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NEWS | Jan. 12, 2021

AFSOC's historic first Pilot Training Next team takes flight

By Tech. Sgt. Michael Charles 492nd Special Operations Wing

When 1st Lts. Nicholas Brandt and Ricardo Orocho, pilots assigned to the 524th Special Operations Squadron, prepared for their training flight at Duke Field, Florida, they were unaware of the significance of the seemingly routine mission.

“While both Lt. Orocho and I knew we were flying together, I don’t think either one of us was readily aware of the historical significance of this flight,” said Brandt, who graduated from the program in August of 2018.

For the first time in Air Force Special Operations Command history, two new graduates from the Air Education and Training Command’s Pilot Training Next, or PTN, training at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph served as aircraft commander and co-pilot on a mission sortie. 

“When we scheduled them to fly together, we weren’t looking at the historical nature of the flight,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Jensen, 524th SOS commander. “Their proficiency in accomplishing the objectives placed before them and their dedication to the mission is why we trust them at such an early point in their careers.”

PTN is part of AETC’s initiative to “reimagine” how the Air Force prepares its next generation of pilots. Unlike traditional pilot training, which is accomplished in phases and relies on the availability of aircraft, PTN improves the program by utilizing emerging technology to innovate training and provides a better, more adaptive and accessible learning environment. Additionally, by augmenting current practices with new technology, PTN pilots are trained and prepared for their follow-on formal training units at a fraction of the current time and cost.

“I think the misnomer about Pilot Training Next is that it was meant to replace undergraduate pilot training when really it was meant to improve it,” said Orocho, who graduated from the program in August of 2019. “It was meant to innovate where innovation was needed. I do think it prepares aircrew to accomplish the mission.”

The program, which includes virtual reality, artificial intelligence and data analytics, can be tailored to the training environment and individual students in ways that training previously did not incorporate. It also includes a more advanced training aircraft and focuses heavily on developing peer-level conflict and multi-domain competencies.

This flight was made possible due to Brandt being upgraded early to aircraft commander. He credits his success as an Air Commando to the improved curriculum and innovative approach that was able to prepare him for the AFSOC mission.

“The program helped build the progressive mindset that AFSOC focuses on to accomplish our global mission,” Brandt said. “I think AFSOC and the PTN community very much subscribe to this same mindset – constantly finding new systems to implement and technologies to use to stay efficient, effective and relevant moving into the future.”