By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
2nd Lt. Kayla Bowers stood along one wall of the 8th Flying Training Squadron auditorium on a mid-February afternoon, trying her best not to look disappointed.
The occasion was the track select ceremony for Bowers and fellow members of Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 13-13 at Vance Air Force Base.
Track select follows phase two of primary flight training, when students have completed their training in the T-6A Texan II and are set to move on to advanced aircraft training.
Students are routed into either the T-38 fighter/bomber track or the T-1 airlift/tanker track, the transition marked by the track select ceremony.
The occasion attracted a crowd, including friends, family, senior base leaders (including 71st Flying Training Wing Commander Col. Darren James), instructor pilots and students from other classes.
During the event, students are called up front one at a time by their flight commanders, then subjected to ribbing (some gentle, some not so much) about everything from their personality quirks to their flying skills, before their track is revealed for all to see on a large screen hanging at the front of the room.
Aircraft to which the student could be assigned appear on the screen, then one by one fade away until only one remains. For Air Force students, those aircraft are the T-38, T-1 and UH-1 helicopter, while Navy students’ choices were the twin-engine T-44 or the jet trainer T-45.
When Bowers’ turn came, E Flight Commander Capt. Pete Shayhorn introduced her with the words “New from Mattel, it’s UPT Barbie,” and said she was the only student doing “makeup touchup in a T-6 mirror.” Her smile didn’t fade, despite the ribbing.
“They always mess with me,” she said. “I know I’m the only girl, they’ve got to do it.”
But when it came time for her track to be revealed, first the UH-1, then the T-38, then the T-1 faded from the screen, to be replaced by a bright pink toy Barbie Glam Jet, with the name T-1 emblazoned above it in white. Bowers saluted Shayhorn, then took her place against the wall in line with her classmates.
“You try your best and if your best isn’t good enough, at the end of the day that’s all you can do,” Bowers said. “I was like, ‘Well, I tried, it sucks, but oh well.’ At least I knew I did my best and gave it my best effort.”
Bowers applauded as one by one her classmates received their assignments. After the last student passed across the front of the room, it was time for class awards and closing remarks from senior leaders.
But Shayhorn interrupted the proceedings for a special announcement. There had been a technical error, he said, calling Bowers back to the front of the room.
This time the screen revealed no pink Barbie jet, no T-1, but a T-38.
“That little trick really had me going,” she said. “I wanted T-38s really, really bad. It’s been my dream for a while. It’s definitely a good day now, whew.”
Bowers was one of five members of class 13-13 assigned to T-38s, where they will be part of the 25th Flying Training Squadron’s H Flight.
She was joined by 2nd Lt. Payton Jeppesen, who was awarded the Hard-Charger Award for E Flight. That award goes to the student who maintained a positive attitude and demonstrated leadership during T-6 training. The F Flight Hard-Charger Award went to 2nd Lt. A.J. Brothersen. The Top Stick awards, given to the students demonstrating an innate ability to fly, went to 2nd Lt. Cyrus Beckwith in E Flight and Naval Ensign Jonathan McClellan in F Flight.
Earlier in T-6 training, Jeppesen said he was leaning toward the T-1, but instead wound up requesting a T-38 slot.
“I had a couple of people talk to me recently that changed my perspective, so I ended up putting T-38s as the first thing, and so we’ll see what happens,” he said prior to the ceremony. “It was kind of last minute. The people who talked to me changed my mind and my perspective, mostly.”
2nd Lt. Ryan Schieber was one of 10 Class 13-13 students assigned to T-1s, along with 2nd Lts. Eli Weyen and Jonathan Payne. All will be members of N Flight of the 32nd Flying Training Squadron.
But, unlike Weyen and Payne, Schieber had a choice and requested T-1s. Since Payne is in the Mississippi Air National Guard and Weyen is a member of the Air Force Reserve, they knew they would be getting T-1s, so there was no suspense going into track select.
“It’s just mainly what they’re going to say about me,” said Payne, who was introduced as 13-13’s oldest F Flight student and the student “Most likely to be affected by a drawdown in Social Security.”
The majority of 13-13 students finished their training in the T-6 two or three weeks prior to track select. Those who knew what track they were taking worked ahead studying their new aircraft, while others were assigned to temporary duties within the squadron.
All said they were glad to be moving into a new phase of their training.
“I’m definitely glad to be T-6 complete and kind of excited about the next phase, T-1s,” Weyen said. “I’ve been trying to memorize all the new numbers.”
“I’ve been working out and trying to study for the T-1s as much as possible,” Payne said.
For several students in Class 13-13, track select was their final hurrah at Vance. The Navy students assigned to Tailhook training in the T-45 will move on to Naval Air Station Meridian (Miss.) or NAS Kingsville, Texas, while those going on to Maritime training in the T-44 will transfer to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. The four Air Force students assigned to training in the UH-1 will report to the Army’s Fort Rucker, Ala.
The food, fellowship and frivolity of track select lasted into the early evening, but the men and woman of Class 13-13 didn’t have long to celebrate. The following day was their first in their new aircraft, “day zero” in the parlance of pilot training.
“We’ll jump right into academics and simulators, the way I understand it,” Weyen said. “It’s all about learning a new airplane. That will be the biggest challenge.”
“We’ll jump right back into it,” Jeppesen said. “I think tomorrow morning we go and pick up our new pubs (publications) for the next phase.”
“I’ve already got my new boldface (emergency procedures) and I’ve got a test on it tomorrow,” Bowers said.
They were reminded of the quick transition by James, who first had a little fun at the expense of AF Reserve 2nd Lt. Jarrett Tyo. It seems the lanky Tyo blocked James’ shot during an intramural basketball game, then bragged about it around the squadron. James said he was changing Tyo’s assignment.
“I’ve got a chair reserved for you outside my office where we can talk about basketball,” James said.
James told the students, “You are at halftime. This is just one milestone.”
The next morning, T-1 students shed their G-suit and parachute, but picked up a co-pilot, while T-38 students began making the adjustment to a high-performance jet. Both have moved into multi-engine aircraft, as opposed to the single-engine T-6.
“Multi-engine is a different mentality,” Jeppesen said. “You have more to think about.”
“It’s going to be a lot more fast-paced,” Bowers said. “The 38s, they’re pretty serious about what they do. It’s not really going to be probably a fun time, it’s probably going to be pretty intense, but that’s the nature of the game.”
“It’s going to be a whole new ballgame,” Schieber said.
“Mainly, it’s just learning an entirely new airframe,” Payne said. “We’ll start back at zero again.”℡