For many of us, the initial thrill of aviation came from military aviation as it was portrayed in the movies and on television. Many of us who followed that call to the airport and went up on our first few flights were practally overcome with newfound respect for military aviatiors. In and among the noise and excitement, we rapidly became aware that aircraft don't fly knife-edge or move fluidly through all three axes all by themselves. They require seriously skilled pilots who dedicate years of their lives to high-intensity training of a kind that most of us can only imagine.
I wondered a lot about what that training must be like. Late last year, I put in a request to the USAF Air Education Training Command to see if I could get an idea. After a few months of routing the request around and finding a home for it, I got the call in March and we scheduled for this past week.
Long story short, I have 1.4 hours of dual in my logbook in the mighty T-6A Texan II, the USAF's primary training aircraft.
The aircraft is a 1,100 hp, JP-8-drinking, four-blade turboprop. Weighing around 6,000 pounds, it seats two in tandem (one in front of the other). It's pressurized and you wear a full life-support system, including oxygen mask and gee-suit when you fly it.
Most Air Force pilot trainees arrive for Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (SUPT) with either a private pilot certificate and maybe 60-200 hours or an Air Force -sponsored flight familiarization course under their belts. Each canddate has all of the basics under his ot her belt and it's time to get into a reliable trainer that's capable of letting each experience (and master) the envelope of fixed-wing flight.
As I found out in the back of a T-6A ably flown by Maj Jarrett Edge of the 559th Flying Training Squadron at Randolph Air Force Base, the aircraft is ideally suited to its mission. The mission profile started out with a series of stalls, went on to a demonstration of gee-force tolerance (verifying one's ability to withstand the inertial forces that force you into your seat and, at high levels of force, could cause you to lose consciousness), and then included a full compliment of aerobatics - Loop, chandelle, lazy eight, cloverleaf, split-S, Cuban eight, and others, concluding with a spin. (You can look up the maneuvers themselves online if you're interested - suffice it to say that the demo consisted of most of the maneuvers that you'd see at an airshow).
I'm writing this about 48 hours after the flight and I'm still chewing on my impressions of it. I'll certainly be devoting several episodes of my show, Airspeed, to the flight, including some original music and photos and video shot and put together by Jo Hunter and Will Hawkins. And I'll probably devote a couple of additional blog entries here on the AOPA Let's Go Flying site to it.
But, for now, I can tell you that, if you're thinking about flying for the US Air Force, you have a wonderful training aircraft and skilled instructors waiting for you. The aircraft and the instructors will respond well to a competent pilot and will give you all of the horsepower, maneuverability, and systems necessary to let you become one of the best-trained pilots in the world.
More soon on the ride in this pilotmaker and the men and women who train and instruct in it!