Pilot training techniques change, traditions remain the same

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Cassidy Fisher
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – From the first class of aviation cadets that arrived at Enid Army Air Field Dec. 16, 1941, to the classes today, Undergraduate Pilot Training has seen changes to aircraft, simulators, syllabus and more.

Classes then and classes today connect through the shared traditions that have stood the test of time. 

Retired Air Force Col. Jim Faulkner, 71st Flying Training Wing Retiree Activities Office deputy director and Vance 1968 UPT graduate, reminisced about his time as a cadet and the traditions that he and his class participated in together.

“Students have been throwing each other in the dunking pool for years after they solo, and they still do it today,” said Faulkner. 

After a student solos the first plane in the UPT syllabus, their classmates throw them into the “solo pool” to commemorate the momentous occasion. 

Comradery like this played an important part in pilot training as a class helped each other through the rigorous program.

“We had long days but you got to spend them with your peers going through the same thing,” said Faulkner. “We got to really know each other which made celebrating each other’s accomplishments more fun.” 

Celebrations include a student’s dollar ride. They give their instructor a decorated $1 bill for their first flight in a new aircraft, first solo flight, and assignment night. 

Col. Erick Turasz, the 71st Operations Group Commander and 2003 UPT graduate, also emphasizes the tight relationships formed during UPT.

“Overall, the environment is stressful,” said Turasz. “Every individual sacrifices so much together that everyone develops a tight bond.”

1st Lt. Brady Clinton, a recent graduate in July 2021, spoke about the stressful moments and joyous traditions of UPT that cement friendships. 

“I came into UPT with a friend from college that I was kind of close to,” Clinton said. “It was the half and half of struggling through the program and hanging out on the weekends and weeknights that created a lifelong friendship between us.” 

Graduation is the most anticipated tradition that all students who complete the program will experience and share as a class. 

“Graduation was the moment we had looked forward to the entire year because it is the most important tradition in all of UPT,” said Clinton. 

At every graduation, Turasz reiterates a final and important piece of advice.

“Throughout a pilot’s career, you will be asked two things. Where did you go to pilot training and what class were you in,” said Turasz.