Chapter Twenty-nine: Sam Learns to Fly

A T-37 Tweet aircraft from the 85th Fighter Training Squadron, Laughlin AFB, Texas, flies over Lake Amistad during a training mission. The T-37 Tweet is a twin-engine jet used for training undergraduate pilots, undergraduate navigator and tactical navigator students in fundamentals of aircraft handling, and instrument, formation and night flying. The twin engines and flying characteristics of the T-37 give student pilots the feel for handling the larger, faster T-38 Talon or T-1A Jayhawk later in the undergraduate pilot training course. The instructor and student sit side by side for more effective training. The cockpit has dual controls, ejection seats and a clamshell-type canopy that can be jettisoned.

During the military expansion of the Reagan Administration in the early 1980s, ATC was able to improve training in several areas. The command added more flying hours to the pilot training program and extended the course by three weeks. In 1984, expanded training budgets allowed the command to change back to a philosophy of training technical personnel to the fullest extent possible, rather than limiting training to the skills needed only for the first enlistment. Technical training courses, especially those in “sortie-producing” specialties, were expanded from generalist courses to specialized instruction. By 1985, the average length for these courses had risen to nearly 17 weeks.

However, several events in the middle and late 1980s brought about the next cycle of restricted military spending affecting ATC’s mission. By Fiscal Year 1988, funding for technical training dropped by over 15 percent, and the command had to institute a civilian hiring freeze. Then, in rapid succession beginning in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Cold War was over. Suddenly, the threat from the East that had dominated American military thinking for decades was gone. Congress quickly cut military spending in response to the diminished threat.

Lucky for Papa Sam, he had a couple of things going for him. One was timing, he just slipped into the program before the cuts started being made, and he had something very few cadets had and that is the name Anderson. Even though his father was retired, his name still carried a lot of influence. Though Papa Sam wanted to make his own way in the world, he was not too proud to take advantage of his father’s name either.

The steps to become a U.S. Air Force pilot:

  1. Join the Air Force
  2. Earn a bachelor’s degree
  3. Meet officer qualifications
  4. Attend officer training school
  5. Pass initial flight training
  6. Pass undergraduate pilot training

I have included below the requirements that Papa Sam had to meet to be accepted in fighter pilot training program. They are much more stringent then they were for his father Grandpa Gordon.

Air Force Pilot Requirements

Air Force pilots fly various military aircraft to complete surveillance, support and combat missions for the United States military. These military professionals are required to complete intensive, specialized education and training in aircraft mechanics and maintenance as well as flight maneuvers and safety. They must also meet certain physical requirements, such as having excellent vision, to qualify for pilot training and maintain their status.

Age requirements

You must begin your pilot training between the ages of 18 and 33. In some cases, you may be eligible for an age waiver up to the age of 35. This ensures that you have plenty of time to become a fully qualified pilot and ample time to dedicate 10 years of active duty service upon completion of pilot training.

Physical requirements

To serve as an Air Force pilot, you must meet strict medical, vision accuracy and physical requirements, including:

  • Weight and physical conditioning requirements
  • No history of asthma, allergies or hay fever after the age of 12
  • Normal color vision
  • Visual acuity of 20/30 without correction and distance visual acuity of 20/70 in each eye, correctable to 20/20
  • Refraction, accommodation and astigmatism requirements

Bachelor’s degree

You must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from the Air Force Academy or a civilian college to become an Air Force pilot. Preferred degrees include aerospace engineering, computer science, chemistry and physics. A GPA of 3.4 or higher can help you remain competitive in this career path, though only a 2.5 is required. Applying to become an Air Force pilot within 365 days of your graduation can increase the likelihood of being selected for this specialized training.

Core knowledge

To become an Air Force pilot, you must have a detailed knowledge of:

  • Flight theory
  • Air navigation
  • Meteorology
  • Flying directives
  • Aircraft operating procedures
  • Mission tactics

Depending on your course of study, you may have covered these topics while pursuing your bachelor’s degree. You can also obtain this knowledge through the Air Force specialized undergraduate pilot training. Consider studying these items before entering your pilot training to help you excel during this program.

