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SUPT evolves, molds next generation of military aviators

Second Lt. Austin Anderson, 41st Flying Training Squadron student pilot, and Capt. Joseph Sornsin, 41st FTS instructor pilot, prepare for a flight Nov. 6, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. The new syllabus in the 41st and 37th Flying Training Squadron’s on Columbus AFB is focused on building pilots who understand aviation and can adapt to their next airframe efficiently. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

Second Lt. Austin Anderson, 41st Flying Training Squadron student pilot, and Capt. Joseph Sornsin, 41st FTS instructor pilot, prepare for a flight Nov. 6, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The new syllabus adopted by the 41st and 37th Flying Training Squadrons on Columbus AFB is focused on building pilots who understand aviation and can adapt to their next airframe efficiently. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- Pilot training is ever evolving around new aircraft, new equipment, new procedures and faster production. With this, the syllabus in Phase II of training has recently changed, helping build a new type of military aviator.

The new syllabus adopted by the 41st and 37th Flying Training Squadrons on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, is focused on building pilots who understand aviation and can adapt to their next airframe efficiently, instead of training them to be experts on each training airframe.

Each student pilot will learn everything they need to know to learn in a safe and efficient manner, which means mixing some instrumental training with contact sorties or vice versa, additional simulator time, mentorship from other students, more mission planning and flight line experience and more.

“Leadership is trying to get rid of the old mold, where students weren’t allowed to do certain aspects of training, such as going to the simulators more regularly and providing more training tools in the squadron so they progress more efficiently,” said Capt. Andrew Zaldivar, 37th FTS flight commander.

Students now build a lot of their T-6 Texan II flights from the ground up, but still follow ‘canned,’ or template-like patterns when they get into the correct airspace.

“The actual procedures we are instructing is similar, but we are getting more involved in the planning aspect,” Zaldivar said.

The one thing Zaldivar said he didn’t enjoy about the new training besides the difficult scheduling, was his inability to really connect with the students and understand them. He recalled his instructors would make a point to know each student, enabling the instructors to motivate them more.

There is still motivation in the new syllabus, but it now comes from the senior classes mentoring the newer classes, which Zaldivar said is one of the things shifting the culture of pilot training.

“We have a senior and junior class system now,” Zaldivar said. “The senior classes are taking things instructors used to do and they are doing them, that’s allowing us to work on instructing and helps them with the mentorship and leadership aspect. I think if this continues, it will be a well-oiled machine, not to be cliche.”

How did this all begin?

“A flight commander started to schedule students in a non-traditional way, with the intent of exposing them to more of the flying environment,” said, Capt. Joseph Spitz, 41st FTS check pilot. “Creatively using the syllabus this led to more output of students at a faster rate. I carried those techniques to my flight and we identified there is an excess of capacity in the syllabus.”

Spitz is one of the instructor pilots who looked at the training and wanted to push it to its maximum, training students faster, while ensuring the necessary skills to be world class military aviators.

“The big idea is when you have good flying weather we can go out there and crush contact stories which is just visual with the ground,” Spitz said. “Then when we have bad weather days, we now have the ability to fly instrument type training to find air-space that is clear.”

The individual style of training allows students to progress more at their own pace by removing unnecessary sorties from high performing students schedule and giving extra flights to students who are struggling with certain aspects of flying. Spitz is confident it will be the go-to process to train students when compared to the old syllabus.

“It’s required more time up-front, but day to day we are doing more complicated missions, so we have to sit down with the student and go more in-depth on how we will accomplish our objective for the day,” Spitz said. “The time component has gone up due to the fact we are doing a more complicated sortie and we added more students, because we have the ability to create more pilots at a somewhat accelerated pace, so it’s not like we are doing any less work to do as a flying training squadron.”

Spitz said when Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 19-16 goes to the next phases of pilot training, the instructor pilots will get great feedback on the syllabus and in turn will be able to re-attack the issues from a new perspective with the other flying training wings.

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