IPs From the Total Force

Sept. 1, 2001
Somewhere between the first ride in a primary trainer and checkout in an advanced fighter aircraft, many of today’s student pilots encounter a once unheard of situation: The Instructor Pilot is not an active duty Air Force officer.

More and more, the veteran pilot in the cockpit–although wearing the same uniform as the student pilot–is a full-time employee of an airline or some other civilian organization. The typical trainee probably does not even know that his or her instructor is a reservist.

In a new use of its air reserve components, the Air Force has tapped hundreds of Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command pilots to become flight instructors with Air Education and Training Command. These IPs now are working at a dozen bases and make up roughly one-fifth of USAF’s total IP force. They are involved in activities of all types, ranging from Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training to graduate flying courses and training of other Instructor Pilots.

Much of the new effort-known as the Instructor Pilot Associate Program-is centered in the 340th Flying Training Group (AFRC) at Randolph AFB, Tex., which also is the location of AETC headquarters. The 340th oversees six subordinate training squadrons associated with active duty flight training at Randolph as well as at Moody AFB, Ga., Columbus AFB, Miss., Vance AFB, Okla., and Laughlin and Sheppard AFBs, Tex.

Guard and Reserve IPs also work in Formal Training Units associated with operational C-130H units at Dobbins ARB, Ga., and F-16 units at Luke AFB, Ariz. FTUs train graduate pilots in the aircraft used by combat and support forces.

Regarding the Air National Guard, all of the instructors that it supplies are assigned to these kinds of FTUs. They help to train graduate pilots in the C-130 at Little Rock AFB, Ark., and the F-15 fighter at Kingsley Field, Ore. They also work with F-16 FTUs at Springfield, Ohio, and Tucson, Ariz. Another Guard unit trains F-16 pilots at Kelly Field Annex, Tex.

In both the Guard and Reserve programs, the majority of IPs work as airline pilots.

Schedule Alignment

“It works out well for people with irregular schedules,” said Col. John O’Connor, AFRC advisor to the commander of AETC. “The traditional Guardsman or Reservist usually participates on the weekends, but in the training world, we need them to participate Monday through Friday, because that’s when the pilot training and the graduate training is occurring.

“So, it turns out the young airline pilot usually has the worst civilian schedule. He or she has to fly on the weekends and holidays. They are more frequently available on the weekdays, which fits right in with where we need them. So, it is turning out to be a fairly synergistic relationship.”

Just having time to spare is not, in itself, sufficient reason for a Guard or Reserve pilot to win a coveted flying slot in the training units. They must be highly qualified.

IPs assigned to fly in the T-37, T-6, or T-1 aircraft, said O’Connor, must have had a major weapons system designator and have been at least an aircraft commander in that aircraft. In the T-38 and the AT-38 program, they need a fighter pilot background with a minimum of 350 hours.

A few exceptions apply: About 10 to 15 percent of the T-38’s reserve instructors are pilots with experience in bombers, primarily the B-1. It is an aircraft that requires what O’Connor calls “the fast-mover type of skills.”

The decision to move the Guard and Reserve pilots into AETC flying units preceded but generally accords with an Air Force initiative called “Future Total Force,” which was launched in the late 1990s and headed up by the Air Force Directorate of Strategic Planning. Under the Future Total Force umbrella, USAF is examining numerous ideas and concepts that promise to produce better integration of the Guard and Reserve with the active duty forces. The goal: help the Air Force operate more efficiently and with more capability, for less cost.

“On the [AFRC] side we have 507 Instructor Pilots now supporting the six pilot training bases,” said O’Connor, “and 81 percent are prior AETC instructors.”

Of those 507 AFRC Instructor Pilots, just 85 are Active Guard Reservists, the colonel said. They are called to active duty status for specific periods. The other IPs are “traditional” reservists, who work full time in civilian jobs and part time with the training squadrons.

“AGR is full-time active duty status,” explained Col. John C. Chase, ANG advisor to the AETC commander. “The part-time guys are, in effect, training for their wartime mission, which is to be Instructor Pilots. That’s how the mission statements are written for both the Guard and the Reserve.”

There is a third category of reserve members known as “technicians.” They hold full-time jobs with Guard and Reserve units in civilian status and dual status as reserve members of their units. While technicians may play training roles with their own units, the colonel said, they are barred by law from training active duty members.

Dual Status

Once in the program, the reserve pilots have a dual status. “In the [Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training] world,” said O’Connor, “Air Force Reserve Command has administrative control over the Reserve IPs, but when they are flying with students in the active duty airplanes on a day-to-day basis, they are under the operational control of the active duty force.”

It works like this: When an AFRC captain shows up to work as an Instructor Pilot, his AFRC unit cuts his orders and makes sure that his pay and flight status make it legal for him to fly the airplane. But he takes direction from the active duty unit when it comes to what flight he is going to fly with, what mission he is going to perform, and all other operational control issues.

