Board of Visitors members gain perspectives on Airmanship

Cadet 1st Class Stephen Pike of Cadet Squadron 21 describes the Air Force Academy's unmanned aerial system airmanship program to Gina Salazar and BJ Barger during the Academy Board of Visitors' tour of the Academy Airfield July 24, 2010. Also pictured is Cadet 2nd Class Travis Potthoff of CS 39. Ms. Salazar, the deputy district director for Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), attended in the congressman's stead. Ms. Barger is the deputy assistant secretary for force management integration at the Pentagon. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Don Branum)

Cadet 1st Class Stephen Pike of Cadet Squadron 21 describes the Air Force Academy's unmanned aerial system airmanship program to Gina Salazar and BJ Barger during the Academy Board of Visitors' tour of the Academy Airfield July 24, 2010. Also pictured is Cadet 2nd Class Travis Potthoff of CS 39. Ms. Salazar, the deputy district director for Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), attended in the congressman's stead. Ms. Barger is the deputy assistant secretary for force management integration at the Pentagon. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Don Branum)

Cadet 2nd Class Russell Ahrens of Cadet Squadron 06 gives Susan Schwab a prebrief before taking her on a glider flight at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., July 24, 2010. Cadet Ahrens is an instructor pilot with the soaring airmanship program. Ms. Schwab is a member of the Academy's Board of Visitors, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and a former U.S. trade representative. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Cadet 2nd Class Russell Ahrens of Cadet Squadron 06 gives Susan Schwab a prebrief before taking her on a glider flight at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., July 24, 2010. Cadet Ahrens is an instructor pilot with the soaring airmanship program. Ms. Schwab is a member of the Academy's Board of Visitors, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and a former U.S. trade representative. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Retired Col. Sue Ross and a cadet pilot soared through the blue skies above the Air Force Academy Saturday, practicing stall avoidance maneuvers and pulling Gs with only the sound of the wind against their glider to accompany them. Elsewhere, A.J. Scribante and a tandem jumper stepped out of a UV-18 Twin Otter aircraft and hurtled toward the ground more than 4,000 feet below.

Ms. Ross, Mr. Scribante and others with the Air Force Academy Board of Visitors took the dive -- some in a glider, others with a parachute -- to learn more about the airmanship programs available to cadets during a tour here July 23 and Saturday.

"It was amazing. It was a beautiful day, and I had a great instructor pilot," said Colonel Ross, who flew as a T-38 Talon instructor pilot and as a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft commander and evaluator pilot during her Air Force career. "These cadets are so articulate and know so much. I know they'll be great when they go out into the Air Force."

The 306th Flying Training Group, an Air Education and Training Command unit here, is responsible for the Academy's airfield and airmanship programs, but cadets here conduct much of the instruction. Cadets enroll into an airmanship program the summer before their sophomore years and become instructors in either their junior or senior years.

When Board of Visitors members weren't in the air, they had a chance to check out static displays on the ground. The static that attracted the most attention was the Academy's ScanEagle remotely piloted aircraft, which has a 10-foot wingspan and can be deployed from almost any platform, including the deck of a Navy destroyer. Twenty-four cadets received their Unmanned Aerial System wings in 2009 and will be instructor pilots for this year's UAS airmanship courses.

"This program's definitely an eye-opener," said Cadet 1st Class Stephen Pike from Cadet Squadron 21.

The UAS airmanship training begins with the fundamentals -- how to control the aircraft and operate the ground control station. But the course of instruction quickly escalates in the level of challenge it provides, said Maj. Jeffrey Ray, who is assigned to the 306th Operations Support Squadron and has previously deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan as an F-15 Strike Eagle weapons systems officer.

"We use a building-block approach," Major Ray said. "Once we take these guys to the next step, which is instructor pilot upgrade, it's gloves off. It is a definite exponential jump in the program and what we require of them because we're asking them to make pretty important decisions."

The Academy's UAS airmanship program exists to ingrain moral and ethical reasoning and develop cadets' sense of character and leadership, said Brig. Gen. Dana Born, the Academy's dean of the faculty. Before they graduate, cadets must have the confidence -- and the conscience -- to make important decisions in real time.

"Cadets have to learn how to deal with a multitude of scenarios and make important decisions in time-critical situations," General Born said. "We have to ensure that they're prepared to make the right call on their own. Enduring learning -- having the knowledge, the skills and responsibility embedded in them."

"There's no pause button," Major Ray added. "We'll talk about decisions during the debrief, but they've got to make that decision in the moment."