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

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Week Fifty-Four: One more week

Finally down to the last week of UPT!

After a long year of training, only five days remain before we get our wings. I've got four more flights to complete before that happens though, so this week will still be full of flight, at least for the first couple days. Hopefully I can double-turn and knock them out on the first two days of the week. Two more four-ships, a two-ship proficiency ride, and a formation low level will be my last rides of pilot training.

I get to see family and friends again, which will be awesome, especially after only two weeks.

My first four-ship this past week was a pretty awesome experience. I was #4, which is pretty difficult actually. You're on the outside of the flight most of the time, which puts you "on the whip." Basically any movements #3 makes you have to deal with in addition to #1's. So they're amplified a bit and you have to maneuver a bit more than you do as #2 or #3. VERY cool to see three other jets in close proximity to your own though. One of my favorite things was completing the battle damage check at the end of the sortie. 2 checks out everyone's jets, and then 4 checks out 2's. As I moved back over to 3's wing, it was pretty sweet to see three jets flying in fingertip right in front of me.

My first two-ship proficiency ride, or F58xx ride, was interesting as well. You fly as #2 the whole time, and your flight lead IP intentionally does things to mess with you and get you out of tactical position, like speeding up/slowing down randomly, overturning/underturning tac turns, and climbing/diving without notice. As a wingman, it's your job to be in position, so you just have to fix the problems he gives you and do your best to stay there.

That's about it, some pretty cool experiences and still riding the high of finding out I'm heading to the F-16. One more week!

~ Dakota

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Week Fifty-Three: VIPERS

Assignment night finally arrived this week, and as you can probably guess from the title of this post, I got my first choice: F-16s to Luke AFB!

I am extremely stoked, it's still sinking in and it's pretty unbelievable to know which plane I'm heading to.

The week of assignment night flew by. Before I knew it my dad, mom, step-mom, and sister had arrived into town. We spent a lot of time checking out things around the base, like our flight room, the life support area, the flight line and the T-38, and the simulators. They even got to try their hand at flying the sim, and it was pretty funny seeing some of the things they did while flying. My favorite was my little sister pressing the pickle button to release a bomb, and then when I told her to roll right and pull away, she rolled inverted and pulled, then pushed forward to try and get away from the ground, under-G-ing and crashing anyway. Good stuff haha. But my family had a great time with it overall.

We had to go to a couple briefings and finally it was time to head over to the Vance Club to get our assignments. It's tradition to make a giant wooden copy of your class patch to present to the wing commander, so that was placed up front covered by a sheet. The guy who actually made the giant patch and I, the designer of it way back when, revealed it.

Then came the assignments. It was a very surreal experience, seeing my friends get their aircraft and locations. I couldn't believe it was actually happening. As I stepped up to get mine, my heart was pounding with anticipation. They of course made fun of me pretty good, but that's to be expected. I turned to look up at the screen that would reveal my plane. And there's where my soul got crushed… well at least for about 30 seconds or so.

They got me pretty good. The slides that revealed our assignment start out with a big globe, and it's centered on Vance AFB. It then moves around showing various locations before finally settling someplace. Mine moved from Vance to Offutt AFB, NE, which houses the RC-135. Then to Tinker AFB, OK, which is the base for the E-3 AWACS… so far, not so good. Then it moved to Robins AFB, GA, and the plane that popped up was the E-8 JSTARS, which is a command and control plane that manages battlefields from the sky. Not. Good. I stared up at the screen in disbelief, but managed to shake our MC's hand and salute him before walking slowly back to my class. I looked once more back up at the screen, and all of a sudden, the globe appeared again and moved over to Arizona. I saw Luke AFB pop up, and then video clips of the F-16 flying around appeared. I couldn't believe it. The room erupted after the fake-out and I doubled-over out of excitement. It was one of the best feelings I've ever had. Preceded closely by one of the worst haha.

Anyway, after a weekend of celebrating, it's back to the grindstone as we start up four-ship formation this week. Two more weeks to graduation and I couldn't be more ready to finish strong and move on to bigger and better things. It feels amazing to finally know what I'll be doing, and where I'll be doing it. I have a lot of hard work cut out for me now, but the payoff will be tremendous. Here we go!

~ Dakota

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