Winning UPT – Part 2


Welcome back to another article to help you succeed at UPT.  UPT is one of the greatest times in your aviation career, even though it does not feel like it at the time. In Part-1 we discussed how to prepare by emphasizing the importance of general knowledge and chairflying. Part -2 dicusess three new tips to help you out. Let’s get started…

Be a Team Player – Ultimately, your success at UPT will be an individual one. You’re working toward your assignment. Still…don’t be a jerk. Occasionally there is that guy or girl whom everyone hates. He or she knows all the GK and flies well, but doesn’t lift a finger to help anyone else. Worse, sometimes that person undermines his or her classmates to succeed. You don’t want to be this person!

One obvious reason to avoid this behavior is that part of your overall score includes a flight commander‘s ranking. This ranking is based on his or her evaluation of your potential as a future officer and aviator–someone that he or she might have to fly with in combat. If you’re the jerk who only looks out for yourself, you’re not the kind of person that your flight commander will want to fly with in combat–and your ranking will be lower. This part of your overall score generally won’t move you a lot, but it can absolutely make the difference between getting the track you want after Phase II and going to your second choice. If this happens it’s not because your IPs are out to get you, it’s because you’ve failed to demonstrate learning to be part of a flying unit. That’s just as important as learning to do a loop or land in a crosswind.

In the bigger picture, you don’t want to be a lone star in a weak class. Your IPs have the power to make your lives good or bad during UPT. If your class is weak overall you’ll all suffer. You may be flying well despite that, but your overall stress level will be higher. You won’t perform as well under that stress as you could in a more positive environment. Besides, if you help struggling classmates, are you really hurting yourself in the long-run? If you’re getting good grades every day, you’re already ahead of someone who’s struggling. Even if your buddy figures things out and improves with your help, you’ll have a buffer of better scores to keep you ahead. What’s more, your IPs will know that you’ve been helping your friends and your flight commander’s ranking will be higher because of it.

You’re also supposed to be part of a team striving for the best possible application of Air Power in defense of the United States of America. You should be glad that your classmates get better, even if helping them eventually makes them better than you–because that’s what’s good for Merica’, right? (Like it or not, your IPs will notice your attitude while this is happening. If you’re genuinely interested in your classmates’ success and making everyone as good as possible, your IPs will respect you and rank you accordingly. If you resent others’ success or work against them, it won’t be good for you.)

Drive It Like You Stole It – Aviation is not for the timid. There’s a reason that the Air Force wants its officers to play sports in high school and college. Sports force you to develop complex skills, face uncertain situations, and reward those who can assertively and correctly apply those skills in real-time. Sound familiar? This describes countless situations you’ll face in aviation.

You’ll be the aircraft commander carrying crew or passengers at the end of a long flight, at night, low on fuel, with ice forming on your wings, with the surface visibility down to 1/2 mile because a strong, gusty crosswind is blowing snow flurries over the runway. You’ll be the sole occupant of an aircraft flying through enemy defenses, closing on another aircraft at more than 1000 miles an hour.

Your ability to succeed at your mission (and stay alive) will be based solely on your ability to analyze the situation, instantaneously apply tactics, and endure grueling physical demands to take out your enemy. You won’t have the luxury of going to a safe space for a time-out. In these situations you simply cannot doubt your abilities. The people on your aircraft will have literally placed their lives in your hands. You must have the skills to accomplish your mission and the confidence to face the challenge without doubt. You’ll develop this ability throughout your career; however, you have the ability to consciously work on it from day one in pilot training.

You’ll face times in the aircraft when you’re not sure what to do. (The more you’ve prepared, the less frequently this will happen.) In those situations, your natural human instinct is to freeze and ask your IP what you should do next. Resist that urge! As much as possible, you should analyze the situation, come up with a (good) plan of action, and start implementing it. Don’t do something dumb or dangerous, but avoid playing “mother may I?” with your IP. When you’re learning maneuvers (especially aerobatics) you’ll be tempted to complete one maneuver and then fly straight and level while you take a breather and mentally prepare for the next maneuver. Avoid this! The entry parameter for a loop might be 230-250 knots while straight and level, but that doesn’t mean you have to be straight and level for 10 seconds before starting the maneuver. It’s absolutely correct to finish another maneuver (say a Lazy 8) by leaving your nose pointing down to pick up speed. Roll your wings level, but leave your nose down until you hit 220-230 knots, then start pulling. There will be a split second where you are straight and level at 230-250 knots…but let it only be a split second as you continue pulling up into your loop. There is a way to blend every maneuver in the book into every other one. Figure these transitions out, chair fly them, and use them in the aircraft. Your IP will love it if you do this, and you’ll get more done in the time you have. If you can do this on your check ride (and stay in your area) you will get great scores.

