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Enlisted Airmen get their wings

By Airman 1st Class Andrew Moua 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

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Many Airmen join the Air Force with the intent to fly, but with the rigorous competitive process applicants go through, fewer still make the cut to be selected for these jobs.

"I started out as a B-52 crew chief and spent four years working on the aircraft before commissioning through the Reserve Officer Training Corps and reaching my current position," said Capt. Andrew Marshall, 343rd Bomb Squadron navigator instructor. "I have always wanted to fly and I joined thinking about what could help me achieve that goal and give me a leg up over someone else."

The process of being selected for aircrew training is a competitive venture for those wishing to become pilots, navigators, weapons systems officers or combat systems officers.

Some of the commissioned officers who work as aircrew on the B-52H Stratofortress were once prior enlisted members of the Air Force.

When enlisted personnel wish to cross train into becoming aircrew, candidates submit a package through the Air Force Personnel Center or Air Reserve Personnel Center.

Package strength can depend on an applicant's background, such as having a civilian flight license and logging a certain amount of flying hours, volunteer work, or type of school degree. A review board comprised of senior aircrew looks at the submitted package to determine if a candidate is the right fit to be sent to flight school.

"Packages include flight physicals, letters of recommendation, Air Force Officer Qualifying Test scores, which can determine what aircraft you are eligible for, fitness scores, and other job specific qualifications," said Lt. Col. Jeff Stoggsdill, 548th Combat Training Squadron Detachment 1 instructor pilot. "It took me four years from start to finish until I arrived at my new duty station."

Aircrew candidates compete within their service component, active duty against active duty, guardsmen against guardsmen and reservists against reservists said Marshall.
"If they're looking at two candidates and comparing their applications, the one who already has time in service is more likely to be selected," said Stoggsdill.

Once candidates are selected, they attend Undergraduate Pilot Training, Undergraduate Navigator Training, or Combat Systems Officer Undergraduate Flying Training. As graduation draws closer, a night known as "Drop Night" is when students find out what aircraft they've been assigned to, and shortly afterwards they'll head to their designated training base.

"When I went through pilot training it was for general aviation and covered the basic aspects of flying," said Stoggsdill. "The training program curriculum has changed to encompass all types of aircraft so students are more familiar with the different airframes they could be assigned to."

All students who have been assigned to the B-52 are sent here to the 11th Bomb Squadron where they learn the specifics of the aircraft.

"Here at the 11th Bomb Squadron we train all B-52H pilots, navigators and CSOs," said Capt. John Boos, 11th Bomb Squadron student affairs flight commander. "The training here is approximately eight to nine months long, during which they'll learn their specific duties; learning the basics of the plane, tests in the flight simulator and familiarizing themselves with the weapons and navigation systems."

Overall, the transition from enlisted Airmen to commissioned aircrew is a tough but not impossible feat to achieve.

"For anyone wishing to cross over and become an aircrew member, I'd say to keep doing what you're doing," Stoggsdill said. "Be the best at your job, get your degree and study hard for the AFOQT. All of that shows the board you really want to fly; it's all about dedication."