ACE Flight Program helps combat pilot shortage

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zoe M. Wockenfuss
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Dover Airmen hosted a group of 24 future pilots as participants of the Aviation Character Education Flight Program for a tour July 19, 2018, at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

The ACE Flight Program is one of the new initiatives working to combat the growing pilot shortage affecting the Air Force. The program is a joint effort between the Air Force and Delaware State University to provide students initial flight training in civilian aircraft and a structured environment that provides exposure and education on military aviation careers. It is designed to motivate participants to pursue aviation careers, including the Air Force, through mentorship and tangible flight experiences.

The students of the program were hand selected from their units, including Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, civil air patrol, AFROTC, the Air Force Academy and Air Force lieutenants preparing for undergrad pilot training. All of the participants are on a path toward aviation and excelled in their specific groups.

During the three-week-long camp, students receive 15 hours of flight instruction and 5-10 hours of simulation instruction culminating in a solo flight.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, only 5.7 percent of Air Force pilots are women, 1.7 percent are African-American and 2 percent are Asian. The goal of the program is to motivate minorities and women to pursue careers in aviation while receiving mentorship from a diverse Total Force cadre.

“We have a wide spread, from age to ethnicity to gender, and I think that’s the strength of America and that’s definitely the strength of our Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Kenyatta Ruffin, Division Chief of Outreach and Engagement for Air Force Aircrew Crisis Task Force.

Of the 24 students participating, there are 11 high schoolers, eight Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets and three second lieutenants.

During the tour of the base the ACE Flight Program students saw the air traffic control tower, radar approach control, aircrew flight equipment, toured a C-17 Globemaster III, had the chance to speak with some of Dover AFB’s officers and pilots, and visited the Air Mobility Command Museum.

“It was really nice to see the different aspects of the Air Force, not just the pilot side of things; especially for the high schoolers,” said Caleigh McLean, Air Force Academy student, of the tour. “I think it’s important for them to see the other options the Air Force has for them.”

The ACE Flight Program, whose staff includes Air Force officers and pilots who commissioned from a variety of sources, provide insight to the students and answer any questions concerning the Air Force. The training was tailored to provide a broad overview of all things aviation to cater to the full spectrum of participants’ ages.

A key take-away for the ROTC cadets was the networking connections they received from the officers and enlisted members they met throughout the camp.

“At first I was very overwhelmed,” McLean said. “During the first flight the aircraft was flying me; I can’t really say I was flying it. I wasn’t sure I could do it but the second flight was completely different. I was flying and had total control, it was amazing to see the jump in improvement in just 24 hours.”

In addition to the flight hours, the students receive aviation ground training and use virtual reality simulation technology to enhance their skills.

“This program has shown me that this is definitely the job I want for myself; being up in the air and being in control of an aircraft is amazing,” said Joanna Winborn, Citadel student.