Training squadron ‘doubles down’ in effort to grow RPA pilot ranks

Training squadron ‘doubles down’ in effort to grow RPA pilot ranksJOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS)

The 558th Flying Training Squadron ramped up efforts to double the remotely piloted aircraft pilot ranks with the start of its first 24-person class Jan. 11 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.

The larger class sizes are part of ongoing initiative announced by the Air Force in 2015 to increase the number of career RPA pilots across the service.

“The RPA community as a whole is experiencing manpower issues and there is a need to train more pilots to help ease the overall strain on the career field,” said Lt. Col. John Stallworth, the 558th FTS commander. “We have worked diligently since last April to ensure we can meet the increased demand for trained ‘18X’ pilots.”

Previously, RPA pilot training classes started with 12 students; by May, each will begin with 24 students. With 16 projected classes starting each fiscal year, the number of pilots trained annually will jump from 192 up to 384.

One of the big challenges for the unit, which has been the sole source of RPA pilot training in the Air Force since January 2011, during the transition will be increasing overall production by 71 percent during fiscal 16, while at the same time, creating the permanent student production pipeline to be at full operational capability for fiscal 2017, said Lt. Col. Jason Thompson, the 558th FTS director of operations.

The 558th FTS graduated 191 student pilots in fiscal 2015 and are projected to graduate 290 in fiscal 2016.

“Overall production counts not just students, but also includes the additional instructors needed to handle the increased load,” Thompson said. “There is a considerable amount of moving pieces in regards to getting both the students, as well as the instructors, ready to make this mission a reality.”

To help meet the increased student demands, Stallworth said the unit has hired roughly half of the 42 new instructor billets put on the books, which will see the squadron grow from 62 instructors to 104 over the next few months.

“Our instructor cadre will be roughly 50 percent military and 50 percent civilian,” Stallworth said. “The (instructors) are doing a great job being flexible during this time of growth; they’ve done everything we have asked and more throughout this process.”

To aid in creating the permanent production stream of RPA pilots, the inside of the 558th FTS building is undergoing a major renovation project.

“The renovations include additional simulator rooms, plus additional classroom and office space,” said Maj. Michawn, a 558th FTS RPA flight instructor and officer in charge of the renovations. “Through our detailed planning with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, the 502nd Civil Engineering Squadron and the contractor, we have mitigated most of the potential impacts to the students or their training time.”

The renovations, costing approximately $1.15 million, started Jan. 18 and are expected to be complete by early July, said Michawn, while noting any delays or deviations to the current plan have the potential to reduce RPA student production capacity.

After the renovations are complete, students will be split into six flight rooms vice the old three, with a typical class of 24 being broke into two halves of 12, Stallworth said. While half the class is working on academics, the other half will be training on the simulators, minimizing down time to the maximum extent possible and at the same time, keeping instructor workloads manageable.

Despite the renovations, the transition to larger class sizes wouldn’t work without the dedicated work of the 558th FTS unit schedulers.

“Our scheduling team has been absolutely critical to making this ‘plus-up’ happen,” Stallworth said. “Between academics and making sure everyone gets their ‘sim’ time in, we haven’t had any major hiccups and this is primarily due to their efforts in thinking through the problems and coming up with flexible solutions.”

Partnering with the 502nd Trainer Development Squadron at Randolph to meet the need for more simulators, work is currently underway to design and build six new instrument simulators, as well as creating hardware and software upgrades to be made to 10 existing simulators to meet the improved training capabilities of the six new simulators, Stallworth said.

The simulators are linked together so students have the opportunity to practice instrument flying procedures in a dynamic airspace environment similar to what they will encounter during real-world flight operations.

“The T-6A-like simulators being developed with the (502nd TDS) will be state of the art and we appreciate the efforts of the entire trainer development team in helping make this happen,” Stallworth said.

Another key element in ensuring mission success is the teamwork that has been on display between all the Joint Base San Antonio mission partners involved in the project, with crucial support coming from the 502nd Air Base Wing’s communications and contracting squadrons.

