USAF Initial Flight Training (IFT)

So you’re a freshly minted, steely-eyed 2nd Lieutenant that’s ready to dominate UPT with the highest MASS score ever recorded and eager start your new life as the second-coming of Robin Olds.

Well…not so fast.

For those of you without a civilian Private Pilot’s License (PPL) or higher, you’ll need to graduate from Initial Flight Training in Pueblo, CO before you get anywhere near the UPT flight line.

Lucky for you, BogiDope has your six.

This article will detail everything you need to know about the USAF IFT program, give you some tips and techniques that will help you absolutely crush the IFT Syllabus and get you one step closer to earning those coveted wings.

Table of Contents

  1. About Doss Aviation
  2. Before Arriving
  3. Things to Bring
  4. Life at Doss
  5. Tips and Techniques
At Doss you will be flying the Mighty Diamond DA20-C1 Katana. The Katana is a fun airplane to fly with 125 Hp (at sea-level) and a cruising speed of 100-120 KIAS. You can take her up to 60 degrees of bank and +4.4G/-2.2G with the flaps at CRUISE.

About Doss Aviation

In official verbiage, “L3 Doss Aviation operates the U.S. Air Force Initial Flight Training (IFT) Program that provides introductory flight training for all U.S. Air Force aviation candidates, at our state-of-the-art training facility at Pueblo, CO., supporting Headquarters Air Education and Training Command (HQ AETC). Known as the ‘Gateway to Air Force Aviation,’ every U.S. Air Force aviation candidate, be it pilot, combat systems officer, or remotely piloted aircraft pilot, receives flight instruction at the Pueblo facility.” Doss has trained more than 17,250 students since 2006.

In layman’s terms, Doss Aviation is a contractor (10-year, $290 million contract) that provides introductory flight training to all of the USAF’s aviation candidates. Doss owns and operates a 45-acre campus immediately adjacent to Pueblo Memorial Airport. The compound is fully inclusive and includes its own DFAC, lodging, auditorium, gym & track, barbershop, shoppette, flight rooms, heritage room, flight line, and three airplane hangars. As a student pilot at IFT, you don’t ever have to leave the campus (if you so choose) from the time you in-process until the day you out-process.

In 2005 the program officially changed its name from Initial Flight Screening (IFS) to Initial Flight Training (IFT). This change represents the shift in attitude from using the program as a primary screening tool to considering it as an initial exposure to the aviation world. The original program syllabus requirements remain unchanged, however, the extent to which IP’s and Military Training Officers (MTOs) will go to help a student succeed has increased. With that being said, the program does still have “wash-outs” (syllabus failures, drop on request, airsickness, etc.). As of FY18, the “Pilot track” students have a 2% attrition rate while the overall attrition rate (Pilot, CSO, RPA, & IMS) hovers around 3.5%.

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Before Arriving

Prior to getting to IFT, it’s important that you do a few key things.

First, you should go to the Doss Website to check out their Incoming Students tab. There you will find the Pre-Arrival Guide, IFT Success Video, and other important information. [There are Checklist Flows and Traffic Pattern Technique tabs as well but I will detail my thoughts on these in the Tips and Techniques section.]

Next, you should take the time to sit down and memorize the DA20-C1 BOLDFACE and Ops limits. (Keep in mind the BOLDFACE is required to be written/typed/spoken verbatim [in all caps] in its entirety while only the bold items on the Ops limits must be committed to memory).

Additionally, during IFT you will be exposed to “tabletop” and “stand-up” emergency procedure scenarios [which I will detail in the Life at Doss section]; both of which require you to verbalize (verbatim) a phrase that is called MATL. MATL is your reporting statement when called to perform one of these scenarios, and it is reported, at the position of attention, as follows:

“I will maintain aircraft control, analyze the situation, take proper action, and land as soon as conditions permit.”

It would be helpful to have this phrase memorized verbatim prior to arriving at IFT.

Finally, getting to Pueblo isn’t the easiest trip in the world but Doss does a good job of being accommodating to your travel schedule. You’ll likely have to fly to Colorado Springs Airport (~40 min drive away) as you are not permitted to book a ticket terminating in Denver and commercial flights to PUB are infrequent. At least 7 days prior to class start you’ll need to fill out a “Travel Itinerary Form” where a Doss employee will confirm your class and schedule a shuttle from C-Springs to Pueblo.

Don’t let the blurred windsock fool you, this Katana probably isn’t going much faster than 60 KIAS.

