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B-52H Student Aviators

By Airman 1st Class Benjamin Gonsier 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

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The 11th and 93rd Bomb Squadrons here have teamed up to train student aviators to operate the B-52H Stratofortress.

In a nine month period, the 11 BS formal training unit takes new aviators and teaches them the fundamentals of the B-52H through academics and hands-on training.

"There are about three months of academics where we focus solely on getting in the books and learning the knowledge that we need," said Capt. Seth Shipley, 96th Bomb Squadron aircraft commander and FTU Class 12-01 graduate. "As we transition, we take that knowledge, learn how to apply it, and continue to learn."

A class consists of pilots, navigators and electronic warfare officers which usually contain about 30 students. The students work together as well as receive hands-on training in simulators and in the aircraft from instructors within their trade.

"We teach the basics of a B-52 and how it operates, the basic systems, the way the hydraulics and engines work, all the way down to the electronic equipment onboard," said Maj. Warren Carroll, 11 BS assistant director of operations. "After the basics, we start them with the full realm of simulator training. Throughout their training, we do many simulators and then move on to flight training and learn in the aircraft. They do around 19 to 20 flights in a B-52 in order to reach the point where they are graduates."

The program is rigorous and requires a lot of academic studies.

"When the students show up on their first day, we give them a stack of books. They are told to read them and know everything in them," Carroll said. "It's an overwhelming process at first, but we break it down into a step-by-step process."

After they are finished with their main academic work, they start to receive hands-on training through simulators.

"At the beginning of the week, we have one to two integrative sims with the electronic warfare officers, navigators and radar navigators, and the two pilots," said Capt. Christin Mastracchio, 11 BS FTU Class 12-02 student. "It feels like a real sortie. We also have specialized simulator rides where it would just be the two navigators or pilots working together to learn."

The students need to know proper safety procedures and the right actions to take during a specific situation in order to gain confidence from their instructors. By doing this, the students prove to them that they are capable crewmembers.

"The simulators give the students the experience they need without the risk," Carroll said. "It gives them the ability to stop, pause, rewind and try it over again if they make mistakes."

The students are eventually given the opportunity to fly the aircraft and apply what they have learned.

"A flight is an all day event," Mastracchio said. "We practice bomb runs in an area over Texas and perform practice strategic sorties. We normally try to meet up with a tanker and do an aerial refueling. We are all learning to make contact with it to refuel. We do an hour of pattern work that consists of takeoffs and landings."

The final exam is a culmination of their nine months of training. The students receive a flight check ride, where the instructors sit with them as evaluators, and grade them on everything they do.

However, the students learned much more than just flying the aircraft during FTU, according to Shipley. Leadership and teamwork were instilled in them from day one.

Before attending FTU, Shipley flew the T-6A Texan II as an instructor pilot at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. During his training, Shipley noted the importance of teamwork when comparing his old aircraft to the B-52.

"There is definitely a crew dynamic in the B-52; the plane I flew before was more of a single seat mentality where you are flying with a single student," he said. "Here I am flying with a lot of different people and a lot of different systems that I don't necessarily know. One person isn't going to be able to do the mission. On an average sortie, there will be four other aviators working in tandem, using their specialties, to complete the mission."

When a student first arrives at the FTU, they only have a little bit of knowledge about the B-52H. Throughout their training, they grow into better crewmembers and officers. By the end of their training, the instructors know they just influenced the next generation of aviators and leaders.

"With the combined efforts of the 11 and 93 BS, new B-52 aircrews can be trained efficiently," Carroll said. "This training allows B-52 aircrews to continue performing the global deterrence mission of the Air Force Global Strike Command."