Civilian-Trained Pilots May Get Leg Up in Air Force Career Through New Program

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T1-A at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph
Maj. Ryan Scott, 99th Flying Training Squadron “A” flight commander and T-1A Jayhawk instructor pilot, and 2nd Lt. Aimee St. Cyr, 99th FTS instructor pilot trainee, prepare to take off in a T1-A at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph May 16, 2016. (Lauren Ely/U.S. Air Force)

Thirty-three aspiring Air Force pilots with previous flight experience they got as civilians have joined a new program that may allow them to jump ahead in training.

The service's Civil Path to Wings program has approved pilot candidates from active-duty, Air National Guard and Reserve units; graduates from the Reserve Officer Training Corps; and civilian applicants aspiring to earn their Air Force wings, according to Air Education and Training Command, or AETC.

In an effort to become military aviators, the candidates will be put "through a training program tailor-made to their needs," said Aryn Lockhart, a spokeswoman for the 19th Air Force, which is part of AETC.

While she said the program is set to begin later this year, Lockhart did not specify a start date for the training.

The program applies only to fixed-wing and heavy aircraft, such as C-17 Globemaster III mobility aircraft. Those who wish to fly fighter jets still must attend traditional undergraduate pilot training, or UPT.

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"It is not a 'waiver' program," Lockhart said in an email. "Candidates who volunteer for the program have their flying skills validated by the 19th Air Force and are then placed in training programs applicable to their skillsets."

The hope is to accelerate their training in the aviation pipeline since it builds off their prior flight background, she explained.

Applicants are screened on a set of demonstrated piloting skills, along with written and oral exams.

"Once screened, the best candidates will receive training appropriate to their skill level in an Air Force approved course," Lockhart said.

Those determined by leadership to be "exceptionally well qualified" will bypass a portion of UPT and take part in an Air Force fundamentals course designed to teach more advanced flight skills and techniques.

The merely "well-qualified" will take part in the Accelerated Path to Wings program, which is also shorter than traditional training, Lockhart said.

Students learn general aviation abilities in the classroom and then head straight into the T-1 Jayhawk -- finishing in roughly seven months instead of the traditional 12 months. The first Accelerated Path to Wings class graduated seven airmen on March 12.

All other candidates will attend UPT, Lockhart said.

AETC expects to recruit up to 20 officers a year for the program beginning in fiscal 2022.

"It is important to note that we are not simply hiring pilots," Lockhart said. "We are recruiting those who wish to serve their country as an officer and a pilot. All candidates will first be screened to ensure they meet the standards required to become an Air Force officer."

In March, Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, 19th Air Force commander, said the service wants to usher in a more diverse group of pilots on a shorter timeline.

"The most important thing on that program is you still have to be willing to fight and kill and potentially die for your country to serve as an Air Force officer," he told reporters during a roundtable. "That's a pretty big lift."

While the Air Force is developing more personalized programs directed at streamlining training for incoming pilots through virtual reality and simulation, it's also looking to outsource some training to private industry in an attempt to churn out 1,500 new pilots a year.

The Air Force fell short of that goal -- first set in 2018 -- in fiscal 2020, producing only 1,263 pilots.

In fiscal 2020, the Air Force came up 1,925 pilots short of the roughly 21,000 it needs overall, spokeswoman Lt. Col. Malinda Singleton told Military.com in March.

The service could not provide specifics about which aviation communities faced the most pressing gaps.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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