A day in the life of an instructor pilot: Vance IP teaches fledgling pilots how to fly

  • Published
  • By Capt Tony Wickman
  • Public Affairs
For the past 10 years or so, all 1st Lt. Philip McClure could think of was flying jet airplanes. Today, he lives that dream and is helping others achieve it as well.
For Lieutenant McClure, a first assignment instructor pilot with Q-Flight of the 33rd Flying Training Squadron, a desire to fly that was cultivated in high school and stoked in his four years at the United States Air Force Academy is met everyday at Vance teaching students how to become military pilots.
"My first choice was to be an F-15E driver, but after that I put down every FAIP job because I thought it would be good for experience and good for the family life," he said. "I was hoping if I was going to be a FAIP that I would remain at Vance, where I did my student pilot training."
After being selected to become a FAIP and graduating as a member of Class 04-09 in May 2004 in the fighter/bomber track, Lieutenant McClure was sent to instructor pilot training at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, for three and a half months.
"It was a lot like pilot training, just really condensed with higher expectations," said the lieutenant. "There was a short academics period, centrifuge training and learning to fly as an instructor."
The centrifuge training was interesting, he said.
"It's a T-37 and a lot of people don't think about it pulling a lot of Gs (force of gravity)," said the native of Weatherford, Texas. "But students can surprise you and go straight to 6Gs and you need to be ready for that."
After his training period, McClure returned to Vance in October 2004 and began flying with students in Class 05-14 ... and holding every job within the squadron that can be assigned to a new instructor pilot.
"I was the safety officer, publications officer and about a month into the assignment I started working scheduling," he said. "From there, I did every job in the flight from unit standardization and evaluation monitor to grade books officer to executive officer and now as the assistant flight commander for Q-Flight."
He worked as the executive officer January through March 2006 developing staff meetings, tracking enlisted and officer performance reports, shuffling paperwork, putting together commander's calls, etc., while concurrently doing AFC duties and flying as an instructor pilot.
For the lieutenant, he says his job as an instructor pilot is both teacher and mentor.
"I have to teach and be a mentor to the students," he said. "It's bad when you have to hook a student -- disqualify them on their training sortie -- because they are unsafe and you tell them that. But at the same time also have to tell them to keep their head up, study up and do better tomorrow."
Much of his time as an IP is working with students in Phase II training. He works with students on their stand-ups and briefings and teaches them how to control and maneuver the aircraft. As students progress in the training, his role as an IP is to help students evolve into soloing and aerobatics flying.
A highlight as an IP is getting the opportunity to go cross country with students, said Lieutenant McClure, who was recently named the IP of the Quarter for the first quarter of 2006.
"It is a challenging sortie for the student and it gives us the opportunity to see different things. It is a big step for the student and allows us the chance to get out and see other parts of the country," he said.
o day is like another, Lieutenant McClure said, and the biggest challenge is time management. It can be difficult balancing family needs with professional needs, he said.
"I try to be as efficient as possible with my time. I try to eat breakfast with my son and get him to daycare, but sometimes the schedule does not allow for it," Lieutenant McClure said. "And as soon as I get home I spend as much time as possible with my wife and son before he goes to sleep and then try to relax before I go to bed. Time is the biggest constraint I have."
The difficult balancing act is something his wife, Valerie, appreciates and tries to understand.
"The way things were in student pilot training was expected and there were not many surprises," said Valerie. "But with his FAIP duties, I was not as prepared for how tired he would be, how little time he would have at times or the hours he would have to keep. It was especially difficult being a new mom."
"He was home three days in the past two weeks because he went cross country with some students and then went on temporary duty to support an airshow at Langley (AFB, Va.)," she said. "I have friends in similar situations and its tough not being the number one priority at times, but I wouldn't have chosen this life if I didn't think I could handle it."
According to Valerie, the camaraderie within the squadron and the support systems in place have helped tremendously, that and the desire to have some stability as a FAIP before going to an operational unit.
"When he became a FAIP, it was a blessing," she said. "We talked about him being an instructor pilot and liked the idea of having time to be together before he goes to a unit that has to deploy regularly."
So far, the biggest triumph for Lieutenant McClure is getting a student ready to move to Phase III training.
"Starting off with a kid who may not know left from right in flying and teaching them how to fly is a highlight. When we get done with them, they pretty much know everything they are going to need to know to go to Phase III," he said. "This is where they learn the basic things they need to know to be pilots. It is cool to see them formation solo and have them fly on your wing ... it is a big step."
For Navy Lt. Pedro Espinoza, Q-Flight flight commander, Lieutenant McClure is a successful IP because of his attitude and efforts.
"Phil is extremely motivated and he is every flights best friend when they need an IP to fly a student sortie," said the native of Las Vegas. "He is a good IP because he understands the students' problems and communicates his techniques well. The students are extremely receptive and look to him for help."
The sentiments are echoed by Lt. Col. Steven Fournier, 33rd FTS commander.
"Lieutenant McClure is an outstanding IP who genuinely cares about the quality of training his student's receive. He makes an exceptional IP because of his desire to fly and his ability to instruct difficult concepts to every student," said the colonel. "He is a hard charging officer who exemplifies all of the Air Force Core Values."
(Editor's note: This is the second of a four-part series detailing the rigors of student pilot training and those involved in it. Next week's story is on a day in the life of a flight commander.)