First Accelerated Path to Wings class graduates at Vance

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Kevin Brown
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Class 21-15 AM, the first Accelerated Path to Wings (XPW) class to graduate at Vance Air Force Base, received their wings during a ceremony held Sept. 23 in the Base Auditorium. They are the second XPW class to graduate in the Air Force.

The XPW program takes students directly from the initial academics part of their training straight to the T-1A Jayhawk aircraft. Bypassing the T-6A Texan II, traditionally used to introduce new students to the basics of flying, gets student pilots into operational cockpits at a faster pace.

Second Lt. Steven Csizmadia, one of the 12 students in Class 21-15 AM, said, “We didn't fly the T-6. We went directly to the T-1 to prepare to fly the 'heavies' of the Air Force, whether a tanker, cargo or other specialized aircraft.”

Col. Jessica Hastings, the 161st Operations Group commander and guest speaker at the Class 21-15 AM graduation, said “For our unit, I have 14 pilot candidates in the training pipeline right now. To get those folks back in a quicker time frame, get them back to us, get them on our local mission, get them trained up for our needs, that’s important to us.”

Two students in the graduating class are Guard members from Hastings’ unit. “I have great confidence that the two I’m getting back are going to be great additions,” she said.

Without first flying in the T-6, some students struggled with the steep learning curve in going straight to the T-1.

Csizmadia recalls his struggles. “For myself, the learning curve was immense and I struggled early on with flying the T-1 while my more experienced classmates transitioned easily.”

Another from the graduating class, 2nd Lt. Brandon Hall, agrees. “The largest struggle for me was simply learning how to fly. I know that sounds very broad but it’s true. Half of our class had hundreds of civilian flying hours while the other half were essentially brand new to flying.”

The instructors had challenges implementing a brand new syllabus for Vance AFB. One of the training schedulers for the students, Capt. Jason Groose, a T-1 instructor pilot with the 3rd Flying Training Squadron, recalls the challenges involved.

“Because it’s a new program, there were no specific academics built for the class. They had to use a T-6 modified version to teach basic flying fundamentals for the T-1.That was one of the harder things,” said Groose.

Hall admired the work his instructors put into the program. “They took the program, knowing all the challenges, and made it work. The effort they put in drove our success,” he said.

Another challenge was a last minute addition to the syllabus requiring the students to experience spins and stalls in the T-6.

“That was a big ask, because it had a short lead time for this class that was only a few weeks from graduation,” recalled Groose. The two T-6 flying training squadrons stepped up to the plate.

“The 8th and 33rd have been awesome and bent over backwards to help us out,” said Groose. They scheduled each student for a simulator ride and two actual flights in the T-6.

With that lesson learned, Groose said the next class, currently in academics, will receive the T-6 exposure much earlier in the program.

Without a common experience in the T-6, the XPW students entered the flying portion of their training with different previous flying experiences. Students are paired up early in T-1 training because they are learning to fly as a crew.

“We were trying to decide if we should pair up a higher experience student with a lower experience student, or keep the experienced students together so we can push them ahead and get them out of the program faster,” said Groose.

Large differences in experience within the pairs presented a challenge to the simulator instructors. “It kind of backfired,” said Groose. The experienced student didn’t need anything from the instructor while the student with no flying experience needed lots of the sim instructor’s time, he said.

Turns out it worked out best when the paired students were at equal levels of experience. “It helps the sim instructors teach at the same level for both students,” said Groose.

A big advantage to the XPW program is the rapid production of qualified pilots. Hastings emphasized the importance of getting students through the program quickly.

“The sooner we can get them back, the better. As long as they’re well trained and have that foundation, we can go from there with the rest,” Hastings said.