FORT RUCKER, Ala.-- Seven officers received their pilot’s wings, becoming the first Air Force officers to earn their wings from a helicopter-only syllabus since 1993.
The Helicopter Training Next class graduated June 22 with Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Education and Training Command, presiding during the ceremony. Currently, the helicopter pilot training pipeline lasts about 17 months and includes flying the T-6 fixed wing aircraft for six months before transferring to helicopter training.
HTN is one initiative of the Pilot Training Transformation effort and was developed to create quality pilots, while increasing the Air Force’s overall pilot production.
“Today, you’ve established a new helicopter-only training,” Webb said. “But, the focus for pilot training will always be, regardless of where you are in training, quality and competence. In many ways, the Helicopter Training Next program is the vanguard for all our other Air Force pilot training programs. That’s how successful you all have been.”
The transformation began in April 2020, with members of the 58th Special Operations Wing, headquartered at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., designated as the lead for HTN development.
The seven HTN graduates who earned their wings began their training August 2020 as part of a small group tryout who went directly to Fort Rucker for TH-1 training.
“Each and every one of you are extremely important today in this era of great power competition,” Webb said. “The program that you’ve undergone is fundamental in developing the Airmen that we need going forward. It’s aimed at transforming the way we learn so that we are better postured for great power competition. You’ve leveraged the modern day simulation and virtual reality and by any measure you’ve been successful. Today, you join a world-class helicopter pilot force that enhances our Air Force’s lethality and readiness.”
The second small group tryout began a month later. The second group of students completed 50 flight hours through contracted instruction and earned their private pilot certificates prior to transitioning to Fort Rucker to complete their training in the TH-1. These students graduate in July.
“The implementation of HTN has the potential to create a better rotary pilot using a rotary-only path to wings, while increasing the potential capacity in the T-6 program and maintaining production at 90 helicopter graduates a year by fiscal year 2024,” Col. Michael Curry, 58th SOW commander, said.
In addition to a decrease in training time, an added bonus is that student pilots no longer have to move to another duty station, in the middle of their training which was occurring after completing the T-6 phase.
“The increased efficiency will reduce the cost of helicopter training by 37%, while creating better continuity for training and ultimately getting more lieutenants to operational units faster,” Curry said.
There are four small group tryouts currently in training. AETC officials are planning to begin the full HTN program in fiscal year 2023.
“The mission success of the 23rd Flying Training Squadron is directly proportional to the outstanding relationships fostered over the decade,” Lt. Col. Joseph Davis, 23rd FTS commander, said. “This class is the first to prove that it is possible to have high quality helicopter pilots without flying in a T-6. The lessons learned from Class 21-05 will help set the foundation for the next generation of Air Force helicopter pilots.”
HTN is one aspect of the AETC Pilot Training Transformation efforts that include Undergraduate Pilot Training 2.5, Accelerated Path to Wings, Remote SIM Instruction, Civil Path to Wings and Alternate Path to Wings.