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Vectors To Final

@vectors_to_final has worked diligently on balancing his instrument flying abilities with pun skills. Check out his Instagram account to see great photos from his missions and the occasional dad joke (or three)!

Full transparency: I did not grow up wanting to fly. I didn’t know any pilots and I’d only flown as a passenger on commercial airplanes a handful of times. And while each flight was exciting and novel, they didn’t spark a passion for aviation within me. Later, my college experiences eventually shaped my outlook. Now, thankfully, I now have some of the best office views in the world!

After graduating high school, I entered the U.S. Air Force Academy to obtain a university degree and commission as an Air Force officer. Each graduate of the Academy is not automatically a pilot; of my graduating class of about 1000 cadets, about half went on to serve in some type of flying capacity (i.e. pilot, navigator, or airborne controller). The other half served as Air Force officers in other career fields such as science/engineering, human resources, or aircraft maintenance. Besides a world-class undergraduate education, the Academy offers each cadet exposure to the Air Force mission which overwhelmingly involves air operations. Contributing to this experience, the airfield at the Academy supports a variety of flight programs like powered-flying or parachute jump operations. But it was the summers and weekends I spent as a glider pilot (and eventual instructor pilot) that inspired me to pursue a career as an Air Force pilot after graduation.

My time as a glider instructor pilot afforded me many hours of instructing other cadets to properly take-off and land gliders, to recover from stalls and spins in the glider, and to build overall situational awareness and sense of airmanship. The latter served me well after graduation during my Air Force pilot training experience.

Known as Undergraduate Pilot Training or UPT, Air Force pilot training is a rigorous year-long process of long 12-hour days. For the first six months, students in UPT train on a very powerful single-engine aircraft, the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II. Mixed with ground school and simulators, these first moments in powered aircraft are very much sink-or-swim with aerobatics, formation flying, instruments, and more thrown at you. Following your initial training, UPT students then “track” and continue their training in the Northrop T-38 Talon (fighters and bombers), Raytheon T-1 Jayhawk (“heavies”), or the Bell TH-67 Creek (helicopters and MV-22s). In this next 6-month phase of training, students must not only learn a new aircraft but also continue perfecting skills particular to their track like formation flying, instrument flying, or visual navigation for T-38s, T-1s, and TH-67s, respectively. Following this intense year of training, UPT graduates then find out the plane and community they’ll join in the Air Force. This final selection boils down to student performance through UPT but mostly the “needs of the Air Force” and what cockpits need pilots.

Training was not overly difficult for me. Through lots of studying and chair-flying and because of dedicated instructors, the more difficult parts of pilot training actually involved water classes or survival school. I did experience airsickness for the first couple of flights in UPT but after continuous exposure to the hot cockpit temperatures and all the bumps of flying a small plane, I adapted quickly. And while holding over a fix defined by intersecting radials with only one RMI needle isn’t likely to occur in real life, it did give me confidence in my flying and navigating abilities. Again, thankfully most of my navigation is rarely using raw NAVAIDs but instead involves using GPS and managing a complex flight management system.

I graduated UPT into the C-17 community for which I am forever grateful. The Boeing C-17A Globemaster III is the baddest cargo aircraft in the world and I count myself lucky to have instructed and evaluated aircrew in that plane the world over. Whether we were deploying troops to combat zones or delivering humanitarian assistance to disaster areas, the missions and crews I flew with are among my most unforgettable memories. Thanks to those hours flown and worldwide experience, I transitioned recently to fly U.S. leaders in the Boeing C-32A, a 757-200 variant. And honestly, it’s an out-of-body experience to see your aircraft featured prominently on the news when you turn on the TV while traveling.

Of course, all these experiences, out-of-body or otherwise, wouldn’t have been possible in any other career outside of the Air Force. For instance, at 26-years-old, I certified as a C-17 aircraft commander (equivalent of a civilian airline captain): this put me in charge of flying a $200 million aircraft literally around the world all while hauling hundreds of people and hundreds of thousands of pounds of cargo – absolutely insane! And now, knowing that I have a significant global impact by flying America’s leaders worldwide is a great feeling. Again, all of this is thanks to my decision to attend the Air Force Academy. And due directly to my experiences at the Academy, I can now boast about my incredible office views as a U.S. Air Force pilot.

Please feel free to reach out to me on Instagram or email if you have questions – I’m always willing to help others on their aviation journey!

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