Sunday, September 29, 2013

Week Twenty-Six: Track Select

Well, we've finally moved on from T-6s! Track select was Thursday night and it was a pretty good time. I'll get to my assignment at the end of the post...

So after preparing all of the things we needed to, like the roasts of everyone in the class, the slides showing our info and "hero shot" pictures, and our red carpet sim times, we really ended up just kinda waiting around for Thursday. Which was nice, because it was a well-deserved rest from the quick pace we had been going at.

One of the more interesting things we did was welcome the new class into our flight room, showing them the ropes and giving what advice we could. I was in charge of showing how to prepare the briefing slides for the morning's formal brief. There are quite a few steps, and it was pretty funny to see the looks on the new guys' faces as they watched me set them up. Keep in mind this is just a PowerPoint presentation, which is nothing compared to what they'll do on the flight line. But they'll get it down just like we did. Anyway, we also gave them some phony information just to have a bit of fun. For example we included a "Dawg of the Week" slide on the formal brief, which we never actually did. Our IPs sent a pic of it to us the next day when they briefed it... haha it was funny to see that they were so believing.

My parents also came into town, so it was really nice to see them again and to show them the booming metropolis of Enid, OK.

Thursday rolled around and we were all getting stoked for track select to happen. That morning I showed my mom and dad around the base and the flight line, which they enjoyed. We also had about twenty minutes to mess around in a simulator, so my dad hopped in and I tried to give the best instruction I could while he flew around. Needless to say, it was difficult to tell him what to do! He did an alright job, but it was hilarious watching him start to dive toward the ground without even realizing it. I'm like, "Pull up! Pull up, you're gonna crash!" He did a good aileron roll though, and his landing went decent. Overall not too bad. I got a sense for how the IPs feel with brand new students doing stupid stuff.

At four we had our party, where we provided beer, wings, and pizza for the variety of guests. Then finally at five we started the ceremony. After walking into the auditorium in alphabetic order (except for our SROs, who would be going first) we quickly started the roasts. Each person gets called up to the front and are made fun of for a bit, then their selection is revealed. Everything was going as we had expected (you kind of get the sense where people will be headed, especially based on their choice and on hear-say). But there was a point where a guy who was a strong candidate for 38s didn't get them, and that made me nervous.

By the time I went to the front, 5 T-38s had already been handed out. Fortunately, that number included 3 international ones, which are automatic, so I was still in the running. After my roast, which made fun of me for overspeeding my flaps and various things I've said and done, the three aircraft went up on the screen. The UH-1 quickly went away, leaving just the T-38 and the T-1...


Then, as I looked nervously at the screen, a big picture of a T-38 formation popped up! I got my first choice!

Hell yeah
After saluting my flight commander and shaking his hand, I walked over to my classmates who'd already gotten their planes and gave everyone a high five on the way down the line. It was a pretty amazing feeling to have gotten 38s, and I was still kind of reeling from it. It hadn't really kicked in that I got them yet.

One other cool thing that happened was we had a guy going for helos, and he got them! He was the guy who had gone through the Commander's Review process, so everyone was pretty stoked for him.

After meeting up with my parents again, who were justifiably proud and emotional (you know how parents get haha) our new flight commander called the nine of us over to a corner of the room. We were told to report to our new flight room for a briefing.

After walking into our new room, we were sat down and given a couple talkings-to about what it meant now that we had become T-38 students. It was intense, and I got a sense of how things will be here. We were given a new boldface/ops limits to fill out and memorize, and told to show up prepared to test on it.

So it starts all over! We got a our publications on Friday, were given a couple introduction briefings and tested on our new boldface. After studying for a couple hours in the flight room, we got released.

This weekend has been pretty fun, Friday night was a big celebration night for everyone in our class, and it was a doozy. As I finish typing this, I'm sitting in front of my stack of study materials, so I've gotta end it and get back to them.

See you next week after our first full week of T-38 training. Only three weeks until our dollar rides!

Take it easy.

~ Dakota

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Week Twenty-Five: T-6 Complete!

Well, the day finally arrived. I am now T-6 complete and awaiting track select! It feels pretty good to be done with this phase of training, though I still can't believe how fast it's gone. It's still weird to think that I most likely will never get in a T-6 again (but it's possible).

I had only my two low levels, so after a couple days of waiting, I got to fly those. They are very low-threat as far as grading goes, and they're actually pretty fun. You basically fly along a pre-planned track going from point to point. You're trying to get to those points at a certain time, so you have to adjust your power to try and hit the point as close to the right time as you can. At the end of the route is a target point. You have a Time on Target (TOT) that is published and it's your goal to get that time. These are introducing us to the low level world of flight, and the operational aspect of that with respect to heavy and fighter aircraft. For fighters it's pretty easy to see the connection: we want our bombs to hit the right target at the right time. For heavies, there are combat drops that are performed in the C-17, as well as paratrooper drops that have to be in the right area at the right time. So there are many ways low levels affect flight in the operational Air Force.

