New Member
Oct 24, 2016
Hi Everyone,

Recent grad here, currently an Admissions Advisor for USAFA. I noticed that there isn't a ton of information on here about the thing that I think really sets us apart from the other service academies (and really and other college in the world) -- our Airmanship programs.

With our own airfield just down the road from the Cadet Area, cadets are able to work in flying, gliding, skydiving and remotely piloting aircraft in between academic classes on a daily basis.

As a cadet, I spent three years on the U.S. Air Force Parachute Team the Wings of Blue. I was able to personally teach over eighty students how to skydive and earn their jump wings, as well as perform in air shows all over the U.S. in front of tens of thousands of people, acquiring over 600 jumps to my name by the time I graduated.

At the Air Force Academy you will have the chance to participate in all of these different Airmanship programs. If you have any questions about Airmanship, the Academy in general or even the application process just let me know!
How do the programs work while you are at the Academy? Can you do multiple throughout your 4 years? Or, like you, commit to one?
How far along do the aviation programs bring you? In other words, do they allow you to earn your private license and beyond?
Hey everyone!

I think I've spoken with PTWOB #485 recently...I had my JROTC cadets up at USAFA this past weekend and I broached the subject that it'd be really excellent to get some of the airmanship experts (Wings of Blue specifically) on the forum to answer questions.

For those of you that don't know it...the "Wings of Blue" are pretty much THE national skydiving champions for...oh, I don't know; something like 80% or better of the years since they started. And they're cadets; most never jumped until they got to the academy. I wasn't good enough academically to even apply; and that's one of THE things I wanted to do at USAFA...oh well...

Ask away! They're here to help YOU make a great decision: is USAFA or any other service right for you?

Our son, a 2020er, has expressed some interest in the Wings of Blue. This surprised us because as a kid we couldnt drag him on to roller coasters.
How do the programs work while you are at the Academy? Can you do multiple throughout your 4 years? Or, like you, commit to one?

Yeah! You can absolutely participate in more than one program throughout your four years. With each airmanship program, there are classes you can take that last anywhere from 2-6 weeks. However, if you continue on to join any of the affiliated teams, that turns into a much bigger time commitment. For example, any cadet can take the basic parachuting program AM490, either the summer after your freshman year or during the academic year as a junior or senior. You could even be on the competitive soaring team and still go through AM490. However, if you were on the competitive soaring team you wouldn't be able to be on the Wings of Blue, because they both take up as much time as a varsity sport. Similarly, you can be on the Wings of Blue and still take the basic soaring class or the powered flight class, etc.
How far along do the aviation programs bring you? In other words, do they allow you to earn your private license and beyond?

That depends on which airmanship program, and also whether you are taking the basic courses or if you continue on to join the teams. If you take AM490 the basic jump course, you do five jumps and earn your jump wings, but it only counts toward your first few jumps if you wanted to get a civilian skydiving license. However if you continued on to join the Wings of Blue, you would become a fully certified jump master as well as a "pro-rated" (professional) skydiver, which all translates on the civilian side as well. For soaring, the same thing goes. Any progress that you make translates into the civilian world as flight hours.

If you take the powered flight program (typically taken your senior year as preparation for IFT -- the first screener for pilot training after you graduate), the farthest you can advance within the class is soloing the aircraft. However, you could then choose to continue to go back to the on-base powered flight area in your own free time and pay for more hours and eventually get your PPL. That continuation would be with your own time and money, however.

We also have a competitive flying team. This is the only airmanship team at USAFA that requires prior experience to try out for the team -- you have to have already received your PPL before your freshman year.

It is not uncommon for cadets to try out multiple airmanship programs and earn both their jump and soaring wings.
Our son, a 2020er, has expressed some interest in the Wings of Blue. This surprised us because as a kid we couldnt drag him on to roller coasters.

Awesome! The first step is taking AM490 this coming Summer for his airmanship program. And funnily enough, you don't get the same "stomach drop" from skydiving that you do on a roller coaster!
Hey guys, I think this is a great feed, and something that is way understated during peoples initial interest at the Academy. If anyone reading this feed has any questions regarding powered flight programs - specifically AM420 Powered flight, or the Air Force Academy Precision Flying Team, I would be happy to answer questions in that direction.

