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Vance AFB pilot instructors take pride in job

May. 13, 2013 - 08:46AM   |  
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ENID, OKLA. — 1st Lt. Michelle Bosch loves being an instructor pilot.

She wasn’t always certain that would be the case, however. She is a T-1 first assignment instructor pilot, or FAIP, in the 3rd Flying Training Squadron at Vance Air Force Base. FAIPs are assigned as instructors shortly after they receive their wings, rather than being assigned to an aircraft in the “real” Air Force.

The same is true of 1st Lt. Dan Cohoon, who is a T-38 FAIP in the 25th FTS. Both received their wings from Vance, then returned as instructors after attending Pilot Instructor Training at Randolph AFB, Texas.

Being chosen a FAIP is something of an honor, because students must finish in the top half of their class to be tapped to be instructors. But it isn’t always seen that way by those so designated.

“I didn’t want to come back and be a FAIP,” Bosch admits. “But I love it now.”

In contrast, Cohoon was happy to return as a FAIP, though, he admits, “It was not my first choice, by any stretch.”

“It is kind of an honor to come back, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” he told the Enid News & Eagle.

Being a FAIP, Cohoon said, has put him in daily contact with instructors who have real-world combat aircraft experience.

“I get to live vicariously through them and learn from their experiences,” said Cohoon, a native of Leesburg, Va.

The hardest part of being a FAIP, Bosch said, is seeing students who don’t work as hard as she did in pilot training be assigned to their dream aircraft.

“Then, it’s really long days,” she said. “But the actual teaching, and watching a student who is struggling and you being able to teach them something that just clicks for them and then they excel in that portion of their flying, is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve done in the Air Force.”

FAIPs are not far removed from their own pilot training days, giving them a unique view as instructors.

“It gives me a little different perspective, sometimes a better perspective and sometimes a worse perspective,” said Bosch, a native of Bismark, N.D. “I don’t have the real-world, big picture like some of the instructors who went out and flew. Yet I do have the perspective of, I know what they’re going through, as in what a struggle it was to learn certain things. But I also know what kinds of things they (students) can try to pull.”

T-1 students tend to struggle with the size of the aircraft, Bosch said, since for most it is the first large jet they have flown.

“It handles so much differently than the T-6 did,” she said. “The T-1 handles much bigger than it looks.”

In the T-1, students also must adjust to flying with a crew, Bosch said.

“They have to get into the mindset of using the crew wisely,” she said, “using good crew resource management and learning from each other while still flying the aircraft.”

T-38 instructors are grooming fighter pilots for single-seat aircraft, Cohoon said, but they must teach crew management as well, since T-38 students can be assigned to be anything except T-1 FAIPs.

Bosch has a couple of pieces of advice for her students. The first is, if you “hook,” or fail a check ride, use it as motivation to do better, rather than becoming discouraged. The second is to be happy with whatever assignment you receive upon graduation.

By the time students graduate, she said, “You see them as your little prodigies and your children. You want to foster them into being really good pilots. After I’m done with them they are going to get their wings. It’s our job to make sure they’re ready for that responsibility. Getting them there is kind of a cool thing.”

During transition, the first phase of T-1 training, instructors look for “good hands,” or pure flying ability.

“After that we don’t,” she said. “We know the people we’re sending on, they’re going to go to aircraft where they’re going to fly with the autopilot on. You don’t need the best hands to be the best Air Force pilot.”

A sense of assertiveness and situational awareness are far more important, she said.

“What we want to see is when something doesn’t go as planned, we want them to make a decision, we want them to be decisive,” she said.

T-38 instructors primarily look for dedication, Cohoon said.

“The way I brief it to my students is, ‘We expect you to show up knowing the what, and we’ll teach you the how,’” he said. “As long as they know basically what the book says, we can teach them now to actually do that themselves. It’s more the drive that we really look for.”

Cohoon said his biggest satisfaction as an instructor comes in “Just the little victories as you go through,” such as having a student properly land the T-38 for the first time, a challenging task.

“It’s rewarding on the small scale like that, and it’s also rewarding on the grander scale, because you think, ‘This guy couldn’t safely land a T-38 two or three months ago, and now I would be happy to go fly on his wing,’” he said.

Unlike T-6 instructors, T-38 and T-1 IPs don’t have to school students in aviation fundamentals.

“We’re basically just sharpening,” Cohoon said. “The T-6 is starting the process and then just continue honing the edge, so that by the time they’re done, they are nominal.”

Both said it is easy to pick out the class leaders in the first week or so, but students can be unpredictable.

“They will surprise you, for sure,” Cohoon said.

Just as students won’t know to which aircraft they will be assigned until late in their training, so FAIPs must wait to learn their next assignment until the year they are scheduled to leave Vance.

When she was a student pilot, Bosch wanted to fly the C-17. Now after meeting C-17 pilots who return as instructors, she has changed her mind.

“It’s a busy lifestyle,” she said. “I’ve been busy here, and I don’t really want that again.”

Now her top choice is the KC-135 tanker.

Cohoon used to be enamored with the F-22 or the A-10, but he, too, has changed his mind. Now he says he is “leaving my options open for now. Hopefully something pointy and fast.”

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