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Day in the Life of a Vance Instructor Pilot

Instructor Pilot 1st Lt. Philip McClure performs a pre-flight inspection prior to his training sortie. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Tony Wickman)

Instructor Pilot 1st Lt. Philip McClure performs a pre-flight inspection prior to his training sortie. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Tony Wickman)

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AETCNS) -- For the past 10 years or so, all 1st Lt. Philip McClure could think about was flying jet airplanes. Today, he lives that dream and is helping others achieve it as well.

For Lieutenant McClure, a first assignment instructor pilot with Q-Flight of the 33rd Flying Training Squadron, a desire to fly was cultivated in high school and stoked during his four years at the Air Force Academy. Now that desire is met everyday by teaching students to become military pilots.

"My first choice was to be an F-15E driver, but after that I put down every FAIP job, because I thought it would be good for experience and good for the family life," he said. "I was hoping if I was going to be a FAIP that I would remain at Vance, where I did my student pilot training."

After being selected to become a FAIP and graduating as a member of Class 04-09 in May 2004 in the fighter/bomber track, Lieutenant McClure was sent to instructor pilot training at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, for three and a half months.

"It was a lot like pilot training, just really condensed with higher expectations," said the lieutenant. "There was a short academics period, centrifuge training and learning to fly as an instructor."

The centrifuge training was interesting, he said.

"It's a T-37, and a lot of people don't think about it pulling a lot of G's (force of gravity)," said the Weatherford, Texas, native. "But students can surprise you and go straight to 6Gs and you need to be ready for that."

After his training period, McClure returned to Vance in October 2004 and began flying with students in Class 05-14. He said he has held every job within the squadron that can be assigned to a new instructor pilot.

"I was the safety officer, publications officer and about a month into the assignment I started working scheduling," he said. "From there, I did every job in the flight from unit standardization and evaluation monitor to grade books officer to executive officer and now as the assistant flight commander for Q-Flight."

He worked as the executive officer January through March 2006 developing staff meetings, tracking enlisted and officer performance reports, shuffling paperwork and putting together commander's calls while concurrently doing assistant flight commander duties and flying as an instructor pilot.

For the lieutenant, he says his job as an instructor pilot is both teacher and mentor.

"I have to teach and be a mentor to the students," he said. "It's bad when you have to hook a student - disqualify them on their training sortie - because they are unsafe and you tell them that. But at the same time, I also have to tell them to keep their head up, study up and do better tomorrow."

Much of his time as an IP is spent working with students in Phase II training. He works with students on their stand-ups and briefings and teaches them how to control and maneuver the aircraft. As students progress in the training, his role as an IP is to help students evolve into soloing and aerobatics flying.

A highlight as an IP is getting the opportunity to go cross country with students, said Lieutenant McClure. "It is a challenging sortie for the student, and it gives us the opportunity to see different things. It is a big step for the student and allows us the chance to get out and see other parts of the country," he said.

No day is like another, Lieutenant McClure said, and the biggest challenge is time management, such as balancing family needs with professional needs.

"I try to be as efficient as possible with my time. I try to eat breakfast with my son and get him to daycare, but sometimes the schedule does not allow for it," Lieutenant McClure said. "And as soon as I get home, I spend as much time as possible with my wife and son before he goes to sleep and then try to relax before I go to bed. Time is the biggest constraint I have."

The difficult balancing act is something his wife, Valerie, appreciates and tries to understand.

"The way things were in student pilot training was expected, and there were not many surprises," said Valerie. "But with his FAIP duties, I was not as prepared for how tired he would be, how little time he would have at times or the hours he would have to keep. It was especially difficult being a new mom."

"He was home three days in the past two weeks because he went cross country with some students and then went on temporary duty to support an airshow at Langley (AFB, Va.)," she said. "I have friends in similar situations, and its tough not being the number one priority at times. But, I wouldn't have chosen this life if I didn't think I could handle it."

According to Valerie, the camaraderie within the squadron and the support systems in place have helped tremendously.

"When he became a FAIP, it was a blessing," she said. "We talked about him being an instructor pilot and liked the idea of having time to be together before he goes to a unit that has to deploy regularly."

So far, the biggest triumph for Lieutenant McClure is getting a student ready to move to Phase III training.

"Starting off with a kid who may not know left from right in flying and teaching them how to fly is a highlight. When we get done with them, they pretty much know everything they are going to need to know to go to Phase III," he said. "This is where they learn the basic things they need to know to be pilots. It is cool to see them formation solo and have them fly on your wing. It is a big step."

For Navy Lieutenant Pedro Espinoza, Q-Flight commander, Lieutenant McClure is a successful IP because of his attitude and efforts.

"Phil is extremely motivated, and he is every flight's best friend when they need an IP to fly a student sortie," said the Las Vegas native. "He is a good IP because he understands the students' problems and communicates his techniques well. The students are extremely receptive and look to him for help."

The sentiments were echoed by Lt. Col. Steven Fournier, 33rd FTS commander.

"Lieutenant McClure is an outstanding IP who genuinely cares about the quality of training his students receive. He makes an exceptional IP because of his desire to fly and his ability to instruct difficult concepts to every student," said the colonel. "He is a hard charging officer who exemplifies all of the Air Force Core Values."

Editor's Note: This is the second in a four-part series detailing the rigors of student pilot training and those involved in it. The third part is about a day in the life of a Vance flight commander.

A Day in the Life of a JSUPT Flight Commander

Lieutenant McClure's Schedule for May 9, 2006:

7:00 a.m. Wake up and change Tyler's diaper and get dressed. Have breakfast. Get ready to go to work and fly - it's a night week this week so I get to go to work a little later

8:00 a.m. Get in car and head to daycare

8:15 a.m. Drop Tyler off at daycare and go to the office

8:20 a.m. Start going over Emergency Procedure for the day. Get through paperwork and close out grade books. Review podium flightline and prepare for new class on Friday.

8:45 a.m. Prepare prebrief for morning sortie and review weather

9:18 a.m. Conduct prebrief with student 2nd Lt. Tim Lendrum.

9:45 a.m. Head to life support and suit up

10:03 a.m. Step to aircraft for sortie

10:18 a.m. Take off

11:36 a.m. Land and head to life support

11:40 a.m. Begin debrief with student

12:05 p.m. Grab a quick snack, go over paperwork and close out grade sheet

12:45 p.m. Conduct prebrief with student for formation flight (second sortie of the day)

1:15 p.m. Head to life support and suit up

1:30 p.m. Step to aircraft for sortie

1:45 p.m. Take off time - ground abort for weather, step again and ground abort for radio failure

2:30 p.m. Head back to life support

3:30 p.m. Brief second flight of the day

3:47 p.m. Head to life support

4:15 p.m. Take off

5:37 p.m. Land and head back to life support

6:00 p.m. Fill out grade sheet and debrief both students

6:45 p.m. Flight commander track select meeting. Fill out travel voucher for last week's cross-country flight

7:00 p.m. Drive home

7:15 p.m. Change and eat dinner with Valerie and Tyler

8:00 p.m. Give Tyler a bath and play

8:45 p.m. Watch TV and spend time with Valerie

9:30 p.m. Watch Spurs vs. Mavericks basketball game

11:00 p.m. Shower and go to bed