Girls Fly Too- Graduation from Air Force Pilot Training

Today’s blog honors two occasions…my niece’s graduation from pilot training and Women in Aviation week. If you’ve spent any time on my website or reading through earlier blogs, you already know that aviation is a household word and a lifestyle in my family. Thus when someone gets a pilot’s license of any kind, it’s a big deal.

New Wings on the name tag

New Wings on the name tag

So in January, the family headed down to the rousing town of Del Rio, Texas. Once we left San Antonio, half of our cell phones went on hiatus in the great expanses of Texas lacking in cell towers (or really much populace at all save for perhaps a few prairie dogs). The perfect place to put a base with pilots learning to fly. Onward we pressed in the face of adversity, forewarned by my brother to be wary of speed traps. Imagine our surprise later when we passed the car with his family temporarily parked aside the road and my brother speaking to the nice gentleman whose car flashed colored lights. My brother must have smiled nice, because the man in blue gave him a warning and sent him on his way.

We had no doubts when we closed upon our destination as a buzz of aircraft swarmed the airfield. Opposite patterns ran to parallel runways, one which catered to T-38 jets and the other to T-6 turboprops. The entrance to the base took us past a line of aircraft on static display. We later discovered my father had flown a good number of them. Thus, as we traditionally do, we gathered all the military folks, put them in flight suits (some suits had shrunk since retirement) and did a photo shoot in front of the T(trainer)-28, a plane my dad had flown in his pilot training days.

Grandfather (KC-135), Dad (FB-111), Graduate, Uncle (Test Pilot)

Grandfather (KC-135), Dad (FB-111), Graduate, Uncle (Test Pilot)

To give you an idea of how proud my brother is of his daughter, just take a look at this close-up of the two. Kinda says it all.

Father and Daughter

Father and Daughter

Later, after formal ceremonies inside where awards were presented, all the students went out to the flight line, where their chosen “rated” Air Force officer officially pinned on their wings. My niece chose her dad and they pinned them on in front of the T-1, a trainer for those pilots going on to fly heavy aircraft. She is thrilled to be going to C(cargo)-17s.

Father pinning official flight wings on his daughter in front of her aircraft

Father pinning official flight wings on his daughter in front of her aircraft

The first plane my niece flew in training was the T-6 Texan II turbo-prop built by Raytheon Aircraft as a military trainer. The second half of Undergraduate Pilot Training brought a switch to the T-1, built by Raytheon and Hawker Beechcraft, with handling characteristics mimicking heavier aircraft.

T-6 Texan II

T-6 Texan II

T-1

T-1

A photo of the women in the family was taken in front of the T-6 and included Grandma, Aunt (that’s me), and my niece’s mom. We may not have been the military pilots in the family, but we all gave her encouragement through the years that she could achieve the dream of being a pilot.

Aunt, Graduate, Grandmother, Mom

Aunt, Graduate, Grandmother, Mom

The next photo is of my niece in front of the T-6 with her shiny new wings visible above the chest pocket of her uniform jacket. After all the stress and effort to get to this point, I can guarantee she has a lot of pride in those wings.

2Lt. Moffett in front of the T-6 Texan II

2Lt. Moffett in front of the T-6 Texan II

Of course, I had to have my special moment for a photo. I couldn’t be prouder and am glad my niece had an opportunity to fly for the Air Force that when I was her age wasn’t open to me. Thankfully times have changed.

Aunt and Niece

Aunt and Niece

Any time family gets together to celebrate there are always presents or food. Since we were on the road for this celebration, we ate out and brought gifts. Tradition has it that pilots build a “me” collection of plaques, patches, photos, and models as they go through their careers. This T-1 model of her first aircraft is a great way to start.

Niece with T-1 Model

Niece with T-1 Model

After all the ceremonies and photos, it’s dinnertime. For the military, it means official mess dress (cummerbund and all). But once they hit the bar, dinner changes to party time and the jackets come off. Just to show you formality doesn’t come without some sense of humor, I took a shot of the  pilots’ party shirts not visible when their  jackets are on. My niece altered these shirts for herself and a few friends (her mom helped to get them done in time). Those are shoes on her shirt. Every girl needs a pair or two to party, and these are a lot hotter than suede flight boots.

Congrats new Air Force pilot 2Lt. Moffett.

Party (Mess Dress) Shirts

Party (Mess Dress) Shirts

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Past Tale of Pilot Training Graduation

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.

…And there I was with someone on my six…

…And there I was with someone on my six…

Grandma checks out a flight sectional while Grandpa and Dad continue talking about military flying in the background. Did I mention we live and breathe aviation at my house? My dad flew actively for over 50 years and is a Wright Brother’s Award recipient.

Grandma checks out a flight sectional while Grandpa and Dad continue talking about military flying in the background.

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.

Dad checking out helmet in Life Support.

Dad checking out helmet in Life Support. The requisite parent with flight helmet photo. Note the lockers behind them where they store equipment.

Mom1

I didn’t show the photo with the helmet on my head. No surprise his head was a lot bigger than mine. You know about pilots and their big egos, right?

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.

Student Tower

Student Tower

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.

First I cut off the tail.

First I cut off the tail.

Then missed the nose.

Then missed the nose.

Picked up the superheated air from the jet nozzles.

Picked up the superheated air from the jet nozzles.

And even caught a "smokin" landing.
And even caught a “smokin” landing.
Then moved in for a few close-ups. The student sits up front.

Then moved in for a few close-ups. The student sits up front.

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.

A future pilot maybe?

A future pilot maybe?

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.

Son posing by plane

Son posing by plane. Notice the typical ladders pilots use to get into the plane.

In the photo below, my brother (a nav on FB-111s) stuck his head in the cockpit while my father looked over his shoulder.

Relatives checking out cockpit

Relatives checking out cockpit.

T-38. The reds tags hanging on the plane say “Remove before flight” and are pulled as part of the preflight walk around.

T-38. The reds tags hanging on the plane say “Remove before flight” and are pulled as part of the preflight walk around.

I particularly like the line-up of the planes as they sit on the tarmac. Cool.

I particularly like the line-up of the planes as they sit on the tarmac. Cool.

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.

SimGMa

Flying grandma. She actually did the best of our lot even if her feet barely touched the pedals.

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.

Grandpa, son, dad, uncle. Some of the old flight suits fit snug, but hey, who needs to breathe? This one in front of a T-37 flown in the first half of flight training.

Some of the old flight suits fit snug, but hey, who needs to breathe? This one in front of a T-37 flown in the first half of flight training. (Note: The T-6 has now replaced the T-37s)

Second photo in front of a T-38 flown in the second half of training (this varies depending on whether the student will be going into fighters or "heavy" aircraft).

Grandpa, son, dad, uncle. Second photo in front of a T-38 flown in the second half of training (this varies depending on whether the student will be going into fighters or “heavy” aircraft).

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.

What's left of my brother's old military shoes.

What’s left of my brother’s old military shoes.

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.

Grandpa presenting wings.

Grandpa presenting wings.

GradDad1

Like father, like son

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Sandy is starting in January 2013 a monthly drawing taken from those who comment on her blogs. Comment and your name will go into a drawing for a free ebook of Repossessed by Sandy Parks or one of author Julie Moffett’s Lexi series. You’ll have a month after names are pulled to check back and see if you are a winner. Good luck and  hope to hear from you.

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