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Things to Bring

There’s not a ton that you need to bring to IFT, but there are a few things that will help you succeed. The official packing list is as follows:

  • Flight suits with rank and Velcro already sewn on
  • Name tags
  • AETC patches
  • Flight boots
  • Flight gloves
  • Flight cap
  • USAF PT gear
    • Conservative, non-offensive civilian clothing, including PT gear, for wear during non-duty hours and during individual PT. (Recommended)
  • Current Initial Flying Class 1 flight physical with Sitting Height and Buttock-to-Knee measurements
  • Proof of completion is the DD Form 2808 with the HQ AETC stamp
  • Begin the process to obtain an FAA Student Pilot Certificate (additional information in Pre-arrival guide)

If any part of your training falls between 1 Oct and 30 Apr, bring:

  • Flight jacket with rank and Velcro already sewn on (Required)
  • 1 pair thermal underwear (Recommended)
  • Black watch cap (Recommended)

Notes:

  • Get flight uniforms that fit from your home station and bring them to IFT. IFT does not provide uniforms for students.
  • Students attending IFT who have been issued the A2CU uniform are authorized to wear that uniform. The A2CU uniform will be worn in accordance with AFI36-2903, AFGM2018-03, dated 28 September 2018. The OCP uniform is NOT authorized.

A few extra items I suggest you bring:

*These items are available for purchase at the Shoppette on campus for a slight upcharge, but if you’re particularly financially conscious, like myself, you should read our article on Winning UPT Financially!

Week 1 Academic schedule…death by PowerPoint.

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Life at Doss

Life at IFT is a drastically different experience than OTS.

Some of the major differences are that rooms at Doss are “hotel-style” with (usually) two beds (you will have a roommate) with 4 drawers each, two desks, a small closet with laundry baskets and hangers, and a bathroom and shower. Your room will also have a TV, mini-fridge, coffee pot (with coffee and filters), and a microwave. You will receive room service Monday-Friday and will only be responsible for generally not making a huge mess or breaking anything.

You are also allowed to possess and consume alcohol at your discretion (don’t get too excited, more to follow) as well as leave the Doss campus on the weekends.

There is a saying in aviation, “12 (or 8) hours bottle-to-throttle”, meaning that you can’t consume alcohol within 12 (or 8) hours of flying. The policy at Doss is “12 hours bottle-to-first event of the duty day” AND flying ops have to be completed for the day. This is a distinct difference. When you get to flying ops, you will be introduced to an event called “Formal Brief” (more on this shortly) which can be held as early as 0440. Depending on the time of year you attend IFT, flying ops can continue until 1730 or later. For the weeks you have 0440 Formal Briefs, it won’t matter what your personal schedule is because flying ops are almost guaranteed to continue past your 12-hour no-alcohol threshold.

In regards to the travel policy, you are cleared hot to leave on the weekends as long as you stay “in the local area”. Fortunately, the “local area”, according to the powers that be, includes Denver as well as some of the nearby skiing mountains (Arapaho Basin and others). Many student pilots take advantage of this opportunity, especially in the winter.

In regards to daily life as Doss, when you arrive on Day 0 you’ll be directed to the front desk to check in, pick up in-processing paperwork, and get your room key. Once you’re done in-processing you’ll have the rest of the day/night to do as you please to get ready for Day 1.

On Day 1 it’s a little surreal when you put your flight suit on for the first time, in an official capacity, to go to the auditorium in-brief. As a “Guard baby” (off-the-street ANG hire), I had the opportunity to wear “the bag” a few times previously at monthly drills, but that day is different…that’s Day 1 of your military aviation career. Unlike Armstrong’s famous first words on the Moon, that day feels like “one giant leap for a man, one [very] small step for mankind”. My wife will tell you I’m not the most sentimental man in the world, but I found myself standing just a little straighter, with my chest puffed and my chin held just a little higher that day. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling the same way; enjoy it and take pride in it, you worked hard to get there and you’ll be hard at work again soon enough.

You can expect the first 4 days will be entirely in the auditorium learning about the various ins-and-outs of Doss and IFT as well as various aspects of aviation (reference the schedule above to get a feel for what the first few days will be like). You can also expect to take a BOLDFACE/Ops limits test on Day 1. There are no repercussions for failing it (I did for forgetting to write in all caps), but do yourself a favor and have that information down cold by the time Day 1 comes around.

By Monday (Day 5), you will take an official test on all of the “A” lessons (A101-109); these lessons include Safety/RM/CRM, aircraft systems, aerodynamic principles, airplane performance, communications, airport operations, weather theory & reports, airspace, and basic navigation. You will have to score 85% or greater on this test to be allowed to hit the flight line to fly your “Dollar Ride”.

A “Dollar Ride” is a term for your first flight in a particular airplane; it is tradition to give the IP who flies with you a dollar bill as a gesture of thanks.

Example of a Dollar Ride gift.

Once you hit the flight line, you can expect your official duty day to start anywhere between 0440-0730 and end at roughly 1700 (unless you have a late flight). You will begin attending Formal Briefs every day flying ops are in effect.