Folks we have two recent graduates here to describe and answer any questions you might have about the airmanship programs at USAFA. I'd take advantage of their experiences!!

FYI...airmanship programs are some of the most fun and exciting things at USAFA!!

Are cadets allowed to use the academies aircraft if they have appropriate licenses?
Are cadets allowed to use the academies aircraft if they have appropriate licenses?

You would have to be officially enrolled in one of the programs at the time to use any of the resources, since they are considered attached to military squadrons. For example, even if you were a licensed skydiver you would either need to be enrolled in the AM490 three-week course or part of the Wings of Blue to use the parachutes/jump at the airfield. However, if you come in with your PPL you could use the "Aero Club" which isn't a cadet club, but you would have to pay out of pocket for those flight hours. However, if you joined the actual flying team, you get to use all of those resources for free and fly at least on a weekly basis.

Maybe Nilet can give further info --
How difficult is it to join the Wings of Blue? I have read about going through the Wings of Green and that selection process. Can you briefly describe the pathway to join and the steps that are required to join?
How difficult is it to join the Wings of Blue? I have read about going through the Wings of Green and that selection process. Can you briefly describe the pathway to join and the steps that are required to join?

So just to clarify -- The Wings of Green is the "feeder" team into the Wings of Blue. Toward the end of your freshman year you will fill out a preference sheet for which airmanship program you want to participate in that following summer. Whether or not you get your top choice depends on a few factors including GPA, MPA, and general logistics of trying to fit every cadets' schedule. If you get AM490 (Basic Parachuting) as your airmanship and then you pass the course with five safe skydives (earning you your military jump wings) then at the end of that summer you will have a chance to try out for the Wings of Green. Typically a few hundred cadets apply, and every year the squadron takes somewhere around 25 cadets as WOGs. During your wings of green year (all of sophomore year) you will take AFF (accelerated free fall which earns you your skydiving A license) and then you will go through training to become a jump master and an instructor. If you pass AFF and jumpmaster training and you qualify to instruct other cadets then at the end of your sophomore year you graduate wings of green and earn your "blue suit" and your position on the Wings of Blue.

Within the Wings of Blue, every team member is a jump master and an instructor. Each team member also participates in one of two sub-teams, "Comp" and "Demo". Members of the competition team train three times a week at an indoor wind tunnel in teams of four and compete in collegiate and national level skydiving competitions, earning gold medals every year. Members of the Demonstration team train showmanship and accuracy and travel all around the U.S. every month and perform in Airshows as well as jump into football games.
What type of preparation could an incoming cadet be involved in to be more competitive for the Wings of Green/Blue teams?
Well you need to be able to get jump summer after freshman year, so you'll need to do well at USAFA your first year (all around- that means fitness, academic and military performance). I'd say that's the biggest hurdle.
One of the teams i'm very interested in pursuing- god willing I am accepted this upcoming year- is the Soaring Aerobatic Team. By any chance does anyone have any background information about this specific team?
This is an awesome thread and I am so glad PTWOB 485 started it. (@PTWOB_485: I'm not sure if I knew you personally, but #503 was a great friend/mentor of mine. :D)

A few things:

1. My roommate (@USAFA_FT_2019) is also a flying team member. He started a thread a while back specifically about the USAFA Precision Flying Team. Anybody who is interested in this particular team might also check out his thread and/or PM him. One thing he has mentioned to me is that people do not necessarily have to have finished their PPL prior to starting the FT application process (which is roughly 6 months long). However, they do have to be pretty far along with their PPL--to be competitive, prospective team members need to be preparing for their checkride by January at the latest.

2. A couple of notes about statistical "chances": like PTWOB 485 said, 300+ people participate in summer AM-490 as 3*'s [with most applying for WoG], and only about 25 actually get picked up for WoG. That's roughly an 8% selection rate. If you don't get picked up for WoG after AM-490, you're not eligible to participate in any more USAFA jump programs. In other words, any more parachuting you choose to do will be on your own dime. Statistically speaking, the vast majority of USAFA jump participants only end up with 5 jumps. Not bashing the program in any way, just pointing out that it is highly exclusive and sought after. Only a few actually end up continuing on the WoG.