“The 502nd ABW has been tremendous in supporting the needs of our training mission,” Michawn said. “There have been a few challenges along the way, but all the players are focused on getting the mission done.”

(Editor’s note: In accordance with current Air Force guidance, the last names of the RPA operators in this story have been omitted due to operational security constraints.)

February issue of Airman magazine now available

February issue of Airman magazine now availableFORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS)

The February issue of Airman magazine is now available to download and is viewable through a Web browser.

In the cover story, “Missing in America,” you’ll read about a group of former service members who walk the streets of Los Angeles searching for homeless veterans to help.

In the next feature, you will read about an original Rosie the Riveter from World War II, who worked on airplanes for almost 50 years.

Lastly, you’ll learn about the sacrifices involved in being a part of the U.S. Air Force Drill Team.

You can download Airman magazine’s February issue for your tablet here:

• Apple version

• Android version

Airman magazine provides an interactive experience for tablet readers and a limited interactive version is viewable in Web browser format. Click here to read this issue on your PC/Mac.

For more stories, visit Airman Online, the website for the official magazine of the U.S. Air Force.

Airfield management keeps flights on time

Airfield management keeps flights on timeMACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS)

Takeoff, refuel, land, repeat.

When a KC-135 Stratotanker takes off to refuel the mission, its crew relies on a secure airfield to complete its duty in a safe and timely manner. A secure airfield would not be possible without the work of the Airmen in airfield management.

MacDill Air Force Base’s airfield management Airmen are responsible for a wide variety of tasks ranging from filing flight plans to performing checks on the airfield 24 hours a day, and even coordinating construction. These Airmen keep the airfield running safely and smoothly.

Beginning with flight scheduling, they are tasked to file flight plans they receive from the flight crew in a timely manner to ensure flights run accordingly.

When the time comes for the aircraft to depart, the airfield management team is there to make certain the airfield is safe for takeoff. Due to the need for multiple daily airfield checks, they are on constant alert for possible hazards and foreign object debris throughout the aviation community.

“It is important to remain vigilant when we’re out there (on the flightline) and pay attention to detail to make sure we pick up anything that could become a hazard to the aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. Michael David, an airfield management operations supervisor with the 6th Operations Support Squadron.

These Airmen are the initial eyes on the airfield and must be prepared to address any situation that may hinder a safe takeoff or landing.

“We look for any kind of cracking, pavement distress, depressions or anything that could be wrong with the pavement,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Lackey, the NCO in charge of airfield management operations with the 6th OSS.

When issues arise on the airfield, the airfield operations management team promptly coordinates with the responsible unit. At times these Airmen have to close areas of the airfield, and reroute aircraft when damage is present.

“A big part of our job is disseminating information where it needs to go,” Lackey explained. “If we found a large crack out on the airfield, we would need to talk to the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron as well as commanders and pilots to let them know what’s going on and what our actions would be.”

Beyond filing flight plans and inspecting the airfield, these MacDill Airmen track the aircraft in flight using a traffic situation display.

“We track aircraft for safety reasons,” Lackey said. “If an aircraft doesn’t show up or we can’t find it, we have to find out where it is and what’s going on.”

With an eye for attention to detail, airfield operations management Airmen keep the airfield secure and running smoothly from planning, to takeoff and landing.

Success through total force integration at Red Flag 16-1

Success through total force integration at Red Flag 16-1NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS)

It’s a given that no aircraft leaves the ground unless it is working properly. But that maintenance challenge has been multiplied here during the three-week Red Flag 16-1 exercise.

With almost 80 aircraft taking off twice daily during Red Flag, hundreds of aircraft maintainers assigned to flying squadrons from around the world work long hours to ensure all training sorties are executed safely and efficiently.

“Anytime we take aircraft on the road we face challenges because we’re away from our facilities and our normal lanes for parts and supplies,” said Capt. Matthew Goldey, the 95th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge, stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. “This exercise is pretty accurate to what you would see downrange. This is about as real as it gets and this is how we fight.”