For the part-time reservists, AETC has worked out what amounts to a job-sharing plan. In effect, it takes three part-time reservists to equal one full-time instructor. Officials admit that the arrangement poses some scheduling problems.

“In the interview process,” said O’Connor, “we tell the reservist candidates that we are looking for people who will fly with us six to eight days a month. That’s the time on station. If it takes him a day to travel out to a place like Laughlin or Columbus, he needs to add a day on the back and on the front. What most of the part-time reservists will do is break that into two visits a month and we’ll see them for three days twice a month.”

That is the typical procedure, but if a person is between jobs or is not fully employed elsewhere, AETC has enough flying opportunities to keep the pilot working Monday through Friday in every week that the Air Force flies.

Most reservists instruct at bases close to their homes, but like active duty members, they can’t count on staying in place indefinitely. A mission change currently under way, for example, calls for concentrating all of AETC’s Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals course work at Moody. IFF training has been phased out at Columbus and will stop at Randolph by the end of the year.

“All of the IP positions [at Columbus and Randolph] will move to Moody,” said O’Connor, “and those who are in those positions will be expected to move.”

That, O’Connor quickly explained, doesn’t necessarily mean that all will move physically, in the sense of taking families to the local area. However, they will be expected to participate at Moody. Of the AFRC IPs at Columbus, all but one are now participating at the Georgia installation.

Reality Bites

“We expect that when the reality of the long commute sets in, we’re probably going to lose some of them,” said O’Connor. “We may lose a few more in the Randolph transition. Many of the AFRC AT-38 Instructor Pilots here live in the San Antonio area, and the commute to Moody from San Antonio is going to be a little more cumbersome, so we’re expecting more attrition among the 16 IPs who currently fly AT-38s at Randolph.”

O’Connor believes that some may opt out of the flying program altogether. If Air Force needs permit it, others may be allowed to cross-train into a different trainer aircraft. They could teach in the T-6 or the T-37 for as long as AETC flies it, said O’Connor.

In the case of the traditional part-time reservists, the Air Force has no legal power to force changes of location.

“In the Guard and Reserve,” said O’Connor, “we have the ultimate volunteer program. Active duty members have service commitments, but the way the laws are currently written, even if a Guardsman or a Reservist goes to a formal training school, we don’t have the same legal hold on him or her to continue to participate for a requisite number of years. We look deep into their eyes and press the issue–that, if we are sending them to school, we expect three years of participation, but we do not have something enforceable in court if they don’t show up.”

Nor do the reserves have all the incentives the active force uses to entice pilots to stay in service longer.

“There is a bonus system for reservists,” said O’Connor, but only for the full-time reservists. “We’re working hard to get a bonus program for the part-time traditional Reservists and traditional Guardsmen as well but we don’t have it yet.”

Popular Duty

Among the jobs the reserve components have taken on in recent years, IP duties may be the most popular. O’Connor said, “With the Guard and Reserve doing far more with the operational Air Force, the AETC mission is pretty attractive. We don’t deploy to the desert, we don’t wear gas masks, and for the moment anyway, we don’t have to take anthrax shots. We offer a pretty attractive lifestyle to the Reservist and Guardsman who might be a little tired of his or her third deployment to air refueling tracks over the Red Sea.”

Like the use of Guard and Reserve members to augment combat units, this active duty-reserve training partnership is designed to help the Air Force overcome or at least ease the effects of a shortage of active duty pilots. It also is another of the Air Force’s efforts to recapture the skills and abilities of the pilots that USAF could not hold for full careers.

The helping hand never has been needed as much as it is today. During its recent drawdown, the Air Force cut its pilot training and diverted many new graduates into ground jobs until it could deplete temporary rated overages. Over the same period, it suffered poor retention among experienced pilots as the smaller force strained to meet new commitments.

In the late 1990s, USAF moved to rebuild its rated force, but it was haunted by the effects of the drawdown actions and was plagued by continued poor retention. Pilot overages swiftly disappeared and the service suddenly faced shortages.

To counter the trend, USAF increased undergraduate pilot production from a low of about 350 students per year in 1993 to today’s annual rate of 1,100. The higher production rate presented a new set of problems, however. It required even larger numbers of flight instructors. With pilot losses still running high, the service was hard pressed to spare more fliers from operational units to man training units. In addition, many of the Instructor Pilots already available were leaving after their initial commitments.

In 1997, AETC officials came up with a plan which they believed would provide at least a partial solution. They proposed tapping the reserve components for Instructor Pilots to serve in the undergraduate training program. While the active force was suffering a hemorrhage of experienced pilots, the reserve forces were enjoying a surge of applications (from the same people who were leaving active duty). Moreover, the experience level of these reserve fliers was higher.

USAF leaders approved a test of the idea, and not long afterward, 40 Reserve pilots reported to Columbus and Vance to join active duty training squadrons flying T-38s. The initial program was funded by AETC and Air Force Reserve Command, but USAF soon gave it top-level support. A broader and formalized program came into being with the activation of the 340th FTG at Randolph.

