UPT Phases: Phase II – Flying the T-6
Phase I is a great education, but you’ll be ready for it to end. You’ll be looking forward to Phase II and flying the Beechcraft T-6A Texan II. (Nobody calls it the “Texan,” the “Texan II,” or the “JPATS.”” Just call it the T-6). Be ready though because Phase II starts with a little shock and awe. When you’re not flying or in the simulator during Phase II, you’ll be in your flight room. It’ll have a few assigned Instructor Pilots (aka, “IPs”) with desks around the perimeter of the room. Your domain is a large conference table in the center of the room. You’ll spend most of each day in this room and it’ll take a while adjusting to having at least one set of IP eyes on you…all day long.
Aside from not being on Academic CAP, the most important thing for making a good impression in Phase II is making sure that everyone in your class knows your boldface and ops limits…perfectly. This is one of the few things you can (and should) be working on learning during Phase I.
Boldface is a set of roughly 10 emergency procedures that you must memorize. You have to be able to repeat them (flawlessly), and write them (flawlessly…to include spelling and punctuation) on command. Operating limitations (“ops limits”) are a page of specifications for the T-6 (or any other USAF aircraft) that you must have memorized. A boldface/ops limits quiz consists of one page of paper. The front side has blank boxes for you to write the boldface and the back side has a fill-in-the-blanks set of ops limits. You’re expected to fill this out perfectly the minute you walk into your flight room on the first day of Phase II. If anyone in your class fails (makes even the smallest mistake), you’ll all have to fill out two or three the next day. (Fail again and it gets worse). You’ll repeat this exercise no less than weekly. You should put in the time and effort to get this right.
In Phase II you’ll also start “standup.” You’ll sit around the perimeter of your flight room while an instructor presents you with the setup for a theoretical emergency procedure. The IP will call on one student who has to stand up (get it?) and talk through how he or she would handle the problem. There’s a very specific format to how you do this. Your instructors will teach you, but it’s worth asking classes ahead of you for help and practicing ahead of time. If you do something wrong you’ll be told to “sit down” (a failure with some consequences, but nothing too long-term). If you successfully conclude the emergency or you’re on the right track your instructor may tell you to “take a seat” (and you will thank the Good Lord). Standup isn’t fun, but it’s important. Once you get to Phase II it’s something you should practice with your classmates. You’ll get the hang of it eventually, but the sooner you make that happen, the better your life will be.
Your UPT class will have about 30 students. At the start of Phase II you’ll be divided into two “flights” (Air Force term for a small group of people). You’re still one class and you’re all on the same schedule, but you’ll see less of the people in the other flight. It’s still okay to study together and be friends. At first, you’ll be required to spend all day every day in your flight room. You’ll only be allowed to leave for academics, flying, sims, or the bathroom. You’re expected to be studying in the flight room otherwise. This gets pretty tedious, but you have to learn to deal with it. It’s a good time to do group studying, if that works for you. Quiz each other, practice standup, chair fly together. Find what works for you.
You’ll be tempted to keep studying when you get home at night. A little of that is good, but a lot isn’t. If you over do it, your overall performance will actually suffer. You need to take time to relax, work out, and spend time with friends and family…every night.
You’ll continue to have some academic lessons during Phase II. Most of them will be focused on introducing the new types of maneuvers and flying you’ll do in the T-6. Your instructors will also give you EPQs (Emergency Procedures Quizzes) that cover a breadth of knowledge beyond just emergency procedures. Study hard and don’t get yourself on CAP for being lazy!
Phase II is about flying the T-6, but before they let you near one you’ll have to learn some basics in the simulator. You’ll start by learning how to put on your flight gear and strap in. You’ll learn how to run the preflight checks, start the motor, and deal with basic emergencies. (You’ll be sitting up front and have some switches that your instructor won’t have in the back seat. You’re expected to know what to do with those switches on your first flight). The simulators are very high quality systems. They’re a great way to learn and you should enjoy the time you get to spend flying them.
Eventually (finally!) you’ll get to fly the T-6. It’s an outstanding aircraft! It’s fast, it’s maneuverable, it has great visibility, it has lots of power, it carries plenty of fuel, it’s pressurized, and it has good air conditioning (you’ll appreciate this is the Texas/Oklahoma summers). You’ll learn basic maneuvers and traffic pattern operations, aerobatics, instrument flying, formation, and low level. You’ll only have about 20 hours when you solo for the first time. By the time you’re done you’ll have more experience than a lot of civilian pilots. If you don’t miss flying it, either you had to deal with some airsickness or there’s something fundamentally flawed in your soul. I could write a book about flying the T-6, but I won’t do it here. I’ll just say this: if you want to fly it well one of the most important things you can do is chair fly.
Chair flying means sitting in a chair and playing pretend with yourself as you fly through an entire flight in your mind. You should say, out loud, any checklists or radio calls you use. You should move your head to practice looking in the proper direction for each maneuver. You’ll be issued posters with the T-6 instrument panel on them. You should tape them up in front of your lazy boy, desk chair, toilet, or whatever else it is you use to chair fly. Practice looking at each instrument at the proper time. I cannot emphasize this enough: your performance in pilot training will be directly proportional to the amount of time you spend doing quality chair flying.
You’ll also continue flying in the simulator throughout Phase II. It’s a great way to practice emergency procedures and instrument flying. It’s not as exciting as flying the aircraft, but it’s just as important. The quality of these simulators is so high that the training is as valuable as flying the real airplane for many tasks. Chair fly and study to prepare for a sim just like you would for a flight.
You’ll have four check rides in Phase II…and they’re big deals. The midphase check ride happens about seven flights after your initial solo. You’ll have to fly to the practice area, do some basic maneuvers, and then fly back and do some landings. Next is the contact check ride. It covers everything from midphase, plus some more advanced aerobatic maneuvers. For your instrument check ride you’ll focus on instrument approaches. The last check ride is formation. It’s the most challenging, but there is nothing in aviation more fun than formation flying.
You get graded on everything you do in pilot training, and those grades all get fed into a system called MASS. Your four check rides weigh heavily in the MASS so you should try to do well on them. Don’t let yourself stress out too much though…it makes you fly worse. Realize that every pilot messes up something on every flight. You will mess something up on each check ride. Part of what your check pilot is looking for is your ability to bounce back from your mistake and fly well in spite of it. The grading criteria allow you to make mistakes and pass the ride…and potentially even get a high score.
As Phase II draws to a close, you’ll get to fill out a “dream sheet” for what you want to fly in Phase III. (More about that next). Your flight commander will put all your scores in the MASS, add his or her own flight commander ranking, and the computer will rank order all the students in your class. There are checks and balances to make sure this is all done fairly, but there is rarely a problem…the grades speak for themselves.
Your assignments for Phase III will be announced at a Track Select ceremony. You’re welcome and encouraged to have friends and family attend the ceremony. Your squadron should set up tours and photo ops on the flight line for your guests. It’s a well-deserved celebration for a lot of hard work. Your class is obligated to hold a track select party where you provide food and beer for everyone. Theme and venue are important. A great track select party could have hundreds of people at it. Learning to throw a good party is a critical part of your education as an Air Force pilot. Don’t bring it weak!