Learning Success In the Air and On the Ground
… It was only after I let go of my hurt and bitterness over not being selected for Fighter pilot training that I realized what a great opportunity I had been presented with. As an instructor pilot in the mid- to late 90’s, I enjoyed the freedom to fly as much as I wanted.
More importantly, I was fortunate to be surrounded by a fantastic group of military aviators. The group, which consisted of my fellow instructor pilots, was led by a few of the best leaders that I have ever had the privilege to work for and serve with. Due to the fact that most of the instructor pilots that made up my group were serving on our first flying tour, we were all very impressionable. The outstanding leadership that we were exposed to molded us — not only into better Air Force pilots but also into superior military Officers as well. The leaders that I am referring to were experienced Fighter pilots that had been posted back to the Air Force training base to help mold the next generation of Fighter pilots. They did exactly that; they were like God to me.
Slowly but surely, I started to be able to control my bigger-than-life personality. I had to learn how far I could push myself to become a better pilot in the air while at the same time always being able to maintain a professional demeanor on the ground. To be honest, I sometimes felt like I was on the high wire at a PT Barnum circus trying to juggle these skills and maintain that balance.
As time passed, I found it a little easier to learn the appropriate “work hard…play hard” mentality.
It was common for me to attend the Officer’s Mess to enjoy the company of my fellow instructor pilots after a long day of flying. Our conversations regularly revolved around our collective dream of flying fighter jets. My dream of becoming a Fighter pilot was still alive and well.
After four years of hard work and gaining a great deal of flight experience, I was finally chosen for Fighter pilot lead-in training. I was extremely grateful that my new Commanding Officer felt I was ready to take the next step towards accomplishing my goal. There was one catch — because we were still short on instructor pilots, I would have to maintain my status as a line instructor pilot while completing the syllabus for the fighter lead-in training course. I had to carry out my full-time responsibilities while simultaneously learning the basic skills that a Fighter pilot would find in his toolbox, such as air combat maneuvering and ground attack deliveries. In addition to learning how to fly in this new manner, I was also required to complete the ground school portion of the course that focused on the tactics of employing a fighter jet in both the “air to air” and “air to ground” arenas. I was a walking “Jane’s Aircraft” manual. I was required to intimately know all that there was to know about both friendly and enemy military weapon systems.
It was commonplace for me to instruct my basic and advanced students in the morning prior to putting on my student hat and flying with my Fighter pilot instructors in the afternoon. It was a busy time in my life but I loved every second of it.
Luckily, it only took approximately six months to complete the entire fighter lead-in course. Upon graduation I was given my orders to pack up my home, along with my newlywed wife, and move to my next base where I would commence my Fighter pilot course.