Red Flag 16-1’s training is centered on readiness through completing combat-realistic missions in a contested, degraded, operationally limited environment. Despite the challenges, the participating maintainers are managing to come together as a team to take care of daily maintenance operations and each other.

“There is no one out here saying, ‘That’s not my job.’ Instead it’s, ‘What do you need? OK, let’s get it done. This is broke? OK, let’s fix it,'” said Master Sgt. Marc Neubert, the 325th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant from Tyndall AFB. “That is one of the coolest things that I have seen so far.”

Red Flag brings diverse units and countries together from all over the world and across the services. One thing they all have in common is the need for experienced maintainers to take care of their fleets.

“It’s a satisfying feeling to know that I’m part of a bigger picture and that I am making a difference,” said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Christian Gonzalez, a VAQ-138 plane captain, stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. “I’m really enjoying learning the way the different branches do their maintenance and it’s very interesting to see the different aircraft.”

Total force integration is a key component of training during Red Flag 16-1. Goldey is a U.S. Air Force Reserve officer from the 44th Fighter Group at Tyndall AFB, but during the exercise, he is embedded in the 95th AMU as the officer in charge.

“We are one unit, and we are totally integrated,” Goldey said. “There is no us and them anymore. We’re all one team. We all wear the same uniform and we’re all out here to accomplish the same mission.”

There is a loss of knowledge and continuity when active-duty Airmen rotate from a base and new ones come in. The U.S. Air Force alleviates that problem through total force integration with the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.

“A TFI unit brings continuity to the active-duty force,” Goldey said. “Being in the Reserve you have the opportunity to hang around in a particular location longer than most active-duty members so we bring some continuity and experience to the fight.”

While most maintainers are not working directly with the other units outside their organization, the augmentee Airmen fueling the aircraft for the exercise are the exception. They work with most of the units on the flightline.

“We have really good comradery with everyone,” said Airman 1st Class Alexis Aragon, a 7th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels specialist, stationed at Dyess AFB, Texas. “Fuels is the lifeline of every aircraft, and without fuel these aircraft can’t go anywhere. I love it because I know we’re helping get the mission done, and I’m glad we augmentees could come out here from different bases to help do that.”

During exercises like Red Flag, the maintainers are able to shed any weight they may carry during normal operations at their home base, like special duties and office work, and just concentrate on their main objectives.

“Our Airmen are killing it right now,” Goldey said. “Out here on the flightline it’s total mission focus; out here it’s just about putting planes in the air. Anytime you get an opportunity to do that, it is great.”

With the collaboration between military branches and multiple units from around the world along with the total force integration, the maintainers of Red Flag 16-1 know they have an entire flightline backing them up.

“I have learned here that you have to support one another,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Brown, a 44th FG weapons loader. “You have to consistently do what you can to make sure everyone gets what they need to accomplish the mission.”

OPM offers limited enrollment period for new self-plus-one option

OPM offers limited enrollment period for new self-plus-one optionJOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS)

Employees currently enrolled in self and family coverage in the Federal Employees Health Benefits programs can change to the new self-plus-one option during the Office of Personnel Management limited enrollment period open now until Feb. 29.

The self-plus-one option allows enrollees to cover themselves and one eligible family member. Eligibility for the self-plus-one option is the same as for the self and family enrollment. Eligible family members include spouses and children under age 26. A child with a mental or physical disability that existed before age 26 is also eligible for enrollment as a family member.

“This is not a second open season,” said Erica Cathro, an Air Force Personnel Center human resources specialist. “Only employees enrolled in self and family will be allowed to change to self plus one during this period. No changes in plans, option changes, or increases or other decreases will be allowed.”

Electronic enrollment systems will be available for use during this time, and employees are encouraged to make their changes electronically. They should contact their local human resources office if they experience any issues or have additional questions.

More information on the limited enrollment period for self-plus-one enrollment is available on the “Civilian Employee” homepage of the myPers website; enter self-plus-one in the search window. Individuals can also find information on this option on the Office of Personnel Management website.

For more information about Air Force personnel programs, go to the myPers website. Individuals who do not have a myPers account can request one by following the instructions on the Air Force Retirees Services website.