560th Flying Training Squadron: The Charging Cheetahs
Report and Photos by Yissachar Ruas
July 13, 2018
The 560th Flying Training Squadron based out of Randolph AFB is one of the more interesting units in today’s USAF. Known as the “Charging Cheetahs” the 560th is part of the 12th Flying Training Wing and provides the USAF with quality instructor pilots.
Today, the USAF is facing several different challenges, two challenges that stand out – the need for a new Advanced Training Aircraft and the severe shortage of pilots.
The need for a new training aircraft stems from the current leap in technology 5th generation stealth fighter jets such as the F-35 provide. While the T-38 does an outstanding job training Air Force student pilots to become excellent F-15 and F-16 pilots, there is a sizeable technological gap between the T-38 and the F-22/F-35 aircraft. This gap requires pilots to move up the pipeline through Generation 4/4+ aircraft before they can transition to the more advanced 5th Generation platforms. This current gap impacts the USAF’s budget and pilot advancement.
With regards to the shortage of pilots, the USAF is constantly exploring new ways to introduce the fundamentals of flying and enhance the student pilot capability without compromising the safety envelope required for teaching. One of the techniques being explored are the advantages of virtual reality systems in training new pilots. While visiting the 560th I witnessed firsthand Instructor Pilots putting together a system and evaluating its potential gains to the training curriculum.
Visiting the 560th provided me with a glimpse into American Aviation History. From 1973 on the Squadron was in charge of bringing former Vietnam POWs back to flight status. This mission is apparent when walking down the squadron’s corridors the picture of each and every pilot that re-claimed his status adorns the wall.
The 560th current mission is to field the USAF with Instructor Pilots for pilot training. The aircraft they learn to teach on is the same as their future students – the T-38C Talon. The Talon is the backbone of the US Air Force’s Advanced Training, it provides student pilots with a twin engine jet capable of fighter like performance (up to 7.5G).
The Instructors Pilots slated for the 560th are all experienced in the various combat platforms the USAF has to offer such as the F-16 and F-15. Accompanying me during my time in the Squadron is Lt Col Bill “MOSR” Johnson, a combat veteran of the 492th Strike Eagle Squadron based in RAF Lakenheath in the UK. MOSR participated in a vast array of combat operations throughout the world, before transitioning to his current position. For MOSR his current position here brings him full circle since he was a young Instructor Pilot on the now retired T-37 at Sheppard AFB prior to flying with the F-15E.
The students in the 560th graduate to Instructor Pilot status at the completion of a 20 week course. The new instructors can get assigned to the neighboring 435th Squadron, or to other various locations within Air Education and Training Command..
When asked what he looks for in a future instructor pilot MOSR answered “We generally look for a broad base, whether a pilot with experience in his platform or a pilot that has experience in training in other platforms as well as experience in the operational Air Force”
On the personal side he stated “We look for someone with passion, confidence and a great attention to detail”.
One of the hardest things to train Instructor Pilots on according to MOSR is knowing when its time as an Instructor to step in and deem the student’s action as unsafe, something which is a challenge within an environment meant to teach you to correct your mistakes and learn from them. Experience is a key factor to breeding that sense into a new Student Instructor Pilot.
MOSR also touched on the fact that some of the recent Instructor Pilots are not necessarily fighter pilots. His take is that good airmanship can be found by those that are passionate about what they fly regardless of which platform that may be.
With regards to a possible replacement for the T-38 the feeling is that there is a need to raise the level of training to match aspects featured in today’s jets such as glass cockpits as well as matching the high performance capabilities of jets like the F-22.
Flying a training mission with the 560th brings out the various qualities MOSR mentioned. The IPs on my flight are a group of seasoned aviators with what seems like an endless amount of patience for me and my photography goals.
Major Brian “Porky” Caramello
Major Michael “NASCAR” Granberry
Major Brian “FRONT” Page
They brief the mission and we are off to see what it looks like firsthand. Between my grunting and trying to get as many decent shots as possible, within an hour the flight codenamed “ANARCH” got a slew of different mission profiles done.
Tactical maneuvering for covering more airspace is less exciting, but for the airmen it’s about covering each other and figuring out how to eliminate potential threats. After an hour of turning, burning, grunting and shooting (well at least I got to shoot, the others in our flight were busy flying) I was back on the ground with a whole new appreciation for what it means to being a USAF Fighter Pilot, and more importantly, what it takes to get there.