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A Day In The Life…Courtney Schaer, Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training

courtney-blogAs a student in Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) no one day is ever like the next.  Sure, the variables remain the same: flights, simulators (sims), academics, stand-up and formal briefs; but there is always something new, something different and exciting to add to the mix.

Starting out there are three phases to UPT.  The first phase is purely academics and last about a month and a half.  During this time we are introduced to a majority of aspects of the T-6A Texan 2, from systems, to aerodynamics, to the basics in instrument and navigation.  From there we hit the flightline for phase two, which places us in flights in a squadron and involves all the flight training we do in the T-6. Phase two last about four months and concludes with a tract select, in which you track either T-1s preparing you to fly  heavy aircraft such as tankers or transports, T-38s which prepare you for the world of fighters, or helicopter.  T-1s, T-38s and helicopters are phase three and last the remaining 6 months of our pilot training experience.

Being in phase two, our days usually begin with a formal brief that covers everything from the current weather and runways, to a brief emergency procedure of the day. As the students, we run the majority of the morning brief, however our instructor pilots (IPs) oversee it and love to ask us questions, especially about typos on our PowerPoint and flub-ups in reading the METAR and TAF -information on weather.  During the first 15 days on the flightline, these formal briefs were the most dreaded part of our day and could last up to an hour due to the tedious process of memorizing checklist and procedures and having to recite them word for word.  Now that we’ve been on the flightline for a few months, these briefs are just as they’re meant to be… brief.

After formal brief, we break up and prepare individually for our flights and sims for the day.  Our simulators are instructed by government contracted retired Air Force pilots, whom fondly remind me of what it would have been like to be taught how to fly  by my grandfather.  One thing is for sure: when you’re flying with a sim IP, you are bound to hear some great stories that mainly start with the phrases “So there I was…” or “Back in my day…”  In total we log about 38 hours in the simulator while flying the T-6.  Today I completed my formation simulator and have just my low-level simulator left before I am sim complete for the T-6!

Our actual flights in the T-6 are a whole other beast to tackle.  Flights usually last 1.3 to 1.5 hours and take many more hours than that to properly prepare for them.  We usually meet up to brief with our flight IPs an hour prior to takeoff.  In our brief, we go over the profile that we are flying and any special syllabus items that need to be covered as well as anything that may affect the flight for that day, such as winds, weather, NOTAMs (notice to airmen), etc. You name it, we brief it. A half hour prior to our takeoff time we move to the stepdesk where we are assigned a tail number for the flight and briefed on any important happenings going on in the squadron or in the air that may affect us.  Then we continue on to life support where we put on our G-suit, harness and test our helmets before we step to our jet.  When we get to our assigned plane, we go over the books and do a preflight inspection of the plane, if everything is good to go, we both strap-in and start running the before take-off checklists. For a beginning student, these checklist could take up to a half hour to run from start to take-off, however the more familiar you become with the jet, the faster things go and with the weather starting to really warm-up, its best to keep your IP happy with fast checklist to get the plane’s AC up and running.

The flights themselves are always challenging and if you adequately prepared, they can be a lot of fun too!  My most memorable flights have been my initial solo in the T-6, and my two area solos, where I got to take the plane out by myself and preform aerobatics until I couldn’t see straight. It was amazing! Going cross-country was also a great confidence builder and was the point where instruments really clicked for most of my class. The last block of rides in phase two are formation rides, which act like a capstone to the program.  My formation dollar ride (first ride) is tomorrow and I’m so excited.  I haven’t decided if I want to go fighters or heavies yet and I hear that formation is usually the deciding factor for most people.

With the end of phase two drawing near, our UPT class also faces a lot of changes, besides the obvious of switching to a new aircraft.  Our UPT base is joint and we have Internationals, Navy and Marine officers in our class.  Our Navy and Marine officers only stay up through the end of phase two and then do the remainder of their training with their own service.  Our whole class is very close and it has been a great experience sharing these exciting and challenging times with our water loving brothers and sisters. However, I know in the end of the day, we’ll all be up flying in the same skies and will sure to cross paths again.  So far UPT has been a ton of work; there have been good days and not so great of days, but I feel truly blessed to be given the opportunity to both serve my country while following my dream.

A Day in The Life…Julie Falsken, Senior at ERAU

I am a senior at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, AZ. I have a double major in Aviation Business Administration and Aeronautics with minors in Aviation Safety and Air Traffic Control. My classes during senior semester are Airport Administration and Finance, Strategic Management, Management of Production and Operations, Air Traffic Control IV, and Air Traffic Control V.

