BLUE Episode 24: Pilot Pipeline


The tension on the force right now is significant. I know they’ve been gone for two sometimes
three weeks at a time. Then they come back, there’s no time we
gotta start back up again. I need you to get back. There almost 2,000 pilot short. There’s no shortage in the amount of work
that needs to be done. It just has to be done with fewer people. We’re making the mission happen, but we’re
having to do it very often on the backs of our Airmen How do you take an organization that is brilliant. They are world class. They are the best in the history of mankind,
and they start seeing the signs that they need to do something different. So in our business of national security where
our job is to fly, fight, and win. Our job is to be prepared for the unexpected. Our job is to win no matter what. We better be masters at this game of innovation. It’s a complicated problem, it’s not just,
there’s no silver bullet or one thing. It’s a relationship of things. Reversing the pilot shortage requires coordination
across the Air Force to produce more pilots without creating a bottlenecks in the training
pipeline. Right now the Air Force must retain pilots
to grow its future force, but the only way to recover from the pilot shortage, is to
produce more pilots. And so the strategy is production, but stable
production at the numbers that we need over time. That is really the ultimate fix to the pilot
crisis. The most critical shortage right now is within
the fighter pilot community. To produce a way out, the Air Force has to
tackle challenges throughout the 3 stages of the pilot production pipeline. After commissioning the first stage of an
Air Force pilots journey is undergraduate pilot training. UPT is essentially a program where we take
students and develop them into aviators. We teach them the foundations of flying. The class sizes for the students have increased
without a corresponding increase in instructor manning. Time is a commodity. In pilot training it’s a big time commodity. To maximize the learning for that student,
to have it be focused in order to able to now facilitate getting that student to their
peak, or getting beyond any sort of barrier that they might be having. The definition of insanity is doing the same
thing over and over and expecting a different result. So when it takes us a year to produce an aviator,
that timeline has to be shrunk based on our current demands. The Air Force is working on game-changing
ways to train aviators. Which has brought 20 Airmen to Austin, Texas,
for an experimental program called Pilot Training Next. It aims to train skills learned at UPT in
half the amount of time using virtual and augmented reality. We’re not taking UPT and making incremental
changes. We’re taking a leap in one direction with
the expectation that that leap is going to provide change inside of the UPT construct. There are a couple of artificial intelligences
that we intend to leverage, one of them algorithmic in nature which means that it’s a model
that’s able to instruct students in the absence of a live instructor pilot. This isn’t to replace the instructor pilot,
but it’s to give access to instructor techniques much more on demand for the student. We know that pilot training can be better. Um, the reality of this is that we don’t
think we have solved right now. This is not intended to be the program which
replaces pilot training. When somebody sits down for the first time
in these sims, and they make a comment like, this might not be where it needs to be now,
but I can totally see how we can across that goal line in a month, two months, three months,
whatever it might be. And if it’s not us then it will be somebody
else. After graduating UPT pilots head to their
formal training unit. That could mean Holloman Air Force Base, New
Mexico, for a newly selected F-16 pilot. In a formal training unit we are teaching
F-16 pilots ultimately to be ready for combat. And so, each of the missions sets that the
F-16 does is taught here in the FTU. This is where it all begins. Teaching a student first how to take off and
land, but more importantly, how to employ the ordinance. And so this is where we teach them the fight
portion of that. Right, so they can fly an airplane, but now
we need to teach them how and give them the capabilities and the tools to go out and employ
when the nation calls upon them to do so. At this stage solving problems through innovation
doesn’t mean technology changes. Here at FTU it’s processes that needed to
change. In the past when an instructor pilot needed
to make changes to the syllabus to meet the needs of a student. They had to route those changes up through
their squadron commander, group commander, and sometimes the vice wing commander for
approval. Now that authority has been placed in the
hands of a squadron commander. And that almost in itself creates more efficiency
because there’s much less asking of superiors, can I do this, can I do that? For instance I can make a syllabus waiver
if I think that a student has done well and needs to do one event potentially out of order,
or to proficiency advance past an event because they’ve been doing really well. One of the things that keeps me up at night
is that making sure that in our discussion of trying to produce more students faster
that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we still need to produce the same quality
of student and make sure that they are very close to being combat mission ready. We understand that what we do here today could
affect the decisions they make and the actions they take within a year from now and that
could affect the air power and dominance projection that we have across the globe. One of those bases across the globe is Shaw
Air Force Base, South Carolina. Well I think that Holliman is sort of a stepping
stone to get you here. A lot of the things designed at Holliman are
based on the needs of those bases like Shaw and what they need to get guys through MQT
faster and get them ready to go fight. Mission qualification training is the training
that we do when we get a new pilot here and we wanna make them combat mission ready. So that we can take them on any deployment,
they can go fight in any war, go do whatever we need them to. I don’t have a ton of experienced pilots
which means I don’t have a instructor pilots. We’re trying to solve a retention problem. Because we know that we cannot produce the
pilots fast enough to backfill all of those who have been leaving. So that loss is really felt at the squadron
level because it just doesn’t get replaced for quite a bit of time. Maybe a year, maybe two years that that position
will just go vacant. The Air Force is working on about 65 planned
incentives to to improve work-life balance and quality of service for pilots. We’re just improving force development,
talent management. We’re taking care of families better. We’re treating pilots like professional
athletes, working on neck and back care. We’re just doing a lot of things that needed
to be done to take care of our Airmen. And in every crisis there’s an opportunity. So we see an opportunity to really just improve
the way we take care of our pilots and Airmen who are at large. We might have to go out on a limb and try
some things that maybe, maybe we even think might fail. Even we think they might fail, but let’s just
try something new in order to potentially get a win in the long run. What you do is you find the people that have
a natural propensity to be good at innovating. They have these habits of mind. They have this hunger to do things better. Always, always, always thinking about this
one question and if there’s one question you oughta leave here remembering it’s this
question. And the question is, how can I do this better? We better be masters at this game of innovation.

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