Making a pilot; the first step

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo
  • Air Force News Agency
The road to becoming an Air Force pilot begins in Pueblo, Colo., where  the Air Force has charged Doss Aviation, a contractor, to provide an Initial Flight Screening course under the Air Education and Training Command.

The purpose of the IFS is to screen aviation candidates and prepare them for the more rigorous flight school programs that will place them behind the most powerful, technologically advanced airplanes in the world.

The course takes on students with a wide range of skill levels from civilian certified flight instructor trained students, to students with no flight time at all. 

"Our primary mission here, as the Gateway to Air Force Aviation, is to ensure that our graduates have the attitude, aptitude and motivation to succeed in follow-on pilot training," said Lt. Col. John Tomjack, the 1st Flying Training Squadron commander. 

The plane used for the IFS course is the DA-20 aircraft, a $250,000 low-wing plane, armed with a single-engine and a 125 horsepower engine with a maximum altitude of 13,120 feet.

The training site is equipped with a 209,000 square foot building that acts as a miniature Air Force base. The state-of-the-art facility has six flight-rooms and academic classrooms, maintenance hangars, two auditoriums, a shoppette, barbershop, gym, dining facility and an all-faith's chapel.

From day one the students are tested physically and mentally in a high-intensity environment. The first week of class is filled with a tidal wave of academic training. The pressure is purposely applied to measure the student's resolve to complete the course. 

 "If you pass (IFS), there is a high possibility of you making it through the advanced pilot training programs," Colonel Tomjack said.

2nd Lt. Dylan Rudolph, a student who arrived at the school a week ago said, "It can be overwhelming! Our first academic test is in two days and it covers more than you would normally cover in a whole semester."

"Getting used to terms that flyers use such as pitch and power is hard for somebody who has never flown before," said 2nd Lt. Brandon Magnuson, a student pilot preparing to graduate. "My advice is to press through that first week and learn as much as you can."

Students must also be in excellent physical shape to withstand G-forces associated with the Air Force's supersonic jets. "Physically, students are tested on day one with a fitness test and if they don't pass with an 80 percent or above they are assigned physical trainers and are tested regularly," said Lee Hall, the IFS deputy program director.

The program is set-up for success, but given the nature of the flight screening business not everyone can make it. Since the inception of the 6-week course in October 1, 2006, approximately 10 to 15 percent of the IFS students do not graduate. "It is a very challenging course and you have to come prepared," Colonel Tomjack said.

Ensuring the highest military pilot training standards, IFS has steadily graduated more students each year. In 2006 IFS graduated 350 students, in 2007 there were 950 graduates and 2008, IFS is poised to graduate between 1,300 to 1,800 students. 

Students are lodged in a modern facility providing 195 furnished dormitory style rooms, and is considered the largest hotel in the area.

With the proper accommodations in-place, all students have to bring is their motivation and their desire to learn, course instructors said. To graduate from the course they are required to complete 19 sorties and 25 hours of flight time to include two solo flights. 

"My favorite part of teaching this course is to see students graduate and become successful pilots," said Greg Dotter, an IFS instructor pilot.

In a week, Lieutenant Magnuson will graduate from this course and is looking forward to flying the T-6 Texan II, the follow-on training aircraft, because of its acrobatic capabilities, he said. 

"My ultimate goal is to fly an F-22 Raptor," he said. 

If he makes it to graduation, he has a good chance of reaching his goal.

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