My Airport Administration and Finance class meets once a week, but I put a lot of time in, outside of class, for team meetings on a consulting project a group of us are doing for Seattle Tacoma International Airport, to help them increase their general aviation revenues. In Strategic Management, again a lot of extra time is put in on a group consulting project for a local Prescott business. My Air Traffic Control classes are both in the Air Traffic Control Lab, now that I am in the upper level classes. I am Student Government (SGA) Treasurer and a member of the ERAU Women’s Soccer team. I also occasionally work in our admissions office as a student assistant.

My days are all a little different depending on my class schedule, but the following schedule would be a typical Wednesday. I go to Salvation Army at 7:00 a.m. to volunteer in the soup kitchen with other SGA members, then I have class from 9:10-10:10 a.m. Afterwards I will head to SGA to start my office hours from 10:30-12:30 p.m. I will then either go over to the Admissions Office to work for an hour, go to the library to do some homework or go grab a bite to eat before my afternoon class. From 3:00-4:00 p.m., I generally have a team meeting for one of my consulting projects.

I then head up to the locker room to get ready for soccer practice. After practice, I run home to make some dinner and then I head back to school. Now that I have finished my final season of intercollegiate athletics I am allowed to play on intramural teams. While an active intercollegiate athlete, intramurals are not allowed, due to the possibility of injury. After my game I will either head to the library to work on a group project or head home to work on homework for about two hours and then I am off to bed, to rest up for another day.

Julie Falsken was a 2007 Foundation scholarship recipient. Julie recently graduated from ERAU and accepted a position with the Boeing Corporation.

A Day in the Life… Josh Mech, CFII for Southern Illinois University

As a flight instructor for Southern Illinois University (SIU), my life revolves around flying. My roommates are all pilots, I have a dog named Boeing, and I’m out at the airport 6-8 hours a day. I love my job and my lifestyle and I know that I made the right choice when I chose aviation as my career.

My day begins at the airport at 8:00 a.m. with a primary flight student working towards his private pilot certification. SIU breaks up the private pilot course into 3 checkrides and my student is a few flights away from going on his navigation check, the 2nd of the 3 checkrides. I’m thinking that the plan for today is to put him under the foggles, (a view limiting device to simulate flying in clouds and poor visibility) get him lost and see if he can figure out his way back to the Carbondale airport. The beginning of the flight goes well and I get him disoriented before I allow him to take off the foggles and look outside. At this point we are somewhere over Kentucky and he has absolutely no idea where we are. The first thing he does is plugs in “Carbondale” into the GPS and programs it to take him directly back to the airport. Alas, I, being the cruel flight instructor I am, promptly failed his GPS. My student then resorts to his lost procedures and begins to triangulate his position using VORs. Then, to make matters interesting I slowly pull his power out to simulate an impending engine failure. After catching my tantalizing hints my student finally figures out what I want him to do. Divert to the nearest airport. After looking at his map and seeing some key features he finally points his nose in the direction of the Mississippi County airport in Missouri and has an uneventful landing there with no engine power on a very short runway.

Looking at my watch while on the ground in Missouri I realized that I only had an hour and 15 minutes until my next class! I yelped and told my student to go full power back to Carbondale. The flight back was uneventful, with my student finding checkpoints and navigating by using his map which I was pleased to see. . . however, I may have gotten a few extra gray hairs with his landing that was less than ideal. After completing the lesson, I dashed off to class on campus which is a five mile drive from the airport. I made my geography class with a few minutes to spare. I may have been in class physically but my mind was still going over the flight and what I could do to improve my student’s piloting skills.

After geography I went over to the library to study for my next class – meteorology. Meteorology is actually my easiest class since many of the weather concepts covered I already knew from my commercial training and my flight instructor training. The sad thing is that two of my students are actually in that same class that I am, which was awkward at first until they both realized that I already knew the material and that the only reason I was in the class was that it was required and I did most of my flight work before doing my general education classes on campus.

After meteorology, I zipped back out to the airport to prepare for my 3:00p.m. commercial student. For him, it’s all about perfecting his maneuvers and working on the little things. He is a good pilot but sometimes distractions get to him and my goal for this flight was to cut back on the distractions and to make sure he remembers to do the checklist! On this particular flight the main issue was his coordination with the flight controls. Coordination is an essential skill that sometimes gets overlooked in training. Bad coordination such as skidding or slipping through the air can make passengers feel nauseous. In small airplanes, there is an instrument called an inclinometer which has a ball located in a small tube. When the ball is centered it indicates coordinated flight and happy flight instructors. On this particular day the ball looked like it was playing tennis jumping back and forth between the far right and left. I didn’t say anything hoping that he would catch it and fix it. When he didn’t I randomly started tapping on the rudder. (The flight control surface used to fix coordination) This went on for 5 minutes until my student couldn’t stand it any more and asked why in the world I was tapping on the rudder. All I had to do was point to his ball and he instantly knew his coordination was off. Needless to say, we didn’t have any more problems with coordination on that flight.

