Sunday, April 6, 2014

Weeks 51 & 52: A Full Year

It's officially been a full year since pilot training began, and I'm still amazed at how quickly it's gone by!

As of today I am five days away from knowing my fate; where I'll be headed and more importantly what I'll be flying. It's an amazing feeling, but a nerve-wracking one as well. All I can do is sit and wait, there's nothing more I can do to influence my standing. Our dream sheets are in and the mind games begin i.e. thinking about what-ifs.

So, to get to this point I'll briefly cover the past two weeks. I was just about ready to check and in fact should have checked on Wednesday two weeks ago. But due to both weather and the fact that my check partner was solo-stopped (he had to do one more form solo and the weather wasn't good enough) we delayed until Monday of this past week. I actually also got changed to a new partner, and we flew together the last one or two rides before our check ride. We had a third go check ride, so there was plenty of time during the day to prepare ourselves.

After a particularly horrendous display of darts talent during our throw for the check ride profile, we managed to get the exact profile we wanted and she would be leading out. Perfect as far as that went. We planned out the sortie based on what the profile required and made up data cards for it. Then it was off to brief and fly.

Despite some crosswinds that almost pushed us to a weird takeoff situation, the weather wasn't all that bad, just a few clouds relatively low to the ground. We started up and taxied out. I was definitely feeling nervous but ready. We took off and almost immediately went into some clouds, but I was in fingertip by that time and besides we shot out of the clouds right away. Past that it was clear skies. Out to the MOA for the profile and honestly everything thing pretty smoothly with the exception of a weird turn that my lead signaled that didn't work out that great and my first offensive set of the perch setup. The perch setup is essentially the building blocks for dogfighting, which we'll see at IFF if we get a fighter. So they introduce it in UPT so that you've at least seen and done it.

Anyway I called terminate and we set it up again. That set went better. The thing about the formation check is that you're really pressed for gas. There are quite a few maneuvers you have to do as both lead and wing, so you've really go to be efficient. If you don't get to all the required items before hitting bingo fuel and heading back to base, it's an automatic hook.

We got everything done though and I was leading the second half of the sortie so I started us home. Despite almost running out of time to do our battle damage check on the way back, we managed to get back mostly hassle-free and rolled up initial for single-ship landings. This is a good thing, since formation landings are difficult. We do at least five throughout UPT, but they're still not an easy thing.

Back inside to get debriefed, and of course they bring up every negative thing we do. Which is normal, it's a check ride you expect that sort of thing. After getting the two-ship debrief we watch the lines. The T-38 has a data card that you use every flight. Afterward you can take it inside and load the flight's data onto a program that allows you to see your exact parameters with respect to the other jet, even drawing a moving plan of each jet's flight paths. This is awesome because it allows you to see how well or badly you did, and it's a good tool for getting better.

After that it was time for EP and GK, and then single-ship debriefs. By this point we were pretty close to crew rest being done, so this was pretty expeditious for me. I ended up getting a 4E! This was a huge relief, and I'm happy that I could finish up T-38s with 4E's on my last two check rides, especially after my 13U on trans check. This was the tied-best form check score for G flight; I tied our Polish international student. Yeah, pretty stoked about that.

Now we wait. We got some capability briefs on Friday, telling us about different planes and their missions. Pretty sweet to hear about some of them in more depth. Anyway we submitted our dream sheets on Friday. We had a list of 21 planes to choose from and this is what I submitted. I have a couple different "groups" of what I want, and I'll elaborate on that.

First group: Fighters. 
1. F-16 to Luke AFB, AZ
2. A-10 to Davis Monthan AFB, AZ
3. F-22 to Tyndall AFB, FL
4. F-15E to Seymour Johnson AFB, NC
5. F-15C to Kingsley Field, OR
6. T-38C FAIP to Vance AFB, OK

I picked these first obviously. The F-16 has always been my first choice, and I put the A-10 second because of its air-to-ground role. Yes I know it's supposedly got a short remaining life, but it's been "finished" before and yet it's still around. I included T-38 FAIP as a "fighter" because it's an indirect path to get one down the road.

Second group: If I don't get a fighter, what would I want to do.
7. U-28 to Cannon AFB, NM
8. AC-130 to Hurlburt Field, FL
9. T-6A FAIP to Vance AFB, OK
10. MC-12 to Beale AFB, CA
11. C-17 to Charleston AFB, SC
12. B-1 to Dyess AFB, TX
13. B-52 to Barksdale AFB, LA
14. C-130 to Yokota AB, Japan

These were more difficult for me. I ended up showing that I wanted to go into AFSOC if I didn't get a fighter. The U-28 is a spec ops plane that does some pretty sweet stuff all around the world, with a high deployment rate and a rewarding mission. Same with the AC-130. If I can't get into Air Combat Command, I'd at least want to so AF Special Operations Command. T-6 FAIP is up there, sort of the same idea behind that as T-38 FAIP. I could still get a fighter down the road. After that, I picked things as I would want to fly them. Once again, MC-12's are AFSOC-type jets and I have the bombers there behind the C-17.

Third group: No, thank you.
15. KC-135 to Mildenhall RAFB, England
16. KC-10 to Travis AFB, CA
17. C-21 to Yokota AB, Japan
18. EC-130 to Davis Monthan AFB, AZ
19. RC-135 to Offutt AFB, NE
20. E-8 to Robins AFB, GA
21. E-3 to Kadena AB, Japan

For obvious reasons I don't want any of these. Flying a tanker/cargo/reconnaissance jet wouldn't be my ideal in any situation. But we still have to place them on the list so I went in descending order which would be the least bad. These do have overseas assignments, way more than the initial phases of fighters, but that's not what I'm here for.

Anyway that's the list. We'll see how it goes on Friday! A few of my family are coming out to see what happens, and I'm pretty stoked.

Only low-levels and formation out-and-backs left to complete!

Take it easy,

~ Dakota

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