The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 19, 2013

Training pace slows: Vance Class 13-13 sees decrease in flight time

By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The breakneck pace of Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training has slowed somewhat for some members of Class 13-13.

With the holiday break behind them and track select looming in the not-too-distant future, some of the members of 13-13 find life moving at a much slower pace than in the early weeks of their training at Vance Air Force Base.

Instead of the “double-turns,” or two flights a day, Air Force students were experiencing prior to Christmas, they now find themselves flying only a couple of times a week.

“It’s definitely a lot slower,” said 2nd Lt. Jonathan Payne. “I’ve only flown once this week. There’s a lot of people in the flight, and formation takes up two aircraft.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s relaxed,” said 2nd Lt. Payton Jeppesen. “It’s been a slower tempo, giving me more time to study.”

The emphasis has shifted to trying to get the Navy students in the class ready to move on to their next assignments. They already have had their track select ceremony, during which they find out if they will be flying fighters, multi-engine aircraft (known as “heavies”) or helicopters. If Navy students are assigned to fighters, they must complete formation training at Vance. If not, they will be leaving for their next training assignment after completing their formation solo flight.

Regardless of what track to which they are assigned, the Navy students in Class 13-13 will be leaving soon. The relationship between Air Force and Navy has been seamless during their training, said 2nd Lt. Eli Weyen.

“We’re just a bunch of kids flying right now,” he said.

The holidays provided the students a chance to go home to family and friends, and to think about something other than flying for a change.

And it wasn’t too difficult to come back after being out of the airplane for several days.

“There was a little dust to shake off,” Payne said, “but all in all, it came back pretty quick.”

“I expected it to be worse than it really was,” Weyen said. “It’s amazing of how much of this stuff is ingrained in our brain.”

Jeppesen said remembering radio procedure was harder than the actual flying after the holiday break.

“The thing that was the hardest was our radio comm, just because we were out of practice saying the radio calls,” he said. “Usually, you can spit it out like that. The flying, it’s just comes to you.”

The students in 13-13 are continuing the formation phase of their training. All are working toward their formation check ride, their final exam in the T-6, before they will move on to either the T-1 or T-38. The students will find out which airframe will present their next challenge Feb. 11 at their track select ceremony.

Until that time, they continue to polish their skills at formation flying, in which two aircraft take off, fly, maneuver and land in tandem, often with their wing tips no more than 10 feet apart.

The slower pace of training might work against them somewhat during formation, Payne said.

“It definitely increases the challenge because formation is hands-on type learning,” he said. “More repetition in the aircraft improves your skill set a lot quicker, as opposed to chair flying.”

Just because they are not flying as often, however, doesn’t mean the members of 13-13 are sitting idle.

“It definitely gives us a lot more time to be in the books studying the things we need to study that are pertinent to what we’re actually flying,” said 2nd Lt. Ryan Schieber.

“It gives you a little bit more time to have a life,” said Payne.

That includes more time to work out, which sometimes gets neglected during long days of training.

“When you are cooped up in the flight room for 12 hours and flying, you have no time to work out,” Payne said.

The students study formation general knowledge questions, to be sure, but keep up their studies on instrument flying, as well.

“You could potentially fly instruments with formation too, so you’ve just got to make sure you’re keeping up on the instrument general knowledge, because you’re going to take that with you no matter where you go,” Schieber said.

“We still have a lot to do, though,”  Weyen said, “studying formation, the standards we have to adhere and the information we have to know for our check ride.”

Formation flying is “probably the hardest thing we’ve done so far,” Payne said.

Formation flying involves a series of maneuvers at more than 200 knots within 10 feet of another T-6, being flown by an instructor pilot. One plane leads, the other trails, with the lead aircraft setting the pace and the trailer having to keep up and adjust. One aircraft leads during the first half of the sortie, while the other leads during the second half.

“It’s intense,” Payne said. “You come back sweating. The sweat starts to go away after you get a little bit more comfortable.”

“It’s a little different from instruments, where you have numerous approaches,” Schieber said. “You’re not sure which one you’re going to do today. There’s not a whole lot of variables.”

Also, unlike instrument flying, formation sorties involve more aggressive maneuvers.

“In wing work we’ll go through 90 degrees of bank,” Payne said. “So you’ve got an airplane on your wing through 90 degrees of bank pulling 2 to 3 Gs.”

Extended trail involves one aircraft chasing another, “almost like a fighting type scenario. If they go over the top, we’ll chase them over the top,” Payne said.

Each student must complete a formation solo, flying alone in the aircraft with IPs in the other T-6.

“It’s all on you,” Payne said of formation solos. “They have enough confidence in you where you’re not going to hit them.”

Students take their formation check rides two at a time, with each student flying with a check pilot.

During track select, students learn whether they will be entering the T-38 fighter-bomber track or the T-1 tanker-transport track. Since Payne is in the Air National Guard and Weyen is in the Air Force Reserve, both know they will be tracking to the T-1, while both Schieber and Jeppesen have requested T-1s.

“I actually had a last-minute change of heart and decided to go to T-1s,” Schieber said. “I did some thinking over the break, and I think I’m going to be better suited for that.”

The members of Class 13-13 have come a long way since their training began in July.

“We’ve learned so much,” Weyen said. “We’ve learned more than we know, I think.”ǀ