Senior Airman Justin Rodriguez, 14th Civil Engineer Squadron quick-dons firefighting gear during a crash rescue drill on July 17. 14th CES firefighters are prepared 24 hours a day, seven day a week crash rescue ops plus five days a week Gunshy Auxillary Airfield. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chase Hedrick)
Air traffic controllers and other flight operations personnel direct traffic at the Columbus Air Force Base Air Traffic Control Tower on July 17. Night flying operations require the support of many Airmen in the 14th Civil Engineer Squadron and 14th Operations Support Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chase Hedrick)
by Senior Airman Chase Hedrick
14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
7/20/2012 - COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Every three weeks at Columbus Air Force Base as the sun goes down aircraft go up.
Airmen of the 14th Flying Training Wing know this as "night flying week" when flying operations are extended well towards the midnight hour to teach Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training students how to fly at night.
"The students will only get an introduction to the night flying environment during their time here at pilot training, but the basics they will learn will follow them throughout their career in whatever aircraft they eventually fly," said Maj. John Urso, 37th Flying Training Squadron Chief of Scheduling.
SUPT students must have a minimum of seven hours night flying in the T-6A Texan II according to the student syllabus said Urso. Within those seven hours students must take off, land and handle the spatial disorientation that comes with flying in the dark.
"The importance of night flying cannot be underestimated," said Urso. "Flying at night is completely different and more dangerous than during the day for the obvious reasons that it is dark and you do not have the outside references that you have with daylight. "
Outside references provide aviators with immediate recognition of their surroundings, most importantly which way is up. Air Force Manual 11-217 gives other examples of visual illusions that can come with flying at night: Blending of earth and sky can cause confusion of ground lights with stars, visual auto-kinesis makes objects appear moving when stared at and black hole conditions can cause poorly lit ground to appear farther away than it is. These illusions can often be overcome with navigational instruments and training leaving an aviator with the many advantages that come with not being seen at night.
"Flying at night is even a bigger part of the student's future. The fact is we use night as a USAF advantage in warfare," said Lt. Col. Brad Hall, 48th Flying Training Squadron commander. "Specifically in Air Mobility Command we do huge amounts of night flying whether for tactical advantage or because air traffic is lighter at night."
Making the mission happen
To teach students the skill of flying at night more than just the flying training squadrons must adjust their schedule. Many members of the 14th Civil Engineer Squadron, 14th Operations Support Squadron and contracted maintenance change shifts to support the additional flying hours.
Some Airmen have requirements for crew rest to keep them alert and awake, barring any duty 12 hours before their last flight or shift. This can make fitting in additional requirements difficult, and change the meaning of "Close of Business."
"The big thing is we can't show up in official duty," said Capt. Govea. "It's big for the students too because between that they're trying to fit in academics and other flights during the day."
Capt. Govea also said that because night flying is only held four out of the five days throughout week, weather can hold up a night week, crunching training sorties into a shorter length of time or pushing back student training up to three weeks.