Overall I enjoyed my two low levels. The first one went really well, and I managed to hit my target at exactly the posted time. So that was pretty sweet. The other one we had to abort the route due to intense thunderstorms and rain that were gathering on our flight path. We ended up heading back to base early, which gave us some time to hit up an area one last time with some aerobatics and also for my IP to do an instrument approach. I was joking with him that all we needed was for one of the solo planes to break so we could fly chase ship for him and we'd have done all four phases of flying in one flight. But we just came back to the pattern and I got my last landings in the T-6. They were good ones, so I was happy to leave it on a good note. When I got out of the cockpit and made sure it was good to go, I gave the plane one last pat on the nose cap. It's been an amazing T-6 experience, but now on to bigger and better things.

So now I wait! Thursday is the big day, and since I'm done flying for now, there's really not much to do. Yeah we have some administrative things to take care of, but they haven't taken up that much time and overall I've been able to peace out of work really early the past couple of days.

This upcoming week we will get end of phase feedback, give our feedback to our leadership, finish up any last things we need to accomplish, and also welcome the new class into D flight. This is crazy because it seems like yesterday that we were being welcomed in by the senior class and shown the ropes of life in our flight room. Then of course, track select.

My next post will say where I'm headed, so be sure to check it out! I'm pretty stoked and can't wait to find out if I'm heading to the 38.

Either way, I'll still be flying, so you can't beat that.

Take care!

~ Dakota

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Week Twenty-Four: Instrument Check

Well, we're getting close to the finish! A couple of my buddies have finished all of their rides in T-6s, and overall everyone's going to be done in a very short time. I flew the last of my instrument rides this week and am also now Check Ride Complete!

I started out the week coming straight off the weekend and cross country, so flying was very fresh and there were really no problems getting back under the hood and in the back seat. I started to fly check ride profiles pretty much exclusively, meaning the flights were planned according to the four possible instrument check rides. One of them goes to Oklahoma City, one to Wichita, one to Wiley Post (near OKC) and one is a local sortie with approaches flown at Woodring.

So I rotated through each of the profiles, finishing up with the Woodring sortie. And luckily enough, I ended up drawing the Woodring check ride. So that was pretty cool. It was pretty sweet, the weather was actually kind of crappy, so for some parts of the flight we were flying instruments not just in name. My MOA work went really well and my approaches were all well-flown too. Even when I got pushed into the holding pattern, it didn't mess things up for me. Naturally with any check ride, you over-analyze everything you think you did wrong. So the mistakes I made turned out to be less bad than I thought.

I got an E on this one, so I went from a U to a G to two E's on my check rides. Finishing strong!

Now I only have two rides left in T-6s, and they're pretty low threat. It's crazy how fast things have gone. Now to just finish up with these low levels and wait for September 26th!

~ Dakota

Monday, September 9, 2013

Week Twenty-Three: Cross Country

Haven't forgotten about this, just didn't get a true weekend. I flew cross country so I got back Sunday night. The cross country was pretty awesome, I chose to fly to Colorado so I could visit home and also fly around in the mountains. It was very cool overall and I'm glad I got to do it.

First off, you have to plan out your route extensively, making sure to plan for which airports you're going to, getting ramp space and gas, places to stay and things to do. Since I was heading home, it was pretty easy to find a place to sleep, but the other stuff was the same. You also have to fill out a couple of forms saying where you'll be headed, which both authorizes your trip and also serves as a means to get paid your per diem when you return.

Friday was the big day, so we brought in our bags packed with clothes, our large amounts of publications we'd be using in-flight, and the rest of our normal gear. I was in 3716, a green-tail T-6, so I started getting ready as usual with the small exception of throwing my stuff in the small baggage compartment. We were headed to Garden City, Kansas for our stopover point before flying on to Centennial Airport in Colorado. What's cool is it's about 10 minutes from my house, so my family and close friends were able to swing by and check out the jet and take a bunch of pictures and stuff. It was really good to be home again after quite a while away, and Colorado was really great compared to Oklahoma.

We (me, my IP, and my family) hung out that afternoon and night which was pretty sweet. The next day we had planned a VFR trip up to Grand Junction. Flying up into the mountains was very cool, it was a perfectly clear day and we could see everything below us well. It was pretty quick hop up to Grand Junction, and we passed many of the common skiing destinations on the way up. Though they were quite devoid of snow at this point in the year. Still, the scenery was great and we enjoyed turning from side to side to catch better glances of stuff as it passed by below. After shooting a couple of approaches to Grand Junction, we landed and refueled. Right as we landed a couple of helicopters flew up and landed close by, and it turns out they were Army choppers (but didn't really look like it). So we got a chance to chat with them in the planning room and catch a quick glance at the college football games that were on that day.

Then it was back in the jet and off to Centennial again, though by a different route. We fly over to the Black Canyon near Gunnison, which was pretty phenomenal to see. A river wound its way through a massive gorge with steep slopes on either side. Pretty awesome. From there we flew from lake to lake until we were once again out of the mountains and in sight of the field.

