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The 49th FTS and its rich culture truly creates aviators, warriors

Eric Griggs, a Vertex T-38C Talon serviceman, aids 1st Lt. Tyler Hansen, 49th Fighter Training Squadron student pilot, and Capt. Cole Stegeman, 49th FTS upgrading instructor pilot, prepare to fly a training sortie Oct. 30, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Pilots and servicemen dedicate a great deal of time and effort to ensure the aircraft is fully prepared for flight and soundly running. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Hannah Bean)

Eric Griggs, a Vertex T-38C Talon serviceman, aids 1st Lt. Tyler Hansen, 49th Fighter Training Squadron student pilot, and Capt. Cole Stegeman, 49th FTS upgrading instructor pilot, prepare to fly a training sortie Oct. 30, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Pilots and servicemen dedicate a great deal of time and effort to ensure the aircraft is fully prepared for flight and soundly running. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Hannah Bean)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Columbus Air Force Base is well known for its contribution to the Air Force by creating pilots.

Hidden in the big picture mission of Undergraduate Pilot Training exists a squadron of elite talent providing over one third of the future fighter wingmen and weapon systems operators annually to the Air Force. This squadron is known as the 49th Fighter Training Squadron.

It has a rich history dating back to 1941 as the 49th Pursuit Squadron during the military expansion prior to WWII.

Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor the 49th began to operate on the Pacific coast. In 1942 the squadron was renamed the 49th Fighter Squadron and eventually deployed to North Africa.

From this time period there is only one remaining living member of the squadron. After the squadron was inactivated in 1945.

The 49th was activated and deactivated throughout the 40’s, 50’s and eventually stood strong through the 1980’s as an air defense squadron at Hanscom Field and Griffiss Air Force Base flying the mighty F-106 Delta Dart. In 1987 the squadron was again inactivated.

In 1990 the 49th Flying Training Squadron was activated at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. In 2003 the name was changed to better reflect the mission of the 49th Fighter Training Squadron. The squadron moved to Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, for a short time and finally returned to Columbus AFB where it has remained for most of the last decade.

The mission of the squadron is to teach Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF) to newly graduated Undergraduate Pilot Training pilots that earned a fighter type aircraft.

IFF transforms a select few young fledgling students that dream to be fighter pilots the discipline, attitude and culture of what it takes to be at the tip of the spear of combat aviation. In order to accomplish this task, IFF is comprised of approximately nine weeks of training including academics, simulators and flying.

The syllabus is designed with five tracks specifically tailored to the specialties of the fighters that will be flown upon graduation. The flying training includes a formation phase comprising of four sorties; an offensive and defensive basic fighter maneuver phase comprising of eight sorties; and finally, depending on the track, basic surface attack, high aspect and surface attack tactics flights.

However, IFF is much more than academics, simulators and flying training. The newly graduated Undergraduate Pilot Training students are now considered wingmen.

They no longer wear class patches, but bear on their right shoulder the history and culture of those that have gone before them in the 49th Fighter Training Squadron. This requires training in attitude. This type of attitude is not one that is represented with words from ones mouth, but the kind that lives in the heart of a professional that bears arms. It is a mindset, a self-confidence and respect to fly aircraft that often exceed the limits of the human body. Accomplishing the mission in very dynamic and complex environments while often taking fire and putting themselves in harm’s way to successfully execute the mission.

The 49th FTS accomplishes the mission utilizing the mighty AT-38C Talon. This aircraft is often criticized for being old and outdated, but it plays a vital role in IFF training. The basic concept of what students learn in IFF is how to turn an aircraft into a weapon.

The AT-38C is well suited at this task. The aircraft itself is difficult to fly and this aerodynamic fact makes the airplane well suited for the IFF mission.

The perceived weakness of the AT-38C forces young aviators to sharpen their cross check and piloting skills to their physical and mental limits.

When they graduate IFF they are far more detail oriented aviators with more discipline and the necessary task management skills to succeed at their fighter basic courses.

Finally, IFF teaches culture and history that may soon be forgotten. There is many traditions, honored ceremonies and celebrations that are all tied to our fly, fight and win culture.

Many of the new generation of aviators may never meet or know the men and women that have gone before us, but the graduates of the 49th FTS will at least understand the importance of what now is history.