A Formal Brief is exactly as it sounds, a formalized briefing (first thing in the AM) that details the days current and forecast conditions, the runways being used, any relevant information about the airport, and any other pertinent information. The briefing takes roughly an hour and is highly formalized and scripted. The briefing will be conducted exactly the same way each and every day, and one person from your flight will conduct the brief each day. After all of the daily information is briefed, your class proctor will correct any mistakes and direct the class to take a BOLDFACE/Ops limits test. You will take these tests every day of the week until everyone in your flight gets 100% correct. If ANYONE in your class misses ANY question two days in the same week, your entire flight will be placed on Formal Release for the remainder of the week.

Formal Release is a requirement to be working in an official capacity (flying, studying, eating, or working out) until your Flight Commander officially releases you. Formal Release can be particularly brutal during the weeks you have 0440 Formal Briefs (I pulled a few 18-hour work days during that week).

The last part of Formal Briefs is the “Stand-Up” emergency procedure scenario. The class proctor will present a specific scenario to the class and call a student up to the front of the room (this is where MATL comes into play) to problem-solve the emergency procedure, and, in very specific detail, discuss how they would react.

In regards to flying while at IFT, the standard syllabus includes 14 sorties (~18 hours of flight time) and includes a pattern solo and a check ride. A standard flight will include a graded departure, traffic pattern work, area work, and an arrival, and will take roughly an hour to complete. There is no “normal” day at IFT but you can usually expect at least one sortie per duty day.

The IFT syllabus also requires you to complete 14 hours of self-logged PT work throughout the training.

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Tips and Techniques

“Gouge” is slang for personal advice/technique/experience. There’s a saying in Military aviation [you’ll find there are a lot of sayings], “If you live by the gouge, you die by the gouge”. While gouge can be a fantastic resource, it’s important to remember that things are always changing and gouge can quickly become old procedure…leaving you memorizing incorrect knowledge. Stealing Reagan’s phrase, “Trust, but verify” is best practice when dealing with gouge.

In this section, I will provide some of my personal gouge in regards to IFT. I strongly suggest you “trust, but verify” all that you read.

  • First and foremost, as mentioned previously, show up to IFT with BOLDFACE, Ops limits, and MATL memorized. From the day you start academics, you will be responsible for learning a tremendous amount of material very quickly. The rate at which information is taught and expected to be retained is, in my opinion, the most challenging part of IFT. You will be required to take a BOLDFACE/Ops limits test every week (potentially every day) and having those memorized beforehand allowed me to prioritize my time elsewhere.
  • From the day you get access to your flight room, run (don’t walk) over to the Local Flying Procedures (LFP) notebook and read it cover to cover. The LFP details all of the rules, procedures, and parameters on which you’re graded. Take notes on everything. Learn what you can and can’t do and how you are required to perform every maneuver. I severely ignored the LFP throughout most of my time at IFT and it came back to haunt me on a few sorties. Take the time to sit down and read it.
  • Use the ultra-fine point sharpies and draw out your upcoming flight in excruciating detail. I didn’t start doing this until halfway through IFT and there is a direct correlation between my performance and the amount of time I spent drawing out each flight and chair-flying (see example below).
  • Speaking of which, chair-fly, chair-fly, chair-fly! You have a very limited amount of time in the air and you do not want to learn everything while in flight. You should consider each flight as a demonstration of your knowledge. The learning is done in the flight rooms and at the cockpit trainers at 0 KIAS. Study and learn prior to your flight and demonstrate that knowledge in the air.
  • Take Friday and Saturdays off and blow off some steam. Sunday afternoon hit the books again and prep for the upcoming week.
    Memorize the following checklists: climb, cruise/level-off, before maneuvering, descent/approach, before landing, and go-around (see below).
  • Realize that everyone struggles with at least one aspect of IFT. Show up prepared and ready to learn. Hit the ground running on Day 1 and study your way through the learning curve.

All in all, IFT was a great experience and you should be excited to get there. While everyone I know was more than excited to get out of Pueblo and off to UPT, we all had a great time. Study hard, fly good, and don’t bring it weak!

Documents:

Draw out your flight profile with as much detail as possible. Here, blue lines signify departure path with proper altitudes, red signifies arrival path, green is radio calls (in order), orange is transponder changes, checklists are written out, navigation inputs are detailed, and the order of area maneuvers is listed. The more meticulous you are drawing these the more valuable they will be.
An example of a DA20 checklist. This one is likely out of date, presented for illustration purposes only.
The Boldface you must be able to write perfectly on day one. (Check for an updated version before you memorize it!)
Learning the operating information (Ops Limits) for any aircraft is part of being a professional pilot. Don’t worry, this all makes a lot more sense when you start using it.

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