Air Force specialized undergraduate pilot training

The Air Force’s specialized undergraduate pilot training is a year-long program that helps prepare prospective military pilots. Upon completion of the program, graduates earn their silver wings as Air Force aviators. The program consists of three phases:

1. Phase One

This phase includes four to six weeks of 12-hour training days that involve attending classes and completing computer-based training (CBT) in subjects like aircraft systems, flight regulations, instrument flying, aerospace physiology, flight planning, aviation weather and navigation. Physical training is also included in the daily schedule as well to make sure that participants maintain the stamina and fitness levels required in the Air Force.

2. Phase Two

In this phase, you continue to participate in 12-hour days, and each day begins with a detailed flight briefing. You have at least one flight simulator event or aircraft sortie per day but must successfully complete quizzes on Emergency Procedures (EPs) by reciting proper procedures quickly. If you fail to respond correctly to the EP, you may be grounded for the day. Any time not spent in flight or on a flight simulator is spent in study.

3. Phase Three

 This phase is where you get your seat assignment, otherwise known as the aircraft you’re going to be flying. You can select your preferences, such as a fighter jet, bomber, cargo plane or helicopter, but the Air Force has the final determination in which airframe you fly. There are several considerations that can affect the airframe chosen for you, which include your test performance, flight performance, Air Force needs, physical limitations and personal preferences.

Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI)

The SSBI is a security investigation that is performed by the United States government to grant Top Secret (TS) clearance and access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). To get your SSBI, you must complete Standard Form 86, have your citizenship verified and go through fingerprinting. Once this is completed, the formal background check begins. This includes:

  • Verification of education and employment
  • Investigation into organizational and local affiliations
  • Verification of all locations where you have lived, worked or attended school
  • Interviews with employers, coworkers, friends, family members and other individuals
  • National Agency Checks with Local Agency Checks on your spouse, cohabitants and immediate family members
  • A credit check
  • Acquisition of four references
  • Public records check

This information is then assessed carefully based upon 13 factors that the Department of Defense uses to determine whether a candidate is approved for this level of clearance. Once approved, you must sign a non-disclosure agreement to proceed on the path toward becoming an Air Force pilot. This clearance remains valid for 10 years upon investigation completion.

When Papa Sam began his flight training on the T-37s, it was quite apparent that he inherited his father’s gift of flying. He was just a chip off the old block. All of the sports that he had played in both junior and high school helped to hone his reflexes and coordination. All of his hard work was finally paying off. Because anybody who says flying a fighter jet was easy, obviously has never flown one. As his father before him, Papa Sam was finding how truly grueling and physically demanding the impact of G-forces were on the body. He frankly was amazed how his father was able to fly at such a high level for so many years.

But, initial military aviation training focuses not just on the Gs, but learning to control an aircraft, while also understanding the physiology of acceleration forces on the body.Being able to maneuver an aircraft while withstanding high levels of gravitational forces, or G-forces, is a key component to training for combat aviation. But mishap prevention and survival, and enhancing and sustaining performance all play a role.If you’ve ever been on a rollercoaster, you’ve felt a minimal amount of the G-forces and the effects the acceleration that aviators experience.For military aviators, their training requires that they learn how to deal with sometimes severe G-forces and negative G-forces that change rapidly, especially in combat operations. Those G-forces affect all aviators to some degree, whether they fly fixed wings, jets, turboprop aircraft, or helicopters.


Military aviators first learn the basics of the flight physiology and its impact on the human cardiovascular system during the lecture portion of their training with aerospace physiology personnel.Next, these aviators learn how to avoid or overcome what is called G-induced loss of consciousness, also known as GLOC.”That’s when the blood leaves your brain. To combat GLOC, military aviators learn the anti-G straining maneuver, which is a series of isometric abdominal and leg muscle contractions that help to keep blood flowing up toward the heart and brain and not downward.

