the total to the 54.7 weeks in length.

At that time, the flying phases for training in the T-6A, T-38 and T-1A phases did not change. All of the changes then, were in the preflight phase to accommodate increased training requirements prior to the start of flying training.