COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The Air Force operates the largest number of airlift, bomber and tanker aircraft in America.
This feat would not be possible without the efforts of the 48th Flying Training Squadron Alley Cats.
The 48th is one of the oldest squadrons in the Air Force and was created in 1917 in World War I.
It was equipped with the P-38 Lightning in 1941 and assigned to Hamilton Field, California, where it deployed to the European Theater of Operations in to fly escort missions of B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers as part of VIII Fighter Command.
The Alley Cats participated in the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy and the subsequent drive of the United States Fifth Army up the Italian peninsula. It was engaged primarily in tactical operations, supporting ground forces and attacking enemy targets of opportunity such as railroads, road convoys, bridges, strafing enemy airfields and other targets. They continued offensive operations until the German capitulation in May 1945. The unit was demobilized during the summer and fall 1945 in Italy and inactivated.
The 48th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was activated in 1946 to the new Air Defense Command to perform air defense of the eastern United States with P-47 Thunderbolts. In 1947, a transition into P-84B Thunderjets was completed. These were flown until the unit was temporarily inactivated in 1949.
It reactivated in 1952 at Grenier Air Force Base, New Hampshire, with F-47 Thunderbolts, replacing the New Hampshire ANG's 133d FIS. A relocation to Langley AFB was completed in early 1953 along with a transition into F-84Gs and then the F-94C Starfire. In 1957, the squadron completed a transition into F-102A Delta Daggers followed by another in the fall of 1960 to F-106 Delta Darts.
The 48th FIS flew F-15A Eagles from 1982 to 1991, where many of the F-15 were transferred to the Missouri and Hawaii Air National Guard units. The 48th continued training and operational exercises until inactivation in 1991. In 1996, it became part of Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.
“Our mission is to train the world’s best pilots,” said Lt. Col. Charles Gilliam, 48th FTS Commander. “Our single goal is to get wings on the chests of our new pilots so they can go out from here to do the Air Force mission.”
The 48th FTS trains Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training students in Phase III of training.
“When students track into the T-1, they learn all the systems of their new aircraft, the basics of getting that aircraft from point A to point B,” Gilliam said. “This is their transition phase from the T-6.”
Pilots learn to fly the T-1A Jayhawk, the military version of a multi-place Beech Jet 400 business jet. Instruction centers on crew coordination and management, instrument training, cross-country flying and simulated refueling and airdrop missions.
“After their transition phase, we teach them navigation,” Gilliam said. “That’s where we stretch out their legs and take them out further away from the base. After that is mobility fundamentals. It prepares students to operate tactical airlift systems, strat air, as well as tankers.”
Instructor pilots of the 48th FTS come from nearly every airlift, bomber and tanker aircraft in the Air Force inventory.
“We have a diverse group of instructors ranging from super experienced, to FAIPs right out of pilot training, with a goal of training the next generation of Air Force pilots,” said Capt. Blake Liddle, 48th FTS IP and scheduling officer.
Training takes about 26 weeks and includes 185 hours of ground training, 53.6 hours in the flight simulator and 76.4 hours in the T-1.
“What I love most about the squadron is the people,” Gilliam said. “I think we have the absolute best squadron in the Air Force. We have a group of people here who don’t care about rewards, recognition or accolades who are selfless servants who go out there and accomplish our mission.”
The 48th FTS trains one-third of the Air Force pilots that will go on to fly aircraft such as the C-5, C-17, C-130, KC-135, B-1, B-2 and B-52.
“I liken our guys to offensive linemen,” Gilliam said. “You never see their name in a paper or see them score a touchdown, but if they weren’t there, the team would not be successful. That’s what we have here in the 48th -- a team of linemen that make our Air Force better.”
The IPs work hard to instill the knowledge, skill, ingenuity, leadership and confidence needed to fulfill Columbus AFB’s mission of Producing Pilots.
“This is a very tight-knit group,” Liddle said. “We are all focused on these students. IPs put their blood, sweat and tears into the students. There is so much dedication to what we do here and that’s what makes this squadron so special.”