A patch worn by student pilots at Vance Air Force Base has gained worldwide attention of late.
Each Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training class develops a unique design for its class patch. Class 14-05 chose a pink theme, patterned after the “My Little Pony” line of toys and cartoons. The patch reads “My Little Pilot, flying is magic.”
“Talking with a class member, the patch was kind of a fluke,” said 1st Lt. Tom Barger, public affairs officer at Vance. “During a slide show presentation while previewing the different patch options, the presenter threw the ‘My Little Pilot’ patch design into the mix as a joke. That patch made it all the way through the approval process, and is even more ironic, since the class never really wanted it in the first place.
“They thought it was so off-the-wall that it was hilarious. They have embraced the irony and humor of the patch and, in so doing, have fostered closer ties with each other.”
The patch also drew the attention of the website “Equestria Daily,” devoted to all things “My Little Pony,” and named after the land where the ponies live. The site posted a story about the patch, which was then picked up by a number of other news outlets, from the New York Daily News to the Daily Mail in Great Britain.
“Honestly, the patch is the last thing on the student pilots’ minds,” said Barger. “They are focused on the rigors of their fast-paced and world-class pilot training.”
In an effort to promote camaraderie, each new pilot training class designs its own patch, each one unique to that particular group of students.
“The purpose of a class patch is to develop camaraderie, morale and unity within a pilot training class,” said Barger. “It is a token of esprit de corps. The student pilots are taking part in rigorous training to ensure they are world-class pilots prepared to defend our great nation; therefore, they are encouraged to bond as a unit so that they are ready and resilient to work as a team.”
All patch designs are subject to approval or rejection up the chain of command. Patches cannot be judged offensive or off-color, and cannot violate trademark or copyright laws, said Capt. Joe Schmitt, assistant director of operations for the 71st Student Squadron.
“We want them to get their class patch designed before they start flying, because that is when they will have the most time. That’s when they’ll all be together as one class,” Schmitt said. “There’s a lot of hoops they have to jump through before they can even order it and have it printed.”
Some patch designs incorporate symbols from popular culture, like advertising logos or cartoon characters, but the students must seek permission from the companies involved in order to use those designs. Most of the time, Schmitt said, the permission is granted so long as the students will make no money off the design. Some companies, Schmitt said, go so far as to offer their design departments to help with the patches.
“We request from them either a letter from the company or some sort of email traffic that, indeed, says, ‘Yes, you are approved to use this,’” Schmitt said.
After a class has a design, they first present it to their immediate supervisor. It then goes to the director of operations of the Student Squadron and the squadron commander. It then goes to the Equal Opportunity Office, which checks the design for political and social correctness. From there, the legal office looks at the design, then sends it to the group commander’s executive officer. The group commander ultimately has the final say.
At any point in the process, the design could be sent back to the students for re-working, Schmitt said. At that point, the students can appeal and make their pitch in support of their design.
Once the patch design is approved, it is the students’ responsibility to get the patch made and distributed. Several companies make the patches, and it is the students’ choice which one they utilize. They pay for the patch themselves.
“Class patches are different from unit patches,” said Barger. “Unit patches are steeped in history and symbolism attached to the unit, whereas class patches are temporary and only worn during the class’s pilot training.
“We train world-class pilots who will go on to defend our great nation. Fostering camaraderie, morale and unity on a regular basis and through small means (like a tastefully humorous patch) enhances our ability to complete the mission when working as a team is essential.”
Barger said members of Class 14-05 were unavailable for comment.