Sunday, April 27, 2014

Week Fifty-Five: Wings

UPT is over. I've finally received my wings and aeronautical rating as an Air Force Pilot.

It's been such an awesome year, and I've gotten to do things I didn't think possible. Some of my best memories were made here, along with some lifelong friends. Alongside the good were the tough times as well; it's been a very taxing and stressful year during many stretches. But overall I can say that I wouldn't want to have done anything else.

I finished my final four flights of pilot training this week, starting with a four-ship on Monday. I was #4 again, so things went a bit smoother than the first one. Tuesday rolled around and I was scheduled to double-turn from a four-ship to my last low level. The four-ship was interesting; our flight lead had a bad jet, so we ended up doing a flight split, first doing "four-ship" maneuvers as a three-ship and then splitting off into separate elements to do two-ship stuff. Later as our flight lead landed, we got some pattern work in as well. So that flight was a 4-, 3-, 2-, and single-ship ride. The low level was expeditiously planned and executed, as my turn time between briefs was very quick. After landing, I logged onto a computer to check the schedule and discovered I was now triple-turning into my last ride.


My last ride was pretty cool, it was an F58 ride, so I was paired up against a solo IP and we did a lot of tactical and lot of perch setups. Overall it went alright, and as we came back and rolled up initial, it was awesome to think about all the great times I had over the past year in the T-6 and T-38. I had my last landing as a wingless student pilot, and as I walked away from the jet, I tapped her on the nose, just like my last flight in the T-6.

My last board of UPT

The rest of the week was devoted to finishing the last couple things necessary for graduation, like getting our class gifts all settled, doing a walk-through of the proceedings, and welcoming family to town. I had a couple more people here than I did for assignment night, and it was really cool showing them around base and of course the sim.

One of my guests is a retired Brigadier General, TP, who flew the F-16, who swore me in as a second lieutenant two (!) years ago at graduation from the Academy. He hopped in the sim and right away felt at home. He had a blast getting back into the cockpit he had flown so much in, though this time there was a HUD and multiple advanced systems that the old A models didn't have.

We all gathered up for a family celebration Thursday night, and TP had some gifts to present. First he gave me F-16 lapel pins and tie tacks to present to my mom, dad, step-mom, grandma, and great uncle. Then he gave me his first set of wings, both large and small, to wear on my service coat and blues. That was unbelievable. He also had an awesome F-16 1:100 scale model to give, along with his F-16 patch. It was a great night.

The next morning was graduation, and I don't have words to describe the feeling of receiving my wings. I still can't believe it.

That night we had our graduation dinner at a local country club, which was a very fancy occasion. Everyone was in their tuxes/dresses, and we were sporting mess dress, wings gleaming on our chests. A couple awards were presented, speeches were given, and videos were played. Plus the food was awesome. We then stood up and completed an age-old tradition, the breaking of the wings. The first set of wings given to new pilots in the Air Force are never actually worn. The wings we were presented at graduation had been scored to be easily broken, and since that morning we hadn't put them on at all. At the dinner, after snapping our first set in half, tradition states that the new pilot would keep one half and would give one half to a loved one. So, like my first set of jump wings which I wore for 24 hours straight and then gave away, I presented my mom with the other half. The two halves can only be joined again when the pilot has passed away.


We then received our official aeronautical ratings. A lot of the class then went to change for a night out at the normal haunts. All in all it was an amazing weekend and I am stoked for everything that's up next. I've gotten training dates, so the next six months are all laid out. I'm heading to the centrifuge again for the 9 g profile next, followed by survival training in Washington state and water survival in Florida. After that I've got about two months before the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals course in San Antonio, TX. So I'll get the chance to fly the T-38 more here at Vance in preparation for that. Then after IFF, I'll head straight to Luke AFB to start the F-16 B course. It's awesome knowing what I'll be doing, but there's going to be a lot happening very soon and we'll be busy training, moving, and studying.

Just because it's the end of UPT doesn't mean I'm at the finish line. Really, I've just crossed the starting line. The next few years will be even more stressful and difficult, but the payoff and the experiences will be that much more awesome.

If you've read from the beginning all the way to this point, I thank you. A year and three weeks is a long time to continuously read anything, and I'm grateful. To anyone looking to follow in what I've done in UPT, my best advice is this: take everything one step at a time. Whether that means one day at a time, or even one flight at a time, just focus on that one thing and make it your best. You don't have to be the best every day, just give your best every day. Don't take anything for granted, there are thousands who would kill to be in your shoes. Lastly, take one moment during each flight to look around at what you're doing and recognize how amazing it is.

This will be my last post. UPT is over and since this blog is titled "My JSUPT Experience" I'll put it to rest.

This has been one of the best years of my life. Cheers!

~ Dakota

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