An additional 300ish people participate in AM-251 (Soaring) during their second summer. Of these people, roughly 50 get selected for AM-461 (Soaring Instructor Pilot training, a 1-2 semester program designed to train cadets to become Soaring IP's). Those who are not selected the first time around have the opportunity to try again after the fall semester. Of these re-applicants, roughly 20-30 are chosen for an accelerated version of AM-461 during the spring semester, in order to bring the total number of IP trainees up to ~75. All 75 candidates end up finishing the program around May, at which time they become Soaring IP's. Assuming 300 applicants, this translates into a 25% acceptance rate--still low, but not nearly as low as 8%.

Of course, it really depends on what your goals are. If you like the idea of jump better, definitely go for WoG. If you prefer soaring, apply for AM-461. You honestly can't go wrong with either one. I personally chose soaring over jump, partly because I liked the idea of soaring better, and partly because I knew my odds of participating in an advanced airmanship program were better if I went with soaring. After summer AM-251, I applied for AM-461 and got denied. If I had taken jump, that would have been the end of the road for me unless I chose to skydive at a civilian company. However, I waited and applied again at the end of the year. I am now a thrilled participant in AM-461 and look forward to becoming a Soaring IP in just a couple of months. Additionally, I am scheduled to take AM-490 [Basic Jump] during my 1* year. :cool:

Now, I will be the first to admit that it is not quite fair to compare the Soaring IP program with the WoB program. Most IP's do not compete nationally or fly demos at football games--those opportunities are reserved for the Sailplane [Cross-Country] Racing Team (SRT) or the Aerobatic Demonstration Team (Acro), which are much smaller subgroups within the total IP population and more comparable to the WoB team. However, the total number of permanent flying slots available to cadets in the 94th FTS (Soaring) is much greater than those available in the 98th FTS (Jump).

Again, though, I don't think you can say that any one program is better than any other, and they are all amazing opportunities. All I am trying to do is point out that more people have the chance to pursue advanced soaring than advanced jump, which is something current 4*s and appointees should at least be aware of.

3. @USAFA2021: I am not a member of the Acro team (Soaring Aerobatic team), but I have multiple friends who are. To join the Acro team, you must first be selected for AM-461 (which I described in more detail above). In the spring, applications open for Advanced Soaring teams (SRT and Acro). Those who are interested fill out a short application and then interview with Advanced Soaring staff. Roughly 6 people are selected for each team. Advanced Soaring participants also incur additional summer commitments (Acro has 2 summer periods [6 weeks] of soaring, while SRT has all 3 periods [9 weeks]). Hope this helps a little! :D
Excellent information!!!

I wasn't the stellar academic star at USAFA...just ask about 827 of my classmates that ranked higher than I did...don't ask the 130 I beat out; they're not going to like you much! :)

I didn't get desire since I was in 8th grade and watched the jumpers every day after school. I did get to go to Fort Benning at get AIRBORNE wings...but it's not the same. A great program, don't get me wrong; and something I'd recommend for anyone interested in how the army does it. I took up skydiving afterwards. I did get to do AM451 (or whatever it's called now) soaring as a firstie...mostly because I called down and said "Hey, I'm a firstie, I'm on the commandants list, group staff...and I didn't get either 490 or 451...why?" TOO LATE for jump cadet...want soaring?


I'm convinced soaring was what gave me the skill set to fly excellent formation in UPT and to qualify for fighters.

EITHER program is amazing and the fact that we have both cadets here to discuss this...PICK THEIR BRAINS!!!

Thought I'd add a not-so-quick note about the current airmanship programs offered and eligibility restrictions (going off what flieger said). I will preface by saying that this process may or may not be different for International students--I really have no idea what kinds of limitations students from specific foreign countries may/may not have as far as airmanship goes. Consequently, the guidelines I explain below may or may not be the same for International students. Nevertheless, for the vast majority of USAFA cadets, the curriculum looks like this:

Cadets have their first exposure to airmanship during their 4* year. Sometime during their first or second semester, 4*'s are scheduled for an 8-lesson introduction to soaring which includes 4 flights in a glider. This program is called AM-250 and is offered to all 4*'s.

