Forum gives cadets inside look at pilot training

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Cadets with their eyes on the wild blue yonder after graduation are getting a glimpse of flying education through Cadet Aviation Forums. 

The first forum this year, held Sept. 25, will be repeated in the spring. 

"Our purpose is to inform cadets on the latest pilot training information," said Lt. Col. Chris Foster with the 306th Flying Training Group at the Academy airfield. 

Representatives from both the Initial Flight Screening and Undergraduate Pilot Training programs were on hand to give cadets an inside look at what pilot training involves and answer questions. About 50 cadets attended the forum in Mitchell Hall. 

The IFS program under Air Education and Training Command serves as the gateway to Air Force aviation. The preliminary flight training course prepares newly commissioned Air Force officers selected for Pilot or Combat Systems Officer Training. 

Candidates have 22 training days, 10 sorties and 13.8 flight hours under the guidance of civilian Doss Aviation instructor pilots in the Diamond DA20 aircraft. 

Trainees are drawn from active duty, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve officers and ROTC cadets who are candidates for UPT. They are screened for attitude, aptitude, adaptability and motivation to be professional military aviators. 

During the program, located in Pueblo's industrial park next to the airport, they are housed in the main facility with dormitories, kitchens and dining rooms, classrooms, a chapel, gym, barbershop and conference rooms. 

Lt. Col. John Shirtz, functional director for the program and Academy Class of 1991, called IFS a "fire hose of a learning model" and said it requires a high degree of motivation. 

"You have to do the work," he advised cadets. "It's good but difficult." 

Colonel Shirtz said trainees receive no leave or overnight visitors and they should leave weapons and pets elsewhere. He also stressed Academy graduates are treated no differently from other students in the program. 

"Just put your best foot forward," he said. 

Roughly 90 percent of trainees make it through the class in preparation for UPT, held at various bases. In some cases, classmates may include members of the Navy as well as the Air Force. 

"It is a most amazing but stressful year of your life," Capt. Zach Tinnen, Academy Class of 2005, told cadets. 

The instructor pilot from Vance Air Force Base, Okla., stressed the keys to succeeding in UPT include commitment, attitude and adequate sleep. With 54 weeks to prove themselves, there are no second chances. 

"You will be at the pointed end of the spear," he said and emphasized UPT is no place to linger while deciding on a career path. 

The program will be demanding physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually but worth it, he added. 

"If you have a good attitude and you study, I will bend over backwards to teach you how to fly," Captain Tinnen said. 

Colonel Foster cautioned cadets that after training they may not get the aircraft they initially wanted. 

"Have an idea what you'd like to do, but keep an open mind," he said. "You're going to like what you get."