By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Life has changed in the past six weeks for members of Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 13-13.
They no longer are together in the same flight room, for one thing. Five members of the class now are part of the 25th Flying Training Squadron training in the T-38 Talon, while 10 are part of the 3rd Flying Training Squadron, learning to fly the T-1 Jayhawk.
As a result, the T-38 and T-1 students don’t see each other very much.
“We see each other in the CAI lab (computer-aided instruction) when we’re doing academics,” said 2nd Lt. Kayla Bowers, “and occasionally we’ll see each other walking around. When we do we get really excited because we miss each other. You spend so much time with these people and you get so close to them in your flight, and everyone goes their separate ways. We feel like we never see each other anymore.”
For Bowers, transition to the T-38 has been “fast,” she said, not only in terms of the aircraft’s speed, but also of the pace of instruction.
“Its awesome, though,” she said. “I’m having a blast.”
After being assigned to their new instructional track (fighter/bomber candidates in the T-38 and airlift/tanker trainees in the T-1) in mid-February, the students didn’t have much time to celebrate having completed instruction in the T-6. Their training resumed the next day.
“It’s not quite like starting over again, because at least you have more of a basis than you had in the T-6, but it’s a completely different aircraft, it handles so much differently,” said the Pinckney, Mich., native, “and the mentality and the lifestyle is so much different.”
Outside the 25th FTS is a sign reading, in part, “The CAF starts here,” CAF being the acronym for the combat air force. The instructor pilots in the 25th take that slogan to heart, Bowers said.
“A lot of things they are doing in training are very tailored toward getting you ready to be a combat pilot for the Air Force,” Bowers said. “Whereas in the T-6, they don’t know where you’re going yet, so they are just focused on giving you the basic tools to be a pilot and fly the T-6.”
Students are taught to keep their radio traffic short and succinct.
“Radio calls are very crisp and short and correct,” she said. “Whereas in the T-6, sometimes you would be a little bit more wordy with ATC (air traffic control). That type of thing just doesn’t happen here.”
While their T-1 colleagues are learning to function as part of an aircrew, T-38 students are taught to operate in a single-seat aircraft.
“It’s the single-seat mentality,” she said. “Everything is aimed at getting you ready to be a pilot that can pilot a single-seat aircraft.”
In the days following track select, the students returned to the classroom for about three weeks of academics before they got a chance to return to the air. As with the T-6, their first rides in the T-38 were “dollar rides,” during which they basically were passengers as the sortie was flown by an instructor pilot, who traditionally is then paid a dollar by the student.
Bowers said she was only a couple of flights from her first solo in the T-38.
“I feel like I just got here, and I’m going to be soling here probably next week,” she said. “It’s really crazy.”
The students again are on formal release, meaning they must remain on duty for 12 hours per day and can leave only when released by a superior officer. They fly an average of once a day during the week, and take one simulator ride daily. On occasion, they have a double turn, or two flights per day.
The goal is to get as many flights in as soon as possible, to allow for the vagaries of Oklahoma spring weather.
“It’s a busy schedule,” Bowers said. “You don’t want to be up toward graduation and still have 10 flights to do in a week.”
The T-38 students will have some 120 hours of flight instruction prior to graduation, divided into three phases — transition, instruments and formation.
Transition focuses on aerobatic maneuvers, landing and emergency procedures. Formation flying in either two- or four-ship groups, is a key piece of T-38 training.
“Formation is probably the biggest block of the three, and it is the main focus in T-38s,” she said. “You’ll almost always fly in formation. You’ll never go out by yourself, as a single aircraft.”
Prior to returning to the flight line, the T-38 students made a trip to Brooks City-Base in San Antonio for a ride in the centrifuge. In the centrifuge, the students were subjected to forces as many as 7.5 times the force of normal gravity.
“It was awful,” Bowers said, chuckling. “You ask anyone, it was terrible.”
The centrifuge tested the students’ ability to perform their anti-G straining maneuvers designed to keep blood from pooling in the extremities, which could result in G-Loc, or G-force induced loss of consciousness.
To one extent or another, the students all experienced the phenomenon known as “geasles,” broken capillaries that result in a series of small red blotches on the skin resembling measles.
The transition from the T-6 to the T-38 is not an easy one, Bowers said, because of the characteristics of the two aircraft.
“It (the T-38) is a really hard aircraft to fly and to land,” she said. “The T-6 is really easy to fly, and it’s really smooth. It will do whatever you want it to do, pretty much. It’s not too hard to handle. The T-38, you pretty much have to beat it into submission, you have to put the jet where you want it because it’s a very hard jet to fly.”
The T-6’s listed speed is 320 mph, while the T-38 can manage 812 mph.
“Everything happens so much faster,” she said. “Especially when it is cold, it (the T-38) loves to fly and will just get away from you.”
Like in the early stages of T-6 training, the days of a T-38 student are long ones.
“You are at work for 12 hours, you go home and all you really have time to do is maybe eat dinner, shower, study and go to bed, and that’s it,” Bowers said. “Weekends are when you catch up on sleep.”