Phase III has three possible tracks. You could fly the T-38C in the fighter/bomber track, the T-1A in the tanker/heavy track, or the UH-1 in the helicopter track. (Look for a future post on what to consider when putting your preferences on your dream sheet).
Phase III will feel like Phase II in a lot of ways. You’ll be expected to know a new set of boldface/ops limits the minute you walk in the door. In T-38s you’ll have standup. In the other tracks you’ll have less standup, if any. All three tracks have academics, EPQs, and sims. If you fly the T-38, you’ll go through basically the same types of flying you did in the T-6. It’s challenging and fun. Formation low level flying in the T-38 is indescribably awesome. The instructors in T-38s think a lot of themselves and the aircraft you’ll eventually be flying. They’re extremely demanding. Get used to it…that’s what life’s like as a fighter pilot. (The T-38 is a very old aircraft. It’s due for retirement and the USAF is holding a competition for a replacement. If you’re more than about 5 years from starting UPT, there’s a chance you could fly the new T-X. I wrote about some of the candidates for the T-X competition on AviationBull.com. Spoiler alert: they’re all awesome!)
If you fly the T-1, you’ll only have three check rides. You start with Transition where you learn the basics of flying the plane as a crew and how to land. The longest and most heavily weighted part of the program is the Instrument/Navigation portion. That check ride is an all day event. Finally, you’ll do Mission Familiarization that includes formation, low level, simulated air refueling, and simulated airdrop missions. The T-1 track is generally considered to be more laid back than T-38s. Your performance still matters, but life shouldn’t be as stressful as it will be for your friends. If your dream is and has always been to fly helicopters, the US Air Force is not your best option. On average, a pilot training class of 30 students gets one helicopter slot. Lately, that has been the most competitive slot in the class and you need to be in the top two or three people in your class to get it. (If you want to be a helicopter pilot, honestly, your best best is to go to the Army. Don’t do it as an Army officer though! You need to do it as a Warrant Officer. The Army only lets their officers fly actively for a few years before chaining them to a desk. Warrants exist to be nothing but pilots).
All that said, the USAF does have some cool missions for helicopter flying. If you get the coveted helo slot for your class you’ll bid your new friends farewell because you’re shipping off to Ft Rucker, AL. It’s an Army base, but the USAF has it’s own program. You’ll do basic flying, instruments, low level navigation, and some mission familiarization events. The format will be a lot like the rest of UPT; however, USAF helo pilots have their own mentality. If you’re the kind of person who chose to go that way, you’ll have a fun time there.
Your performance in Phase III is scored using MASS just like it was for Phase II. You’ll fill out a dream sheet again, but this one will have a lot more options. You’ll get to list all the USAF aircraft (in your track) in the order you want to fly them. (More on strategy here in another post). For better or for worse, you final aircraft assignment is based only on your performance in Phase III. This could help if you were a late bloomer who spent some or all of Phase II getting the hang of flying. If you rocked the T-6 chances are you’ll rock Phase III, but don’t just assume it’ll be that way. Some people do great in Phase II, but finish lower in their class in Phase III. Don’t slack off!
Your class gets to put on an even bigger party for Drop Night (aka Assignment Night). You need to provide more refreshments because more people will show up. Theme is even more important for your Drop and your instructors take great pleasure in announcing your assignments in a way that fits with your theme. There’s also a (separate, much more dignified) graduation banquet, and more events to show your family what you’ve been doing all year. Again, there’s a lot to celebrate.
There, isn’t that easier? There’s a lot to it, but it’s manageable. UPT will probably be both the most challenging and most fun year of your life. Expect more articles here at BogiDope on how to strategize, excel, and succeed at UPT.