Columbus AFB’s 41st FTS shows training pilots is no small task
By Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb, 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 15, 2017
COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The 41st Flying Training Squadron’s mission is to train student pilots in basic flying skills academically and operationally with the T-6A Texan II aircraft.
Students begin Phase II of three phases of the year-long pilot training program in the 41st FTS.
Roughly half of all student pilots on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, are trained by 75 instructor pilots from the 41st FTS, under the careful leadership of Lt. Col. Derek Oakley, the squadron commander.
“The squadron commander’s job is mostly personnel, he is the strategic leadership of the squadron; whereas the director of operations is the tactical, day-to-day operations,” said Lt. Col. Damon Sevier, 41st FTS Assistant Director of Operations. “The ADOs are just extensions of them and their responsibilities because there’s just too much going on for one person to be able to cover.”
With leadership involved in ensuring the squadron operates as smooth as possible, IPs play a crucial role in training and producing pilots, flying almost 22,000 hours annually.
“There are six flights of student pilots with anywhere from four to eight assigned instructors, but they will also have attached and guest help,” Sevier said.
Each flight consists of about 15 student pilots and IPs fly with students a majority of their time during training. IPs brief the students pre- and post-flight, letting student pilots know flight patterns and expectations before flight, and critiquing them on their performance and areas of improvement after flight.
“The average IP will fly roughly two sorties a day, and a lot of the newer IPs will fly three a day. That’s one packed day for an instructor,” said Capt. Conor Murphy, a 41st FTS IP.
Every IP has a specific role in addition to helping fly aircraft on a day-to-day basis. The flight commander takes care of the scheduling and management while others assist grading or teaching students when they can.
“Everything in this squadron is geared toward student training, which starts off with them knowing nothing and we’re trying to take them from that to the end of T-6s,” Murphy said. “Everything we do is focused on funneling them to that end goal.”
From the eyes of some IPs, the student’s work ethic and determination is what makes the career more than just a job.
“Every student is super motivated, which is good for us because it makes our job easier, because they’re putting in the work,” Murphy said. “It’s cool because they always give you their 110 percent.”
Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training students are focused on their studies, simulator flights and actual flights in the T-6.
“We demand more out of a student from day one than a civilian ever gets,” said Sevier, who was once a civilian airline pilot before joining the Air Force.
However, those demands could not be met if not for Airmen in other shops and specialties that help propel student pilots through the SUPT program. One such element is the 14th Operational Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment. These Airmen are responsible for maintaining and cleaning respiration equipment and gear – all which is necessary for the pilot’s safety.
This is no small feat for AFE Airmen. As one of the Air Force’s busiest flying bases, the 41st FTS flies more than 17,200 sorties annually, according to the unit’s webpage, and a majority of those flights have two pilots.
Though it takes a great team to help create the greatest pilots in the world, it comes down to the students completing their training successfully.
The student pilots work long hours and dedicate hours of study time to pass through the 41st FTS, then going through Track Select, where they will complete Phase III with helicopters (UH-1N Huey) on Fort Rucker, Alabama; or stay on Columbus AFB with the fighter/bomber track (T-38 Talon), or the airlift/tanker track (T-1A Jayhawk).