The members of our clan are doomed (to fly that is). Aviation runs through their blood and is a topic of discussion at most family gatherings. Excitement builds once again as we prepare for another “flying” graduation…this one for my niece from Air Force pilot training (UPT). To prepare, I went back through photos of my oldest son’s graduation. I’d hoped to get a step-by-step log of what goes on at pilot training, but ultimately students are too overwhelmed, short on sleep, and under a ton of stress to worry about anything but learning to fly. Thus my parent’s wrap-up will have to suffice and hopefully not embarrass the current fighter pilot.
A few years ago and far away….
Like any graduation, all the relatives that could make it converged, in the case of my son’s graduation, on Sheppard AFB, Texas. Curious as to the living quarters, we crowded into our son’s dorm-like room and proceeded to quiz him about all the flying paraphernalia lying about. Grandpa and Dad (both military pilots) perused patches and coins, and chatted in the typical military “speak.” My son’s grandfather flew actively for over 50 years and is a Wright Brother’s Award recipient.
Things got started with a visit to the classroom environment (where we also had a quick lunch). The instructors and students demonstrated a stand-up where the students are questioned on BOLDFACE (the life-extending stuff on the plane checklist) and other safety and emergency procedures. Then it was on to the equipment room (life support) to show us his flying gear.
Next we were whisked off for our turn to go out to the runway and see another class of student practicing their pattern work and landings. They let us off by the students’ tower where classmates checked landing planes as they came in to make sure their gear was down.
I grabbed the visit as an opportunity to practice using a long lens to capture photos of fast-moving aircraft. Let’s simply say it was a learning experiment.
After watching the flying for a while, we headed back for a tour of the parked planes. One of the young family members dressed up to show her support for the class.
The “static” display of planes was set up for each family to have a chance to look into the cockpit. In the case of the T-38, the glass canopy is raised and stairs put up.
In the photo below, my brother (a nav on FB-111s) stuck his head in the cockpit while my father looked over his shoulder.
Next was off to the simulators where they gave a few flying minutes to family members (most crash in a minute or two). Our son leaned over his grandmother’s shoulder and helped her to do a decent job of staying aloft.
As though we hadn’t already taken a gazillion photos, we then had to do the “generations” thing. So off to the static displays of retired aircraft and a change into flight suits for everyone.
As I mentioned earlier, a few of the uniforms had to come out of mothballs. I guess my brother’s shoes did, too…only they didn’t survive. His heels disintegrated on the sidewalk out front of the Officer’s Quarters and the soles left little black footprints everywhere he walked. Here’s hoping he purchased new shoes for his daughter’s UPT graduation.
At the end of the day, everyone dressed up in formal wear and headed for the graduation ceremony. There, the students received their official “wings.” Usually two weeks before graduation, they have learned what plane the Air Force would assign them to and where they would be based. The ceremony meant more photos, but this time we didn’t have to say smile. The relief on their faces made them naturally appear.