Aviators are also taught breathing techniques that are a primary method of resisting GLOC.In the Navy, aviators are taught the Hick maneuver. The term alludes to the sounds the pilot makes while saying the word Hick as they breathe in and out.The Air Force also teaches a respiratory component in which air exchanges briefly drop pressure around the heart to allow for that blood flow to continue properly. Pressure suits are another way for aviators to reduce the amount of blood going into their extremities under G-forces. These are worn on the lower limbs and the abdomen.

Training Includes Centrifuges

In the Air Force, undergraduate pilots begin flight training on the T-6 single prop airplane – so they can experience moderate G-forces.The next step is the T-38 trainer for fighter aircraft. Before pilots can train in that aircraft they for tests of exposure to severe G-forces at Brooks City Base in San Antonio, Texas.  The centrifuge there can produce up to seven Gs, or seven times the normal force of gravity. This serves to measure the student’s ability to counteract the effects of G-forces to prevent GLOC. Jet aviators must be able to sustain sudden changes in pressure and altitude at speeds approaching or exceeding the speed of sound and gravitational forces up to seven times the normal pull.

Nutrition and Exercise to Optimize Performance

The military trainers teach aviators about proper nutrition and exercise to optimize performance. If you don’t give your body the proper amount of fuel, the right types of fuel, meaning calories, or the right types of food groups, pilots’ bodies will not be able to stand up to a barrage of high G-force maneuvers.Low blood glucose levels can also impact G-force performance,Proper hydration and enough sleep to combat fatigue are also necessary, because human factors are the biggest cause for aviation mishaps.The Air Force relies on lower body and core strength training. Things like squats, lunges, and deadlifts really build up that base, improve that frame.

The program was grueling but Papa Sam finally completed the flight portion of the training. He now had one more portion and that was Officer Training School.This was located back at his old haunt Lackland, AFB, so back on the bus he went. This time his training would be at the Medina Annex Officer Training School and was for 13 weeks and it has since been reduced to nine-weeks, It is a four-phase program designed for prior-service Airmen and civilians with a college degree who are ready to take the next step as a leader in their lives and careers. Throughout each week, you’ll be challenged mentally and physically while acquiring the skills and confidence needed to lead in the U.S. Air Force.

The first few weeks of training are geared toward orienting the cadet with Air Force standards. The focus is on physical training, drill and ceremonies, and academics. Cadets will be expected to work with their fellow flight and squadron members to accomplish specific tasks as required by their Flight Commander and the Cadet Wing. They will also attend multiple classes in an academic environment. Later in the program they will attend field training exercises, projects, small arms training, and building team skills by overcoming challenges in a simulated deployment environment.To graduate, cadets must meet or exceed physical standards, academic standards, and military bearing standards. Military bearing includes the ability to write and verbally brief, lead the flight, and perform duties within the Cadet Wing.

The program was broken up into four phases.

In the first phase of training, Papa Sam focused on teamwork, discipline and order. In it he began to learn the fundamentals of leadership and military management and the importance of operating as a team.

Phase 2 introduced Papa Sam to basic combat skills and the profession of arms. He also learned the history of the Air Force and what qualities separated a leader from a great leader.

Phase 3 was about applying what Papa Sam learned in the first two phases. He experienced the pressures of leadership and command while in a simulated deployed environment called Vigilant Warrior.

The final phase of Officer Training School prepared Papa Sam to make the transition from training environments to the operational Air Force. On his final day, he was finally able to celebrate all of his hardwork with his family, friends, and fellow graduates during the graduation ceremony. Upon graduation, Papa Sam received a regular commission as a second lieutenant in the Regular United States Air Force.

Finally, after all the training was over and he was a fighter pilot in the Air Force, he was going to get 14 days of leave before he had to report for his first assignment at MacDill Air Force Base. Over the last two years, he had been able to get some time to spend with his new bride, but it had been too little and far between.