Summer flying programs achieving success despite thunderstorms, setbacks
By Amber Baillie, Academy Spirit staff writer
/ Published July 31, 2014
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Since early June, summer Airmanship training here has been in full swing, allowing 935 cadets to get experience in soaring, powered flight and parachute operations.
Under the 306th Flying Training Group, the course completion rate for the Academy's soaring program is near 100 percent, and its number of cadet instructor pilots is at a record high.
"Summer is the best time of the year for the 306th FTG because cadets get to focus on all the aspects of our mission - airmanship, leadership and excellence," said Col. Steven Burgh, 306th FTG commander. "The cadets have been great this summer and have taken full advantage of their time. I have been very impressed with the maturity and leadership displayed by our cadet instructor pilots, and flying and demonstration team members."
This summer, 425 cadets have completed the Academy's jumping program, 300 have completed the soaring program and 210 have completed the powered flight program, according to John Tomjack, the Academy's Airmanship Program Manager.
"We are currently on track to complete 100 percent of students and expect approximately 30 percent of the students overall to solo," said Lt. Col. John Neptune, the 94th Flying Training Squadron commander.
For the first time in 15 years, Neptune said, the 94th FTS entered summer with a healthy cadet instructor pilot force.
"The cadet instructors and students have done a fantastic job of efficiently and effectively taking advantage of available flying windows," he said. "As a result, we have been able to ensure students get to enjoy the full 14 rides in the program. The only caveat is the abnormally low summer cloud ceilings and shortened fly windows that have forced us to fly more pattern sorties than normal on multiple occasions, which are about 10 minutes shorter than an area sortie."
As of this year, the 94th FTS will only conduct Airmanship 251 and Basic Soaring, a 14-ride program with opportunity to solo, during the summer.
"We also started a new academic year program, AM-250, Introduction to Soaring, a four-ride exposure program for freshmen this spring," Neptune said. "It will take the place of AM-251 during the school year."
According to Lt. Col. Gregory Thornton, the 557th Flying Training Squadron commander, said the 557th FTS flying team has done a great job this summer training its nine new members through their initial qualification.
"The returning 18 members of the flying team are upgrading and flying continuation training sorties in order for the team to win their 28th-consecutive Region 1 championship this October," he said. "This year the competition will be held at the Academy's airfield."
Thornton said a recent syllabus change is allowing the flying team to perform training events in both the T-41 and T-51 aircraft, whereas before, they were restricted to only one model.
"This provides greater flexibility and enhances their training capabilities," he said.
Thornton said the AM-420 powered flight program has struggled this summer due to the T-53 aircraft not being equipped with an air conditioner or the ability to receive outside Ram Air.
"Thunderstorm development has actually helped us this year due to our cockpit cooling issue," he said. "The thunderstorm developments create cloud cover, which reduces the inside cockpit temperature and allows us to fly until the thunderstorms intensify to the point where we can no longer fly."
Airmanship-419 was recently suspended due to manning shortages, Thornton said.
"This should allow us to be successful with AM-420," he said. "Our goal is for every student to complete nine rides and have the opportunity to solo."
Lt. Col. Michael Jacobson, the 98th Flying Training Squadron commander, said thunderstorms have had a significant impact on the jump wings rate at 53-percent compared to greater than 90 percent the last two summers.
"Despite the weather, 406 students who graduated ground training had the opportunity to stand in the door (standing in the open door of the plane, deciding whether to stay or jump) at least once."