We had planned on catching most of the Air Force football game that day, but there were plenty of delays, so we caught only about the last third of the game. Not too bad to see some old friends who were still at the Academy and also to see my dad. He had driven up from NM that day to watch the game and see me, and we chatted for quite a while at dinner that night, which was really good.

Back up to the Denver area that night for one last night out, then in the morning we set off for Amarillo after some goodbyes at home. The flight over was mostly straight, so there was plenty of time to relax (kind of) way up at 27,000 feet.

Amarillo was pretty bumpy and busy, but we got some good approach work done. What really sucked was when I was opening the canopy on the ground, my helmet bag (with my wallet and phone in it) got caught in the opening struts next to my seat. I kept trying to open the canopy, but it was stuck... on my phone and wallet. So I moved the bag and got out without realizing. But when I reached in the bag to grab my stuff, I saw the damage. My phone was crushed beyond functionality, so now I'm without a properly working phone, though I think the data and stuff still works. Just the screen is destroyed as hell. So that's a big bummer.

We had a LONG flight back to Vance, stopping quickly at Oklahoma City for some last approaches and then flying home. We landed and departed 3716 Green for the last time that weekend, making sure all our stuff was accounted for.

I really enjoyed my time, though it does kind of suck not having a true weekend to relax. As you can imagine the whole experience was a bit draining, and I'm definitely less-rested than usual. But hey, the real thing to be happy about is the fact that I'm only 6 rides away from T-6 completion!

~ Dakota

Monday, September 2, 2013

Week Twenty-Two: Sim Complete and Night Rides

Man the time seems to just fly by! I can't believe I'm less than a month away from track select. It really has gone quick...

This week was a pretty good one! Well, it started out kind of crappy but ended up being pretty cool. I DID get sick over the weekend, so that sucked. Just your normal cold-type symptoms, runny nose and all that. I ended up going DNIF, which means I couldn't fly until I got cleared to by the doc. So on Monday and Tuesday I simmed which brought me to having only one left! I knocked that one out too, so now I'm sim complete, which is a really good feeling. No longer do I have to go over to that building and listen to old geezers vent about how easy we have it with GPS nowadays... oh wait, yeah I do because there are still sims in phase three. Oh well, done with them for now.

I did start to feel better and got back on flying status, and then it was time for my night rides. All this week we've been showing up at about 3 pm, which is pretty awesome. However, if you are on the schedule to fly at night, you don't end up leaving work until about 11 pm. The plus side is that night flights are pretty sick.

The big difference is obviously that there's no light. This isn't a big deal while flying (well, sort of) but for ground ops it makes things interesting. Setting up the cockpit the way you want it is a bit more difficult when you're holding a flashlight in your mouth to see what you're doing. Fortunately, there are plenty of instrument panel lights to help you out, but the initial set up is frustrating.

You also have to change up the way you do your outer lights. We have four sets of lights: nav, taxi, landing, and strobes. The nav lights are the little green and red ones on the wingtips, so they're not too bad. The others can be a bit bright though, especially the flashing strobes. Typically you'll leave them off until you're well clear of other people, even other planes.

Taxi-out is the same, only you have to keep a larger distance between you and other planes. The same goes for landing. You need 6000 feet of clearance between planes as opposed to the daytime limit of 3000 feet. For our runway, this means that no one can be on it in order for you to touch down.

Once you're flying though, things get more familiar. Yes the cockpit is darker and there are lots of glowing panels and such, but the flying is the same as any other instrument flight. Outside you've got really no view, except when you're over a city or something. Then it's pretty cool to look out and check out the lights. It's pretty weird, like you're flying in this big black void where there's no sky or ground. That's what can be dangerous in mountainous regions: imagine thinking you're flying toward open air, when really there's a mountain in front of you!

I enjoyed it. I flew down to Oklahoma City for my first night ride. It was also my first time flying down there. It was pretty busy! There are a ton of radio calls you have to make, and this time you're playing with the big boys. This is an international airport, not just our training base. You really don't want to mess up there and cause a runway to be closed or something. That's a lot of money down the drain for those airliners, and the Air Force doesn't need a bad rap. But I did alright and got in a couple night landings as well! It's only about a 20-minute flight to OKC from Vance, as opposed to the 2-hour drive (more on that later...).

My second flight was to Wichita and that was cool as well. That fills my quota for night flights. Now I don't have to do one on my cross country, which frees up a lot of time.

So, I tried to go home this long weekend. Unfortunately it didn't work out. I drove down to OKC to try to catch a flight, but since I fly standby it isn't always a sure thing. So my flight was all booked up and that was the last one of the night. Major bummer... So I had a choice: to stay in the city and try and find something to do alone and someplace to stay, or make the trek back to Enid. I ended up going home and still had enough time to hit up Callahan's with some friends. My car was pelted with insects (seriously, it was disgusting, I hate the bugs here) so I gave her a fill-up and a nice carwash haha. It was a sucky night, but you can't win them all... Hopefully I can fly to Colorado next weekend, only this time the plane won't leave without me: I'll be flying it!

Stay classy,

~ Dakota