Most cadets take their second airmanship program the summer after their 4* year. There are three different airmanship options available at this point. Cadets who participate in airmanship (instead of a summer class, for example) indicate their preferences, and are assigned to a particular program based on their indicated preferences, class rank, and other similar factors:
1. AM-251 (Soaring): This program is a continuation of AM-250 and is designed to allow cadets to solo by the end of the program (which includes 14 flights)
2. AM-490 (Jump): During this program, cadets complete 5 solo free-fall jumps and earn their Air Force jump wings.
3. UAS-200 (Drones): I don't know a lot about this option, but I know cadets have the chance to learn more about drone flying and practice in very realistic simulations. I think they may have the chance to fly actual small drones owned by the Academy as well.

The catch is that rising 3*'s can only take one of these options during their summer. Any cadets interested in becoming a soaring IP must take AM-251 during the summer. Any cadets planning to apply for WoG/WoB must take AM-490 instead. The UAS program is a little different--I don't think taking the summer class is a requirement to become a UAS instructor, because the same class is also offered during the academic year as well (any current UAS cadets, please feel free to correct me on this if I am wrong).

This is why nobody can apply to become both a Soaring IP and a WoB. The two programs are mutually exclusive in that both have a prerequisite which must be satisfied prior to applying. However, cadets are only permitted to take one airmanship program during their 3* summer. Consequently, anyone who takes 490 that summer is guaranteed not to become a Soaring IP, and anyone who takes 251 is guaranteed not to become a WoB. (Those who take UAS 200 are not eligible to become Soaring IP's or WoB's.)

For each of these three airmanship options, "advanced" programs (WoG, AM-461, UAS instructor upgrade training) are available, and students apply for these toward the end of their summer programs. Those who are selected continue their airmanship training during the school year. Successful completion will earn them a spot on their respective airmanship team (Soaring IP, WoB) and/or status as a qualified program instructor (true for all three).

Now, choosing one summer airmanship program does not mean you can't do any others during your time as a cadet. As I mentioned, the UAS class is available during the school year as well for those who are interested and didn't take it during the summer. Any cadets who did not take AM-490 during their 3* summer can sign up to take the course during their 1* (occasionally 2*) year instead (assuming they reserve a spot quick enough). This is what I was referring to when I said earlier that I'm taking Jump my senior year. Obviously, cadets who do this won't end up on the WoB, but they will graduate with their jump wings.

The same is not true for AM-251. The only time cadets can take this class is during their 3* summer. In other words, you can't wait and take it later like you can with 490. This may not be a big deal for those who aren't particularly interested in soaring, but it is something to be aware of.

There is one more airmanship program I should probably mention as well: Powered Flight (AM-420) and the USAFA Precision Flying Team. As I mentioned above, the FT has an application/tryout process which lasts throughout most of the 4* year and is not tied to a summer program. Those who end up making the FT already have some background in flying when they enter the Academy. The Powered Flight Program (AM-420) is something like AM-251 in that its goal is to allow students to solo in a powered aircraft by the end of the program. I don't remember for sure how long the program is or how many sorties it entails, but I think it is somewhat similar in scope and depth to 251.

Most cadets take AM-420 during their junior or senior year, or during the summer in between. As far as I know, anybody can take this class EXCEPT for FT members (who obviously have no need for it) and Soaring IP's (who have already logged a substantial number of hours in a glider).

So here's the wrap up. As they prepare for their 3* summer, cadets who participate in an airmanship program have three different options:

1. AM-251. Great starting point for those interested in becoming Soaring IP's. Removes eligibility for WoB, but you can take AM-490 senior year. Those who become IP's won't take AM-420, either. Those not selected for AM-461 (IP training) can still take 420.
2. AM-490. This is the program for those planning to apply for WoB. Removes eligibility for Soaring IP and AM-251. Whether or not you are selected for WoG/WoB, you can also take AM-420 later on.
3. UAS-200. Good program for anyone interested in becoming a UAS program instructor. Removes eligibility for Soaring IP, AM-251, and WoB. Participants can still take AM-490 and AM-420 later on.

As you can see, the process is not completely straightforward and can be a little difficult to understand. I tried to explain it as clearly as I could, but may have accidentally left mistakes/ambiguities. Anybody who is directly involved with one of these programs and has more knowledge than I should feel free to correct any details I may have gotten wrong. Thanks, and I hope this helps clarify the scope of airmanship programs available at USAFA! :thumb: