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Student 'flies' last T-37 simulator mission

Second Lt. Evan Negron, a T-37 Tweet student pilot in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, "flies" the last simulation by a student pilot in the Air Force April 23. The T-6A Texan II will replace the Tweet this summer when the more than 50-year-old introductory trainer retires. Also pictured (blue flight suit) is Wolfgang Ruhl, a simulator instructor at Sheppard. Mr. Ruhl has trained every ENNJPT class since the organization was formed in 1981. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Ingle)

Second Lt. Evan Negron, a T-37 Tweet student pilot in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, "flies" the last simulation by a student pilot in the Air Force April 23. The T-6A Texan II will replace the Tweet this summer when the more than 50-year-old introductory trainer retires. Also pictured (blue flight suit) is Wolfgang Ruhl, a simulator instructor at Sheppard. Mr. Ruhl has trained every ENNJPT class since the organization was formed in 1981. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Ingle)

Second Lt. Evan Negron, a T-37 Tweet student pilot in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, "flies" the last simulation by a student pilot in the Air Force April 23. The T-6A Texan II will replace the Tweet this summer when the more than 50-year-old introductory trainer retires.  (U.S. Air Force photo/John Ingle)

Second Lt. Evan Negron, a T-37 Tweet student pilot in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, "flies" the last simulation by a student pilot in the Air Force April 23. The T-6A Texan II will replace the Tweet this summer when the more than 50-year-old introductory trainer retires. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Ingle)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- No one wants to be last in anything he or she does, especially when it comes to the highly-competitive Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program, the world's only multi-nationally run undergraduate pilot training organization.

But 2nd Lt. Evan Negron, a 25-year-old Salem, N.J., native, said April 23 he didn't mind being the last student in the program's 27-year history to train in the T-37 Tweet simulator at Sheppard AFB.

"I really feel blessed and fortunate to be in the last T-37 class," he said. "I think it's neat to be part of a legacy."

After more than 50 years of service, the Tweet is scheduled for retirement this summer, marking an end to one of the Air Force's most durable and venerable airframes.

While being the last student to train in the simulator was an honor in and of itself, the lieutenant said having the civilian instructor who provided the instrument lesson with him was just as much an honor.

Wolfgang Ruhl, a former German pilot and instructor with the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program since 1977, was the first instructor to train other pilots when the program was born in 1981. He became the last to instruct in the Tweet simulator for the heralded organization.

"He has a lot of experience (in this trainer)," Lieutenant Negron said. "All the instructors are good."

Mr. Ruhl said the retirement of the Tweet, and thus its instrument trainer, is somewhat bittersweet. He said he understands why the decision was made to replace the Tweet with the modern and more-efficient T-6A Texan II.

Just like the actual aircraft, he said there isn't a more reliable simulator in use.

"It's simpler and easier to maintain," he said. "It's excellent. We've gotten excellent use out of it."

The simulator itself is a mockup of the aircraft's cockpit with identical instrument panels and controls. Like the actual airframe, it has two seats: one for the instructor and one for the student. It also has a canopy that closes to aid in nighttime instrument training.

The biggest difference between the T-37 simulator and its high-tech counterparts -- the T-6 and T-38 Talon simulators -- is technology. Those simulators give students the ability to see their surroundings just as they would from an actual aircraft.

Lieutenant Negron said he heard some good things about the Tweet simulator prior to graduating from the Air Force Academy and beginning training in November 2008.

"A lot of people told me about the aircraft in general, but for instruments, the simulator is key," he said. "I heard that it's good to 'fly' in the simulator first and make mistakes there. You can't do that in the aircraft."

The lieutenant said the simulator helped him get used to where controls, switches and instruments are located before he touched the actual Tweet. It also allowed him to get comfortable with different procedures and learn techniques that would enable an easy transition to the aircraft.

Mr. Ruhl's final thought on the simulator was in-line with the aircraft that will soon retire.

"This is the most reliable, safest trainer," he said. "This lasted for more than 50 years."

The last class of T-37 pilots is scheduled to advance to the T-38 Talon in late June or early July.

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