BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
A first-year pilot sits anxiously in his seat. He’s nervous, and the reason is obvious. He knows his skills are being rated and he has the opportunity to make or break his own career. Feeling helpless, the only option is try to put him at ease.
The next flight comes along and the rise in the young pilot’s confidence is noticeable, he knows what is being looked for and has been studying to improve his skills. He feels better about flying.
Some time has passed now and that once nervous first-year pilot is fully mission-capable and knows how to handle almost any situation that’s thrown at him, due largely to all of the firsthand knowledge provided him during his training.
CH-47 Chinook helicopter instructor pilots have the difficult job of bringing fresh-out-of-flight-school pilots into the real aviation world and training them to the highest of standards. They are able to see the progression and know when a pilot is truly prepared.
“As an instructor pilot, I take aviators just out of flight school and train them on base mission tasks all the way to a readiness level one position, where they essentially are a pilot who is fully mission capable,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ronald Trani, Bravo Company 2-135th General Support Aviation Battalion CH-47 senior instructor pilot.
The position of instructor pilot includes working with each pilot to see how they learn best, putting the pilots at a certain level of ease to make sure there is not any unnecessary stress, while also taking the possible stress to the next level so that the pilots understand to what extent things can go wrong.
“You see a lot of guys that get nervous around instructor pilots because when they’re with you it’s a check ride,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Warren Buchanan, Bravo Company 2-135th General Support Aviation Battalion CH-47 pilot. “You always want to be on your a game so they have the confidence in you to do what you’re supposed to do.”
The main goal of an instructor pilot is to help new pilots become the best aviator they can be. This coincides with the new pilot’s personal goal of learning all they can to be better pilots.
“I might only fly with you three times a year, but you fly with you every day and if you find ways to grade yourself on maneuvers and do it religiously you’re going to get better,” advised Trani.
The instructor pilots have been in the same position that the new pilots are currently in. Remembering what it’s like to learn, have check rides and watch the more experienced pilots for helpful hints helps the instructors connect with the new pilots and teach them better.
“They bring experience,” said Buchanan. “A lot of the time the instructor pilots are some of the more experienced guys out there. Without the instructor pilot the unit basically doesn’t exist.”
With the years of experience that an instructor pilot has comes the responsibility of training and managing the upcoming aviators.
“One of the biggest responsibilities of being an instructor pilot is you are largely responsible for the next generation of aviators,” said Trani. “As a 15-year seasoned aviator, I’m flying with one-year aviators, I do feel the biggest responsibility is generational development and good habits.”
Instructor pilots do more than just fly, their job also consists of paperwork and record keeping. They must ensure that all of the administrative duties are properly kept up. This solidifies that the pilots are fully trained and paperwork is not responsible for an untrained pilot being allowed to fly.
Instructor pilots take on the job of guiding the flight school pilots into figuring out what type of aviators they will be.
“I think the part that keeps me going is the enjoyment in teaching and watching people learn and grow something that’s fairly difficult,” said Trani. “They come out of flight school and they know how to fly, but it’s nice to watch them blossom and become very proficient, especially here in Colorado, watching them become very proficient mountain pilots. What I enjoy the most about my job is watching people learn and grow.”
The instructor pilots have the memories from learning to fly that provides a great perspective for the upcoming aviators, however that doesn’t change the fact that there are still some things that make even a seasoned pilot say “Wow!”
“I love flying in the mountains and in a Chinook as a pilot, it’s my world,” said Trani. “I can only control what I can reach, we have 95 inches of a 98-foot aircraft, we affect everything that happens but we can only touch what’s right around us. A “wow” moment for me is when I’m flying in the mountains and the sun shines down from behind us and it throws this gigantic shadow from the aircraft. As a pilot you’re basically in a little cubical and you forget how big this thing is and I’m like ‘Man, I love this thing, look at how big that is, it’s huge.’”
No matter the task, instructor pilots work their hardest to prepare the upcoming pilots and train them to the highest of standards. The experienced pilots working closely with the next generation of aviators ensures that high quality pilots are consistently being produced.