As the active-reserve partnership spread to other AETC schools, the Air Force’s four-star Corona conference approved extending the concept to graduate pilot programs. Guard as well as Reserve units were being linked with their active duty counterparts at bases such as Little Rock AFB, Ark., Tinker AFB, Okla., and Tyndall AFB, Fla. Similar arrangements have moved reserve IPs into AETC’s training courses for Instructor Pilots and for foreign students.

Major Changes

Until fairly recently, the reserve IPs working for AETC would have been limited to undergraduate training schools, but the training world itself also has undergone major changes.

“AETC’s mission used to stop when it graduated a new pilot and sent him or her off to an operating command,” said O’Connor. “The operating commands ran their own training programs. Over the last six years, however, AETC has been given the task of all the flight training including the graduate course in Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals and most of the FTUs.”

In IFF, AETC keeps the “baby” fighter pilots in the airplanes with which they are familiar, and since they just came out of the T-38, they stay in that.

“Now,” said O’Connor, “we have to teach new concepts. IFF is brain training for these young people on how to maneuver the aircraft more aggressively than they did in [Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training], how to use the altitude regime and energy management schemes in order to build a foundation of skills so that when we do introduce them to the new airplane with the more advanced avionics the fighter fundamentals will have become something they don’t have to think about any more.”


The pilots go from there to the Formal Training Units, which have taken the place of the old Replacement Training Units in the operational world. AETC now runs FTU training for pilots flying any aircraft other than the B-1, B-52, and F-117. Training in those three aircraft is specialized, and IPs are handpicked from among pilots with previous experience. The B-1, B-52, and F-117 FTUs are still run by Air Combat Command.

“When they go into [the FTU] world, there also is Reserve and Guard augmentation,” said O’Connor. “We call that the ‘gray jet world,’ as opposed to the undergraduate training’s ‘white jet world,’ holdover from the days when all AETC planes were painted white. In the gray jet world, we have air reserve technicians who support the C-130 training program and the KC-135 training program, and the Guard has technicians in the F-15 and F-16 world.”

AETC has not only taken on more of the graduate training load but has overhauled its undergraduate curriculum as well. Through much of its history, the air arm sent all pilots through essentially the same training course, dividing them only between single- and twin-engine aircraft in the advanced phase. A few years ago, however, AETC adopted the “track” system under which undergraduates specialize in fighter/bomber or airlift/tanker aircraft. Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training was phased in over a period of years and now is standard.

If all goes well, the increased pilot production should relieve the rated shortage and provide the Air Force with more active duty Instructor Pilots. Will the Guard and Reserve IPs then be relieved of the duty

O’Connor doesn’t think so.

“We in the Guard and Reserve are treating this as a career program,” he said. “We have the ability to bring people in as captains and grow them all the way up to the O-5 [lieutenant colonel] level out in the field, and we can let them compete for full colonel positions here at the headquarters. So, we’re not thinking of the program as a part-time filler.”

He added that the active force views the program as “a tremendous resource” for the service.

“Here we have people who have combat experience and several thousand flying hours,” said O’Connor. “Although they are leaving the active duty force, the Guard and Reserve program offers a safety net, where we can catch a few of them and keep them as participants. That high degree of experience is transferred not just to the new student pilots but to the new pilots who are going into IP duty as their first assignments. Often, these young active duty IPs will turn to the Reserve and Guard instructors for advice.”

The Air Force believes that the use of reserves also is cost-effective. Although there have been some program start-up costs, said O’Connor, picking up a pilot who already is trained is cheaper than growing a new one. Chase added that the reserve IPs are likely to remain in place for years, whereas active duty pilots must be replaced periodically.

How Much Further

A more critical question may be how much further the reserves can go in helping the active force in its training and other missions. Like the active force, the Guard and Reserve are carrying heavy loads in their operational forces, and although they have been doing well at picking up pilots when they exit active duty, that supply is not inexhaustible.

“I think we are pretty close to the line,” said O’Connor. “When we first ramped up the IP program, we had a lot more applicants. Now, the number of active duty people getting off active duty is diminishing.”

That is happening because in 1992-93 the Air Force was producing only 300 to 350 pilots a year. The commitments of those people are now ending. Even if all 350 of those pilots were to come into the Guard and Reserve, the service still couldn’t fill all of the Instructor Pilot needs right now.

“Therefore, we see a lot more of what we call ‘initial entries,’ ” said O’Connor. “We’re taking more second lieutenants directly into the Guard and Reserve and putting them into pilot training. The experienced prior-service pilots are getting harder and harder to come by. I think we’re close to pressing the limits of Reserve and Guard assistance to the active duty mission.”

For now, however, the active-reserve partnership is a going concern. And just at the right time.

Bruce D. Callander, a regular contributor to Air Force Magazine, served tours of active duty during World War II and the Korean War. In 1952, he joined Air Force Times, serving as editor from 1972 to 1986. His most recent story for Air Force Magazine, “The Return of Kelly Field,” appeared in the July 2001 issue.