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Laughlin and Vance unite training forces

Team XL instructor pilots prepare for takeoff at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, Nov. 2, 2017. In response to the instructor pilot manning shortage at Vance AFB, Okla., Laughlin sent instructor pilots to help stave off the manning challenges. (U. S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Anne McCready)


Team XL pilots joined forces with a fellow Air Education Training Command base to help ease their instructor pilot shortfalls.

The 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., took on a greater student load in 2017 as a possible solution to the ongoing pilot shortage the Air Force is facing, but met some unexpected manning and technical issues.

In response, Laughlin sent instructor pilots to help stave off the manning challenges.

“Our long-term fix to the pilot crisis is to grow our way out of this,” Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, Headquarters Air Force aircrew crisis task force director, Washington D.C., said in an Oct. 23 briefing with reporters at the Pentagon. “It’s going to take a while to get in place what we need to start producing more pilots.”

Along with helping another base with manpower, Laughlin’s involvement accomplished more than filling a gap. Laughlin’s instructor pilots gained knowledge and experience as well as imparted it.

“When you send instructor pilots from one base to another, you gain the opportunity to share different perspectives on essentially the same mission,” said Capt. Sebastien Constable, 434th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot. “When I was at Vance, I was able to see how they go about their mission, and I was able to show them how instructor pilots at Laughlin execute our mission.”

Constable said the result is both Vance instructor pilots and he were able to learn from one another.

“There were multiple exchanges focusing on how each squadron did things to try to see what we did differently and if there was anything we could do to streamline each other's operations,” said Capt. James Hesson, 87th FTS instructor pilot.

Even though the mission the same at Vance as at Laughlin, the culture is unique. Laughlin instructor pilots exemplified the saying “the best way to learn is to teach” by becoming students themselves, learning a new system and teaching it at the same time.

“Flying at a new location with the myriad of different local procedures, standards and culture offers a unique experience for instructors that can further develop their flying skills,” Hesson said.

Teaching at Vance was different from teaching at Laughlin because he needed to pay attention to details and act like a local instructor, Capt. James Bloch, 87th FTS instructor pilot said. Bloch had to replicate what was nearly a year and a half of studies in three weeks.

“It’s part of the overall teamwork going on between the undergraduate pilot training bases to ensure the mission gets done,” Hesson said. 

Vance, Columbus and Randolph Air Force Bases ensured the Team XL pilot training mission would be completed when Lauhglin’s aircraft were damaged in the hailstorm in early in 2016 by sending T-1 Jayhawks.

“We sent T-38 Talons to Columbus to alleviate some of their T-38 availability issues so they could continue to graduate their T-38 students on time,” Hesson said. “And we've sent T-6 Texan II and T-38 instructor pilots to Vance to make sure the mission gets done there.”

The relationships AETC bases possess in supporting each other by whatever means necessary ensures mission success according to Hesson. Furthermore, Laughlin’s instructor pilots brought different techniques and focuses to Vance that bettered both sides. While the training bases all accomplish the same mission under the same syllabus they all do it slightly differently.