19th Air Force experts transform flying training syllabi

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JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — It started with a homework assignment from the commander in June 2017.

Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, 19th Air Force commander, asked his team to deliver a redesigned Undergraduate Pilot Training syllabi “that embraced common sense and held ideas from the leaders and instructor corps to produce more pilots, higher quality pilots with agility and speed.” The homework assignment was to “transform the current syllabi to match the more competitive world in the future,” according to Doherty.

Col. Lee Gentile, 71st Flying Training Wing vice wing commander and the flight lead for the 19th Air Force UPT syllabi redesign project, gathered a group of 80 instructor pilots from across Air Education and Training Commands’s UPT bases for a two-day Capstone event March 7-8, 2018 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, to finalize 9 months of work.

The team included active duty and Reserve instructor pilots, and civilian simulator instructors from various flight training bases and units to revise and troubleshoot three phases of undergraduate flight training syllabi that haven’t been changed in more than two decades.

In small, phase-focused break away groups, the conference attendees brainstormed ways to combat the Air Force’s shortage of pilots, with efforts focused on raising the number of pilot accessions into the flying community. The No. 1 priority for the team was to meet the attributes and skills required across the Air Force’s flying communities.

“In addition to increasing the quality of our pilots with changes to the syllabi, we can increase the quantity of pilots,” said Gentile. “It was our job to look at the current syllabi and identify the training that was ‘nice to know, but not required’ and remove it, allowing for a larger focus on what tools our skilled aviators need to have as they deploy and support combatant commanders.”

“With the revised structure, squadron commanders will have the ability to add, subtract and repurpose training to meet the needs of individual students,” said Gentile. “The squadron commanders will have an average track for most students, but will not be constrained by the syllabi. Matching weapons systems to pilots earlier will also eliminate unnecessary generalized training and get pilots to their first formal training unit faster in an effort to revitalize squadrons and increase their readiness. We will also look at combining sorties, which allows students to receive the same amount of training over a condensed time period, making the pipeline more efficient.”

With the changes in the undergraduate flight training syllabi, pilot students can expect to receive specific training sooner based on which weapons system the pilot will operate. The redesigned training syllabi also eliminates redundancies.

“The team’s innovative ideas were what we’ve needed for a long time and are going to be a game changer for pilot production in the future,” said Doherty. “The status quo is not an option, we’ve got to change, we’ve got to produce better pilots faster, who are more competitive sooner in their combat squadrons. We’ve got to change the game quickly to get after the pilot crisis, posturing our squadrons for greater lethality and readiness to deter our adversaries in the near future.”

The shift away from the previously established fixed schedule syllabi provides squadron commanders with the autonomy Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein urged senior leaders to provide commanders.

“I appreciate the time, thought and work that went into these changes,” said Brig. Gen. Jim Sears, AETC Intelligence, Operations and Nuclear Integration director, during the outbrief for the two-day conference. “You showed us that you have the ability to think openly and recognize past flaws. There are paradigms and thoughts that go into how the Air Force’s senior pilots went through undergraduate flight training, and with your diversity of thought we can get past the old ways for doing training. There is nothing like a crisis to make people think differently, and I appreciate you taking advantage of the crisis.”

The crisis Sears referenced was AETC’s T-6 operational pause Feb. 1 – 27, which followed unexplained physiological events experienced by AETC pilots at several bases during the last two weeks of January.

The syllabi changes are one of several ways AETC officials plan to combat the Air Force-wide pilot shortage that was negatively impacted by the operational pause. During the pause, 19th Air Force officials conducted three different inspections on 444 T-6 Texan II aircraft in order to assess, repair, and replace more than 250 parts of the aircrew breathing system from the third bleed air stage to the pilot’s mask.

Following those inspections, in addition to the implementation of new procedures and maintenance actions, pilots were educated on the intricacies of the various forms of hypoxia, the details of the T-6 aircrew breathing system, possible aircrew breathing system malfunctions, and new practices for responding to any physiological incident.

In making the proposed syllabi changes, the AETC team is driving toward the capability to meet future pilot production requirements for the Air Force.

“Quality, speed, and increased numbers were the driving forces of this effort,” Doherty said. “The time for talking about the pilot crisis is over—along with the T-6 on-board oxygen generation system operational pause and interrupting pipeline production. We’re moving out with action and implementing immediately, because that is what is strategically required at this time. We plan to apply these same concepts across the enterprise, to include combat systems officer and air battle manager training pipelines.”

All of these changes were immediately made in various student classes in the UPT pipelines, following the event. To not interfere with student pilots in various stages of training, changes are being made incrementally. Gentile and his team expect fully revised syllabi to be in place for class 19-09, which begins in April.