Pilot Career Path

Discussion in 'Air Force Academy - USAFA' started by Craig, May 21, 2011.

  1. Craig

    Craig Member

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    What is the typical career path for an Air Force pilot with 20 years service? How often do you move? Do you fly the entire time or do you rotate to a desk job on ocassion? Do you go to graduate school or some equilvalent? Just looking for comments on general trends.
     
  2. Bullet

    Bullet Member

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    20 year career, huh? Well, let me give you some of the experiences I've seen from my time in the fighter community as a WSO (and remember right off the bat: there is no TYPICAL pilot career. There are MANY paths folks go down in their careers. I think the saying is "Results are not typical...")

    - Pilot training. Between your start at Flight screening until you get assigned (selected into a specific airframe) = typically 1 year. Assignment to an airframe usually is based on your class ranking.

    - Flight Training in your specific airframe (and since my background is fighters, I'll use them as the example) = about a year. Learning the airframe, and how to basically employ it. You'll also throw in some other training either before or after, like land survival and water survival.

    - Arrive at your first Ops unit. Typically spend the next 3 years there (unless its an "unaccompanied" overseas assignment (i.e. not married, no dependents), then they can be shorter. Spend the first 3 months or so of that first assignment going through "Mission Qualified" training (learning how to employ to operational standards for each unit). You'll be a "wingman" (lead by someone else), and you'll spend the three years working towards upgrading to 2-ship flight lead (you lead someone else!), then 4 ship flight lead (you lead the basic combat package for fighters!)

    - 1st Permanent Change of Station. Lots of folks try to go to Squadron Officer School (SOS) between leaving your first Ops base en-route to your next one. 7 weeks in sunny Maxwell. The AF "Cheer-leading" academy.

    - As a fighter pilot, most want to do an "Ops-to-Ops" next assignment (go from one ops tour to another). Your "hard-chargers" and "golden boy" pilots usually get this. The rest go for an "Alpha" tour (something other than flying, as a "career broadening" move). I'll assume you're a "golden child". You spend this second Ops tour working to upgrade to "Instructor Pilot", the guy who teaches the newbies and enforces the squadron standards. If you are THE golden boy, your leadership will be grooming you to go to Weapons School. I would say think "Top Gun", but Top Gun is not even close (WS is 6 months long, Top Gun is 6 weeks). "Patch" wearers (WS grads) are groomed to go back to an Ops unit and become the Instructor of Instructors, the Weapons Officer in the squadron, sets the standards, drafts new tactics, and overall they are the guy who leads the squadron into battle (next to the Commander, of course).

    - OK, you've now done 2 Ops tours (maybe 3 if you went to WS). You'll be getting close to competing for Major, if not there already. I'll assume you have continued to be a "superstar", and you got selected to attend an Intermediate Service School (year long school for Majors) along with your promotion to Major. The really good ones get to go to a Sister Service School. Each service has one.

    (Oh, Btw, I haven't mentioned "Gate Months". Every month you're flying counts towards your flight pay. You have to make a certain number to guaranteed flight pay for a certain number of years. I think the number is 120 months (yep, 10 years of flying) to guarantee flight pay (which maxes out at $850/month) to the 20 year point. The AF manpower folk strive to get every pilot who wants to to at least their second gate, and usually their 3rd (so you'll get flight pay for the full 20+ you are in).)

    - Graduate ISS. Go to your next assignment. Most likely some staff job somewhere, like the Pentagon or a Major Command's (Like Air Combat Command) HQ. Most folks do that for 3 years.

    - But you're lucky -- you made some "connections" in the past. Former bosses (i.e. squadron commanders) who have moved onto to higher things, remember you (they most likely were the one to groom you for WS), and want to "hire" you to lead a squadron somewhere. You get to leave the Staff after 2 years, and become an "Operations Officer" in a flying squadron (second in command). This is your "job interview" for a future squadron command position.

    - About this time, you'll also be competing for Lt Col. You've been a superstar so far, so I'll assume you get it. And you've been selected for Senior Service School in residence as well. You Wing Commander, who thinks you are "his guy" wont send you. His reason? Well, he wants you to be his next....

    - Squadron Commander! Perhaps the best job in the Operational part of the AF. YOU are leading the men and women under you, at the tactical and operational level. The squadron is yours to lead to new heights, or new lows (I've seen and experienced both). 18 months of the best days of your life, topped off with taking your troops downrange as part of an Air Expeditionary Force (AEF). Of course, this is assuming we are still in combat somewhere...

    - OK, hot shot. Decision time. You'll finish your squadron command sometime around your 18 year point (yep, it went that fast). Do I stay and try for O-6? Based on your career, your a shoe-in. But if you accept that rank, you have to stay in at least another 3 years to retire at O-6 pay (i.e. more than 20 years). Also, the AF KNOWS this, and knows you won't turn down that sudden "you're moving to Iceland" notification. Tours at O-6 normally last about 18 months, and unless you're on the track to be a future General, most of the jobs are NOT in flying.

    - But I'll assume your in for a penny, in for a pound, being such a superstar and all. You go to SSS, pin on O-6, and do ANOTHER Staff tour after wards. Then, about a year later, you get the call: they want you to be the "Operations Group Commander" at a flying Wing (the person in charge of all flying operations on the base, second only to the Wing King). You're now at that 22 year point or so, eligible to retire as an O-6 if you want. Then comes the real hard choice. Do I stay, or do I go? Have I made enough "clout" to one day get that Star o my shoulder? Or do I answer that call from an old buddy of mine, hooking me up with a great second career. The choice is yours.

