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Beyond Training: A Legacy

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Thomas Collins
  • 43rd Flying Training Squadron

The journey to becoming a pilot has always been demanding, requiring not only technical proficiency but also a strong foundation in decision-making and in-flight judgment.

Over the last two years, the Air Force has focused on continuously modernizing the way we train pilots, using a blend of cutting-edge technology and a revamped approach to learning to develop educated and experienced pilots ready to integrate into combat units. Throughout this process, the continuity of the Reserve Instructor Pilot cadre has never been more important. 

The 43rd Flying Training Squadron, known as the Firebirds, plays a vital role in the training of the more than 365 Air Force and international student pilots who graduate with their wings from Columbus Air Force Base annually. By integrating experienced Reserve pilots, the squadrons maximize the production output to meet the demands for qualified pilots while enhancing the quality of life for their Active-Duty counterparts.  

The 43rd Flying Training Squadron boasts 27 Active Guard Reserve instructors who fly and instruct full-time, and 45 Traditional Reservists who fly at least six days a month in addition to their civilian jobs. These 76 Instructor Pilots were responsible for over 9,000 sorties fueling the graduation of 406 pilot graduates in 2023. That number equates to 15% of the 14th Flying Training Wing’s sortie production with merely 13% of the personnel.

These instructors aren’t just teachers – they are veterans who’ve honed their craft in real-world scenarios and who draw on their experiences as civilian instructors and airline pilots to mentor students and instructors alike. Balancing a civilian career while excelling in the demanding pilot training environment poses no hindrance to the Firebirds’ ability to support the Undergraduate Pilot Training mission.  

As a unit, the Firebirds are integrated into the five Active Duty flying squadrons at Columbus AFB, the only noticeable difference is the patches they wear.

Aside from the roles IPs serve at the squadron level, the 43rd FTS serve in multiple critical Total Force Integration positions to mitigate Active-Duty leadership gaps, including roles as squadron Operations Officer, Assistant Operations Officer, Functional Check Flight Chief, and International Military Student Officer. In these roles and at the individual squadron level the Firebirds deliver unrivaled Total Force Integration support to ensure the success of the pilot training enterprise.