U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY. Colo. –
Cadet 2nd Class Brianna Pauser was 350 feet in the air when she realized the gravity soaring instructor pilots here have on the lives and success of cadets.
The biology major here was on a glider flight in the fall of 2013 with her IP in Airmanship 251 when, just after takeoff, the tow rope snapped and it was up to the cadet in the back seat to decide what to do next.
"He immediately put emergency procedures into action and landed us safely on a grass field," she said. "He did everything he was supposed to do according to the soaring briefs and instruction he learned in the program. I remember thinking, 'wow, he actually saved my life.'"
Since then, Pauser attended AM-461 to become a soaring IP, and is one of 67 cadets who completed cadet IP upgrade this May. After 20 hours of intensive ground training, 81 training flights, and a formal ground and flight evaluation, she earned her "G-wings" and, along with her peers, became Air Education and Training Command's newest IPs.
"I think it's amazing how we take cadets who have never flown before, up in a TG-16A glider and teach them how to fly an aircraft," Pauser said. "I love the soaring program here. It's pretty unreal that as cadets, we have a great Airmanship opportunity right here, that we wouldn't get anywhere else."
Upgrading IPs enrolled in AM-461 are all sophomores, competitively selected based on their flight, academic, and military performance, as well as their interactions with cadet peers, and junior and senior IPs during their time on the flightline. This year the squadron interviewed 165 qualified candidates, from which it selected 78 upgraders. The squadron expects to finish the school year with at least 70 new cadet IPs, which takes into account attrition losses due to occasional lack of instructor aptitude, probations and unexpected medical restrictions. Following upgrade, cadet IPs can advance in the soaring program by joining the Sailplane Aerobatic and Racing Teams or by earning more instructor certifications.
One of the most unique aspects of this year's group of upgraders is its diversity.
"Whereas the demographics of the Air Force's rated community have historically lagged behind those of the Air Force at large, that trend is changing right here, right now, at the Academy's airfield with this newest generation of Air Force aviators," said Lt. Col. John Neptune, 94th Flying Training Squadron commander.
Of the 78 cadets currently enrolled in the upgrade program, 20.3 percent are women and 37.8 percent are minorities, which all but mirrors demographics for the Class of 2017.
"Everyone is welcome at the 94th Flying Training Squadron," Neptune said. "We want any cadet who has the slightest interest in Airmanship, and even those who don't, to enroll in AM-250, Introduction to Soaring. We'll give them four motivational glider flights that expose them to an airmanship environment to spark an interest in other Academy aviation programs, such as jump and powered flight."
Cadet IPs have many of the same professional aviation responsibilities as rated officers and are also full-time students having to meet academic, athletic and military requirements, said Capt. Jon Roe, 94 Flying Training Squadron's AM-461 program manager.
"They're coming here on their own free time to safely and effectively execute our mission at the 94th FTS, which is very unique," he said. "While here, cadets are responsible for $190,000 aircraft and the life of a student."
The upgraders and IPs demonstrate the leadership and commitment that truly exemplify the cadets and the Academy, according to Neptune.
"They have to truly embody the Air Force Core Values, otherwise it could mean someone's life," Roe said. "If they're not grading honestly and providing integrity on the grade sheet, it conveys a false message that the student is prepared to fly solo. If they're not providing service before themselves, they may be cheating their student out of a sortie or instruction if they're not excellent in what they are doing."
Every flight period, cadet IPs start off the day leading the cadet upgraders through a 15-20 minute "formal brief," similar to those found at undergraduate pilot training.
"The cadet Instructor Pilots cover pertinent information for the day and stress general knowledge and emergency procedures that will help guide them on the flight line," Neptune said. "The briefs are essential because they set expectations and safety guidelines for both routine operations and the unexpected."
Following the formal brief, cadet IPs pair up with their students for individual crew briefs, covering the same topics briefed in any operational flying unit in the Air Force, before heading to a glider, conducting pre-flight checks and hooking up to a tow plane.
"We're in charge of students' learning," Pauser added. "It's important for us to maintain our general knowledge because we have to know what the students need to know."
Cadets volunteer to be a part of the Academy's soaring program, spending much of their free time at the airfield, Roe said.
"They give up their Saturdays to complete the program," he said. "It's neat to see their ultraistic commitment. They're the ones who really make it work."