JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – Air Education and Training Command’s Pilot Training Next program graduated 14 U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and the Royal Air Force students from the learning experiment’s second iteration in a ceremony here Aug. 29.
Guest speaker Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, commander of Air Force Recruiting Service and a trailblazer in aviation as the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot, remarked on how the students represent the future and marveled at the fact the students had the opportunity to be on the leading edge of a new way to learn.
“The fact is we are looking at a whole new way of learning in a non-standard way from the Air Force perspective,” Leavitt said. “Remember…dream big, be bold and learn to take calculated risk.”
PTN is an experimental program under the “Learning Next” umbrella with a focus on understanding how Airmen learn, as well as exploring and potentially prototyping a flying training environment that integrates various technologies to produce pilots in an accelerated- and learning-focused manner.
“You’re pioneers...you’ve seen the speed of innovation,” Lt. Col. Ryan Riley, Detachment 24 commander and PTN director, said while addressing the graduates. “This program is critical for our Air Force in this era of great power competition.”
The graduates, which included two Air National Guard students, were selected to fly airframes including the F-35 Lightning II, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules, EC-130 Compass Call, C-5 Galaxy, B-2 Spirit, C-146A Wolfhound, and the T-6 Texan II (first assignment instructor pilot).
Additionally, one was selected to fly the U-28A, used as part of the Air Force Special Operations Command manned, airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance fleet. One other pilot will fly the C-146A Wolfhound, used to transport small teams in support of U.S. Special Operations Command.
The Navy graduates will fly the T-45A Goshawk, while the RAF graduate will move to the Typhoon.
With their family and friends looking on inside the Fleenor Auditorium, the new aviators reflected on the accomplishment of becoming an pilot.
“Pinning on the silver wings means accomplishing a goal I’ve had for years and serves as a symbol of all the hard work and dedication I’ve put in,” said 2nd Lt. Aaron Sless, a distinguished graduate and the Warrior Award winner who is slated to fly the F-35. “It is a physical representation of the responsibility we are being given moving forward, becoming one of the most lethal and ready assets in the world’s greatest Air Force.”
For the students, learning how to fly in a non-traditional way was both difficult and exciting at the same time.
“It definitely made the process more difficult having to push through burgeoning technology, but I am glad that I could be a part of the development process towards a more efficient and thorough version of learning for the future,” Sless said. “I am excited to see how PTN progresses technology and learning in the future and how it will be applied to undergraduate pilot training, and the Air Force at large.”
For 2nd Lt. James Brittingham, the experience at PTN and getting the opportunity to help shape the future of pilot training has been everything he had hoped for, including his drop night assignment to fly the F-15E.
“I’m thrilled to fly my dream aircraft as it symbolizes the culmination of a life goal, and the start of a new life journey,” Brittingham said. “It’s also been very exciting to have input into the evolution of pilot training.”
During the second iteration of PTN, which began in January of this year in Austin, Texas, before moving here in May, the training model was refined to incorporate more immersive and engaging academics, scenario-based training in the immersive training devices (ITD), competency-based learning models for training validation, and artificial intelligence instruction.
“The competency-based learning and immersive scenario-based training increased the value of each of our sorties by ensuring that students were better prepared for each sortie,” Riley said. “Using these tools creates competencies that are important, but likely won’t be reinforced in live aircraft.”
As an example, Riley talked to the use of clock-to-map-to-ground practice in an F-35. He also talked to the value of artificial intelligence in student feedback.
“Continuing to advance the capabilities of AI instruction to assist our students’ practice further optimizes instructor involvement with the potential for students to gain more experience in primary weapons systems,” Riley said.
Per the PTN cadre, a third iteration of the class is scheduled to begin in January 2020, building on the successes of the first two classes by incorporating new learning theories such as time-spaced-retrieval, deep repetition and adding additional competencies for peer-level conflict and multi-domain thinking and airmanship. Additionally, the incorporation and use of a T-6B+ variant for the class will test the ability to train Formal Training Unit-ready pilots with Combat and Mobility competencies using moving map display, synthetic radar, air-to-air and air-to-ground symbology, as well as detailed downloadable debrief files.