COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
No pilot starts out flying a C-130 or an F-22. Everybody starts somewhere.
The 37th Flying Training Squadron teaches Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training students the basics of flying here at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.
The 37th FTS utilizes the T-6 Texan II for flying training for brand new pilots. Before it was a training squadron, it was first established as the 37th Pursuit Squadron in January 1941, where it flew the P-38 Lightning I.
As the 37th Fighter Squadron, it saw combat during World War II in the Mediterranean and European Theaters, and was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation in 1944. It was inactivated in 1945.
The squadron was reactivated with Air Defense Command in the northeastern United States from 1946 to 1949. Originally equipped with propeller fighters, it became one of the first units equipped with the Republic F-84 Thunderjet.
From 1952 to 1960, the 37th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron was assigned the mission of defending the northeastern United States.
In 1972, Air Training Command, now Air Education Training Command, activated the 37th FTS, combining all the heritage from the previous incarnations of the 37th into what it is today.
“This is where the rubber meets the road,” said Lt. Col Jason Loe, 37th FTS Commander. “Here we take a pedestrian and turn them into a pilot, giving them the foundation of flying for the rest of their careers.”
Students learn the primary techniques of aviation in the 37th FTS before they can proceed in their training. This builds their foundation for flight in whatever weapon system they proceed to fly. They are taken through four basic categories of contact, full contact, instruments and formation.
“Students come out of Phase I with very basic academics and a small amount of simulator training,” said Capt. Travis Cord, 37th FTS T-6 Instructor Pilot and Thunderbolt Flight Commander. “When they come to us, they are exposed to 63 sorties in the aircraft, totaling 86 hours of actual flight.”
Many of their beginning flights are simply observing instructors, trying to grasp the basics of takeoff, landing and flying in a set pattern.
“We call this contact,” Cord said. “Getting from point A to point B and back again while learning to apply all their instruments.”
Using those instruments, students then learn to fly without using visual aids, useful for flying at night where there may be little to no visibility. During cross country flights, students fly into other bases and airports, learning how to interact with places with different procedures than Columbus.
“This builds their experience in interacting and navigating to different airfields and environments,” Cord said. “We take them through mission planning and how to get back home from these unfamiliar aircraft.”
Lastly, students deal with formation flight, the art of flying alongside another aircraft.
“We perform two-ship formations practicing taking off together; doing wingwork, meaning staying in proximity during a turn; and some aerobatics, meaning they stay following their lead aircraft through a series of maneuvers,” Cord said.
Each section culminates in a solo flight. These solos boost confidence, signaling they are ready to move on in their training.
“When they leave the T-6, the students have grasped the basics of flying,” Loe said. “As a weapon, they are a blunt sword. In Phase III they will be honed to a razor sharp edge, soon delivering Airpower for the United States.”