You can (and should) apply this principle to your area maneuvers for instruments and formation. You can apply the principle in the traffic pattern by telling your IP, “This is going to be a normal touch and go. After that I’m going to request closed and do a no-flap touch and go. If I don’t get closed, we’ll fly around the box and practice a breakout” rather than asking him or her what kind of landing you should do next. (Don’t worry if you don’t know some of those specifics yet. You will.) Throughout UPT (and your whole aviation career) drive the show. Plan ahead and, when appropriate, tell rather than ask your IP what’s next. That’s the type of pilot the Air Force wants.

Are you a timid person? You can (and should) work on developing your assertiveness. Go learn a martial art like boxing, fencing, wrestling, tae kwon do, etc. If none of those are available or palatable to you, try a fast-paced and physically demanding team sport like rugby, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, or basketball. Sports like football or baseball can help you develop some of the assertiveness you need, but they’re more slow-paced on an individual level and won’t be as effective. You’ll notice I choose to say here that you need to be “assertive,” rather than “aggressive.” Assertive means facing a challenge and taking appropriate action. Many people let unchecked emotion into that equation and reach mindless aggression. That’s how we get road rage, brawls at football games, and people who get in someone’s face or even attack someone because they feel “disrespected.” These people are fools. The US Air Force needs assertive pilots, not aggressive fools.

Make Your IPs Like You – No, this does not mean you should offer to wash your flight commander’s car or bring your assigned IP an apple (attached to a bottle of expensive scotch) every Monday. (Sometimes we wish it did mean this, but it doesn’t! Don’t try it or you’ll get everyone in trouble.) We don’t talk about this much, but UPT is also an audition of sorts. Your instructors may fly with you on their next assignment. Even if they don’t, they’ll have to send you out to fly with their buddies throughout the Air Force. They want to make sure they like you before they or their friends have to deal with you for years at a time. This means you need to show that you’re motivated to be good at your job. They won’t want you in their community if you’re the student that is chronically unprepared or unfocused. They won’t want you if you’re the person who plays “I have a secret” and does really well at things while the rest of your class does poorly.

They also want someone with whom they’ll enjoy hanging out. In a flying squadron, you spend as much time with your coworkers as you do with your family. When you deploy, you’re with your squadron 24/7. Do you want to hang out with someone who is cruel, boring, morose, lazy, or just weird? As a UPT student, don’t be so afraid of your IPs that you only talk shop with them. This doesn’t mean you’re trying to make a new best friend or that you should get distracted. However, you should joke around with them (when appropriate) and take advantage of the parts of UPT that can be fun.

If you can find the right balance of this, your flight room will take on an atmosphere that is better for everyone. Your IPs will be happier to work with you. They’ll want to go out of their way to help you learn. Their instruction will be encouraging, inspiring, and sometimes even humorous. I promise you will perform better in this kind of environment. I’ve worked with many UPT classes. I’ve seen flight rooms where student performance is through the roof and everyone is happy to come to work. I’ve seen flights where the IPs go so far above and beyond the call of duty for their students that you could make a feel-good Lifetime movie about it. I’ve also seen flights where the students don’t know their GK and fight amongst themselves. Their instructors hate coming to work and treat their students like prisoners. The students in these flights invariably perform worse than they could have. Do what you can (within reason) to help make your flight great.

OK I hope you enjoyed Part -2 (and Part – 1 as well). Some of the advice I am giving needs to be executed now.  Dont wait until you have an interview or have been hired before putting some of this advice into action.  Check back again for Winning UPT – Part 3, where I will discuss more keys to success.

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