After completing with my 3:00 p.m. student I went out to start preflighting a Cessna 152 for flight team landings practice beginning at 5:00 pm. I am a member of the SIU precision flight team and one event that we practice daily is power on and power off precision landings. On the runway, there are lines painted across the width of the runway and the objective is to land as close as possible to the 0 line. The target box has a line indicating 100 feet short and 200 feet long. On this particular day, my power-on landings were pretty shaky, yet I still managed to get my plane inside the target box with only a few penalties. However, my power-off landings, where you pull the engine power to idle 1000 feet above the target line and glide to a landing were some of my best. I managed to land my plane 5 feet short, 10 feet long and 15 feet long in 3 tries with no penalties.

After landings, I went out to grab a quick bite to eat with the team and then returned to the airport for SCAN practice which began at 7:30 p.m. SCAN, which stands for simulated comprehensive area navigation is another flight team event that I participate in. For SCAN, competitors take a timed test on regulations, cross country planning, and aviation performance calculations. Tonight’s agenda was to study my regulations and go over a previous practice test I had taken the night before with my teammates as well as take a new practice SCAN test. By the time SCAN practice was done, it was 11:00 p.m. and time to go home and start my homework for my on-campus classes. I had “Diversity in American Sport” presentation the following day to prepare for, as well as an aviation safety paper to write. It was 1:00 a.m. by the time I was done and able to go to bed only to wake up at 6:00 a.m. the following morning and do it all over again, with different students, different classes but the same packed schedule.

Josh Mech was a 2009 Foundation scholarship recipient. He is a student at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, where he also works as a certified flight instructor. Josh recently passed my multi engine commercial flight checkride and will soon start applying to commercial airlines.

Airport Security

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening program is something that although in some ways improved over the past decade, has always seemed to lack common sense in others. One of the obvious ones is the screening of commercial airline pilots. Using the same screening for a uniformed commercial airline pilot with proper identification, as is used with any other passenger, seems absurd. This same pilot will soon be in control of an aircraft, responsible for the safety of hundreds of lives. The pilots have access to a crash axe while on the plane and may also be part of the armed pilot program, allowing him or her to have a firearm in the cockpit.

A recent issue of Air Line Pilot magazine talked about the benefits of the Known Crewmember (KCM) pilot screening process, currently being tested in seven major sites. This program which debuted in August at Chicago O’Hare has helped expedite thousands of pilots through security. The KCM enables TSA security officers to check databases that verify a pilot’s identity and employment status. In a recent USA Today article, TSA Administrator John Pistole says the agency’s strategy is to increasingly focus the heaviest screening on the riskiest travelers.  The TSA needs to have a screening program that is not only consistent from airport to airport, but is also able to identify individuals who are not a threat, allowing them to focus on individuals who are. Which makes sense.

Faster Security Check-in At Airports?

Are you willing to undergo a background security check to speed up going through airport security? If you are a US citizen you may get the opportunity! An article in an October issue of “AIRWISE” outlined a new initiative being developed by the Transportation Security Administration. Travelers who sign up for the “Precheck” program and qualify can avoid the hassle of removing hats and shoes when they go through security screening devices. In addition, your laptop and see-through liquid bag can remain in your suitcase during screening. You can actually avoid re-packing your suitcase after going through security! Imagine that!
Excited? Ready to sign up? Get “prechecked” before holiday travel? Not so fast! The program is currently being tested in Miami, Dallas, Detroit and Atlanta. So if you live in those cities check it out! If not, join the rest of us. Currently there are less than 10,000 travelers in the program. If the program is successful, it will be expanded to other cities.
The goal of the program is to focus TSA resources on high-risk individuals while speeding up the process for low risk passengers. The criteria include travel history and date of birth, however for security purposes, other criteria were not revealed.
Travel industry representatives voiced their approval of the efforts made by TSA to get away from the cookie cutter approach to security check-in. For frequent fliers this may be the answer to their prayer. If we can maintain a high level of safety and simultaneously move quickly through a security check point, sign me up!!

Cheryl Homer Wilson
Executive Director