99th FTS carries on Tuskegee Airmen legacy, trains ‘world’s best’ instructor pilots

  • Published
  • Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

During World War II, a group of pilots from the 99th Fighter Squadron made a name for themselves as being experts in the sky abroad, while also breaking racial barriers at home.

With red-tailed aircraft by their side, bombers could rest assured they would return from a mission, and young African American children with a dream to serve their nation now had heroes to look up to.

Although the legendary Tuskegee Airmen took to the skies 75 years ago, the 99th’s mission didn’t end with the war. Their legacy continues on today with the 99th Flying Training Squadron’s mission statement of training the world’s best instructor pilots and combat systems operators in the T-1A Jayhawk.

Lt. Col. Christopher M. Duffett, 99th FTS commander, said it’s important to be reminded of the Tuskegee Airmen heritage, but also to reflect on what it stands for and how it affects the mission today.

“We spread the message of overcoming adversity and rising above because I think those are not only Tuskegee messages, those are American messages,” Duffett said. “That’s partially what we’re trying to get across to our students as they come through, that if they apply themselves, they can achieve anything.

“By being instructors, they’re going to be able to inspire the next generation of pilots as they go through undergraduate pilot training. If we can do that, that in and of itself honors the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.”

The 99th FTS has been located at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph for the past 23 years, and is currently home to 17 T-1A, a medium-range, twin-engine jet. Instructor pilot trainees combine to fly 8,500 hours a year and 80 sorties every week. A team of approximately 65 people, including 35 active duty instructor pilots, are responsible for graduating nearly 100 instructor pilots and 10 instructor combat systems operators per year.

“We train the T-1A instructors that in-turn train approximately 75 percent of the entire pilot force,” Duffett said. “That makes up our heavy combat air forces pilots, as well as our mobility air forces. It’s a great impact, and it’s a great responsibility because we are influencing the next generation of pilots for potentially the next 20 years plus.”

Second Lt. Aimee St. Cyr, 99th FTS instructor pilot trainee, is one of those pilots. St. Cyr came to pilot instructor training as a first assignment instructor pilot. Pilots chosen to attend PIT directly after undergraduate pilot training, where they also fly the T-1A, usually finish in the top three in their class and wear a distinct patch labeled “FAIP Mafia.”

St. Cyr said the biggest difference from UPT to PIT is being expected to start making aircraft commander decisions instead of solely focusing on flying the aircraft.

“It’s a big responsibility they put on us, but also a great honor to be given the opportunity to be one of the FAIPs who is teaching brand new pilots who are going to continue to fly for the Air Force for years to come,” St. Cyr said. “It’s not something any of us take lightly.”

Every day St. Cyr puts on her dark green flight suit and walks the halls of the 99th FTS, she is met with murals, artifacts and countless framed photographs that represent the Tuskegee Airmen and their heritage.

“It’s a reminder every day when you walk around and see the pictures on the wall that this squadron does have a very rich heritage, and it comes from a very important mission,” St. Cyr said. “You have a mission that’s not just you; it’s bigger Air Force, and there’s something more to give.”

St. Cyr isn’t the only one motivated by something bigger than herself. Maj. John Schwartz, 99th FTS chief instructor pilot, said it’s rewarding to see the progression of instructor pilot trainees.

“What I do every day is driver’s ed. in the sky,” Schwartz said. “But it’s more than that to be a productive instructor. It’s being a teacher and a coach wrapped in one, plus having the skills to be able to provide that instruction in the aircraft to be confident in it so they can learn from you.”

The four-month long PIT course allows trainees to progress through three different phases of training in order to graduate as instructor pilots.

The first phase, the qualification phase, serves to level the ground between FAIPs and major weapon system pilots, who come to JBSA-Randolph after already learning how to fly different aircraft such as the C-17 Globemaster III, C-5 Galaxy or KC-135 Stratotanker.

After moving past qualification, instructor pilot trainees enter the air mobility fundamentals phase, where they are taught formation, low-levels, airdrops and simulated air refueling. Finally, the last phase, the instructor phase, takes all those skills and enables trainees to instruct others, Duffett said.

The Tuskegee Airmen, once identified by the red tails of the P-47 Thunderbolt and later the P-51 Mustang, are now honored by the red tails on the T1-A. Each day as instructor pilot trainees take to the skies and each year as more instructor pilots master their craft, they exemplify the 75 years of rich history and a legacy that continues to live on, Duffett said.

“Our squadron mascot is a panther,” Duffett said. “You look back at our 75 years of history, and we see how all of us as panthers have been able to stand on the shoulders of those giants, the Tuskegee Airmen, and overcome adversity.

“The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen is being continued day-to-day, but it’s being continued by our panthers in how we train the world’s best instructor pilots in the T-1.”