The U.S. Air Force is working on a plan to cut back its use of the T-1 Jayhawk, the aircraft employed for advanced student pilot training of airmen learning to fly cargo, tanker or command-and-control aircraft.
Air Education and Training Command has created a new curriculum to heavily leverage a simulator-only course for those pilots and will downsize its fleet of 178 T-1 trainers over the coming years, the command confirmed in a recent email. The T-1 has been in use since the 1990s.
"Our aim is to reduce reliance on the platform," Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, 19th Air Force commander, said in emailed responses. The plan is to phase out the T-1 aircraft altogether at Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training locations between fiscal 2023 and 2025, he said. SUPT teaches basic fundamentals of flying, airmanship, instrument knowledge, rules and regulations.
The command will retain a small number of T-1s at the 12th Flying Training Wing at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, in order to conduct combat systems officer training, he added.
Last month, AETC launched the "Undergraduate Pilot Training 2.5 initiative" at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, and Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. The program is AETC's first step "in applying the lessons learned at Pilot Training Next (PTN) on a large scale," Wills said. The two-year-old PTN program is designed to test student aviators' ability to learn faster and absorb more through cutting-edge virtual reality technology and simulation.
Airmen selected to fly bombers and fighters typically receive their advanced pilot training in the T-38 Talon. The T-1A is used for those who fly aircraft such as the C-17 Globemaster III; the Airborne Warning And Control System, or AWACS; and some special operations platforms.
Air mobility students assigned to Randolph Air Force Base will not fly the T-1 aircraft, Wills said. Instead, "they will complete a simulator-only Air Mobility Fundamentals course taught by our Pilot Training Next cadre."
Those at Vance who are slated for mobility, special operations, and command-and-control intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms will use a modified T-1 training syllabus.
The simulator-heavy experiment halves the length of the current T-1 course, which takes up roughly 24 weeks during the third phase of the overall specialized pilot training program.
"We will assess lessons learned from Vance and Randolph before making a decision in 2021 whether and how to fully scale UPT 2.5," Wills said.
The latest revision to the AETC program comes as Air Force leaders have worked for the last two years to overhaul the pilot training curriculum, introducing elements to augment time airborne in the cockpit with simulators and technology on the ground.
The models -- some used across Air Combat Command for its up-and-coming fighter pilots -- require ditching the old-fashioned, "industrial" approach to training -- having pilots sit in classrooms for weeks before moving on to a trainer -- in favor of using virtual reality earlier and more frequently in the training pipeline.
The service faces a number of problems as it tries to boost its pilot ranks: a yearslong pilot shortage, backlogs within some of its training pipelines, and the coronavirus pandemic.
The Air Force came up 2,100 pilots short of the 21,000 it needed in fiscal 2019. In February, the service said it would also fall short of its goal to produce 1,480 new pilots across the force by the end of fiscal 2020.
The service also has a training backlog within its C-17 Formal Training Unit at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, Wills confirmed.
Part of the reason has to do with switching to a new simulator provider. "It is true that the new simulator contract has been a challenge," he said, without disclosing additional details. Boeing Co. provides the simulation services.
"Over the past several years, we've encountered significant challenges in a variety of areas, which have resulted in delays in pipeline training," Wills said.
For example, the stand-down of the T-6 Texan II trainer, after pilots experienced a series of physiological events due to the aircraft's On-Board Oxygen Generating System, slowed pilot production, he said. Other issues include hail damage to trainer aircraft at Laughlin, "and lingering effects in the supply chain from sequestration complicated our production efforts," he added.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in delays as we work to conduct operations in ways that maximize our ability to protect our airmen and families," Wills said.
Pilot production slowed to approximately 50% of full capacity in April and gradually began ramping back up by the end of May, he explained, adding that production has not yet returned to 100%.
"To date, we haven't lost a full day of pilot production due to COVID, though each wing continues to modulate tempo smartly to manage risk," Wills said.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the service has been preparing for the possibility that furloughed airline pilots will submit requests to return to active duty later this year. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, passed in late March, airline jobs have been safe as companies are prohibited from cutting their workforces until Oct. 1, but experts foresee a dramatic reduction in airline jobs when the restriction is lifted.
As of June 4, nearly 200 pilots have chosen to stay in the Air Force amid a slowdown in major commercial airline operations. However, the service has not said which types of pilots -- fighter, bomber, airlift, etc. -- have chosen to extend their duty.