VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- When a Naval Academy graduate reaches almost 5,200 flying hours in the Air Force T-6A Texan II, it’s time for a little reflection, and perhaps clarification.
For Lt. Col. Ian Bass, a T-6A instructor pilot with the 5th Flying Training Squadron at Vance Air Force Base, the 5,200-hour mark came when he touched down Friday, March 24, following his last flight as an Air Force pilot before retiring April 1.
Training flights in the T-6A normally last a little more than an hour. It took many thousands of climbs into the cockpit of the turbo-prop aircraft to amass almost 5,200 hours in the air.
The 5,200-hour journey started in July 2005 when Navy Lt. Bass entered T-6 Pilot Instructor Training at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.
Prior to that, Bass began his flight training as a Navy student in the T-37 Tweet at Vance. In the early 2000s a program existed where the Navy sent a few Navy students to Vance to fly the T-37, and the Air Force sent a few students to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, for pilot training in the Beechcraft T-34.
Bass graduated from the Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in History, in 2000. His flying career began with pre-flight indoctrination at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, before heading to Vance.
“After I finished the Tweet training, I thought Mother Navy would call me back home,” said Bass. But not yet. The Navy aircraft assignment system selected him to fly the E-6 Mercury, a communications relay and strategic airborne command post aircraft, based at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.
In the 2000s, Navy pilots selected to fly the E-6 were sent to Vance to train in the T-1A Jayhawk. Since he was already here, “I just walked right across the street and joined the T-1 training squadron,” said Bass.
After training in the T-1A, he flew for the Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Seven at Tinker from March 2002 until July 2005.
In mid-2005, Bass was selected to be a T-6 instructor and return to Vance. His T-6A journey began during pilot instructor training at Randolph AFB, Texas, followed by three years as a Navy T-6 instructor with the Naval Air Training Unit at Vance.
The Navy requires seven years of obligated service for non-tailhook pilots. He was at that point in his career. “I decided my time was up with the active Navy, and was exploring Navy Reserve options,” he said. But there weren’t many jobs available.
“I was in good standing with the flying unit here, so I interviewed for an Air Force Reserve slot,” said Bass. He was accepted, but the Navy wasn’t done with him yet.
He was deployed to the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, as an executive officer. For part of that deployment, Bass spent time at Camp As Sayliyah, Doha, Qatar.
In the summer of 2009, Bass officially joined the 5th Flying Training Squadron at Vance, as a traditional Air Force Reservist, working six days a month.
He took a civilian pilot position with a regional airline that lasted until 2010 when he was furloughed. “That’s when I became an Active Guard Reserve with Title 10 orders,” said Bass. He was essentially on active duty with the 5th FTS until 2018.
“I moved back into a traditional reservist slot and was hired on with Southwest Airlines out of Dallas,” he said.
His plan was to retire from the Air Force Reserve in December 2020 and continue with Southwest as his second career.
But then COVID-19 hit.
“Every time I left Oklahoma to fly with Southwest, the Air Force required 14 days of quarantine before I could come back on duty,” said Bass. “I immediately submitted for military leave from the airline.”
He had submitted his Reserve retirement papers in early March 2020, and on his first duty day in April he withdrew them.
Fortunately, Vance was on the leading edge of Undergraduate Pilot Training 2.5 implementation, so there was a significant need for instructor pilots. Bass was back to serving full time.
He and his family have lived in Oklahoma City since 2009. That’s a lot of commuting. His 2014 Hyundai has 168,000 miles on it. Before that, he logged almost 300,000 miles on a 2006 Acura. “It was still running like a top, but the air conditioner wasn’t working very well,” he said.
Bass said there is much he will miss now that his time at Vance is over.
“I’ll miss the beginning rides with new students. And I’ll miss the advanced rides as well,” he said. “I will miss the mentoring opportunities, not just in the cockpit, but in their day-to-day growth as an officer.”
But one thing he doesn’t anticipate missing – the weather. “It runs from sweating through July and August to trying to find warmth next to a power cart while students do their preflight in the dead of winter.”
Bass said his military time has been an interesting ride.
“The Air Force has been good to me. The 5th FTS, and the 340th Flying Training Group in particular, have been really good to me,” said Bass. “Both Reserve units have given me a lot of opportunities that I don’t think I would have had if I stayed in the Navy.”
Bass says he had a successful military flying career. “The takeoffs and landings matched up and I never had to eject.”