    OK, long enough answer. And like I said, the results aren't typical. In a "bottom line" answer to your question: most likely you WON'T fly the full 20 years in your career, you WILL attend graduate level schools, you WILL get a Master's Degree, and you WILL move (A LOT! 11 times in my 20 year career).

    But you're a future superstar. Come back here in 25 years and let us know if you decide to stay and try for that Star on your shoulder! :thumb:
     
  3. luckymacy

    luckymacy Member

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    Good one, Bullet. The 'sky's the limit'. Here's an example of the previous Shuttle commander's bio:

    http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/lindsey.html

    EXPERIENCE: Lindsey was commissioned a second lieutenant at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1982. In 1983, after receiving his pilot wings at Reese Air Force Base, Texas, he qualified in the RF-4C Phantom II and was assigned to the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas. From 1984 until 1987, he served as a combat-ready pilot, instructor pilot, and academic instructor. In 1987, he was selected to attend graduate school at the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he studied aeronautical engineering. In 1989, he attended the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California. In 1990, Lindsey was assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where he conducted weapons and systems tests in F-16 and F-4 aircraft. While a member of the 3247th Test Squadron, Lindsey served as the deputy director, Advanced Tactical Air Reconnaissance System Joint Test Force and as the squadron’s F-16 Flight Commander. In August of 1993 Lindsey was selected to attend Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Upon graduation in June of 1994 he was reassigned to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida as an Integrated Product Team leader in the USAF SEEK EAGLE Office where he was responsible for Air Force weapons certification for the F-16, F-111, A-10, and F-117 aircraft. In March of 1995 he was assigned to NASA as an astronaut candidate. Lindsey retired from the Air Force in September 2006.

    He has logged over 7000 hours of flying time in more than 50 different types of aircraft.

    NASA EXPERIENCE: Selected by NASA in March 1995, Lindsey became an astronaut in May 1996, qualified for flight assignment as a pilot. Initially assigned to flight software verification in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, Lindsey also worked on the Multifunction Electronic Display System (MEDS) program, a glass cockpit Space Shuttle upgrade program, as well as a number of other advanced upgrade projects. In between his first two flights he worked as the Shuttle Landing and Rollout representative responsible for training flight crews and testing orbiter landing techniques and flying qualities. After his second flight, Lindsey served as Deputy for Shuttle Operations and Co-Chairman of the Space Shuttle Cockpit Council, responsible for designing, testing, and implementing crew interfaces and displays for the $400 million Shuttle Cockpit Avionics Upgrade. He served as the Chief of International Space Station Operations for the astronaut office, responsible for integrating astronaut, engineering and administrative activities in providing support to all aspects of the development, testing, crew training and operations of the International Space Station. He last served as Chief of the Astronaut Corps, responsible for spacecraft development, crew selection and training, and flight test/crew operations in support of the Space Shuttle, International Space Station, and Constellation Programs.

    A veteran of four space flights, Lindsey has logged more than 1,510 hours in space. He served as pilot on STS-87 in 1997 and STS-95 in 1998, and was the mission commander on STS-104 in 2001, STS-121 in 2006, and STS-133 in 2011.
     
  4. Craig

    Craig Member

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    Thanks for the responses. My son was asking the questions. He took his 2nd flight lesson in a 172 this morning. On the way home he was asking all sorts of questions about the military. I could tell him a little about the Navy but had no clue about the AF. He definitely has that sparkle in his eyes (and SE grin) everytime he gets around an airplane. Watches Dog Fights all time (while drooling). Time will tell, but something to do with aviation is likely in his future.
     
  5. 10022010lnw

    10022010lnw New Member

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    Back home

    The absolute love of my life has been accepted to the academy, and is leaving in exactly one month from today. As he will be in Colorado, I will be back in Texas finishing my senior year of high school. We very much plan to make our long distant relationship work, and after he graduates, plan to get married. I want to know so much about the academy, and want to always be informed of things, how can that be done? Iif someone could please give me some ideas of a Basic graduation gift, explain how and honestly if long distant relationships work, if and when are visitors allowed, also, if care/food packages could be sent.
    Thank you so much!!!
     
  6. SCcandidate2015

    SCcandidate2015 Member

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    Threadjacking!
     
  7. jwalsh1

    jwalsh1 Member

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    Long distance relationships sometimes work, but many times, I see them fall apart. I am not currently a student, but I heard that there is a really low percentage of relationships that go through. Don't fret or be discouraged, because when I was at an informational meet and greet with cadets around Thanksgiving, there was a Sr. who was there with his girlfriend saying he is one of the ones who's been with his girl the whole time.

    Another thing, don't post the name of your boyfriend on here. I'm sure if anyone finds out who he is, he'll get hell when he arrives at USAFA. =P
     
  8. Bullet

    Bullet Member

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    First, long distance relationships CAN work, if you put the work (and the trust) into it. It worked for Pima and I for 3 years of college and my time at UNT. It's working now for our DS and his girlfriend. Granted, even we didn't face the full summer apart and most of the fall with limited, if no, communication. Just understand this is what he wants, and support him. Understand that he can't be there as much as you would like, and support him anyway. Make those few times you do communicate, or do see each other, special and cherished.

    As to a graduation gift? How about two things: First, a promise to write him, often. And not with messages about how much you miss him, but about how PROUD you are of him. No need to make him feel worse by not being able to be with you. Second, how about a digital picture frame, so when he finally is allowed to keep it in his room, its full of pictures of the two of you and things that are special to each of you.

    Just some thoughts from a parent who has been through something similar...
     

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