Jason Grant takes a walk behind the scenes with the 50th Flying Training Squadron (FTS) at Columbus Air Force Base.

The 50th FTS has been serving the United States since 1941 in various guises and the people who work here are proud of the heritage and serve with the utmost professionalism and dedication.

The 50th Flying Training Squadron can trace its heritage all the way back to 15th January 1941 when it began life as the 50th Pursuit Squadron. The early days saw the 50th Pursuit Squadron flying P-40 Warhawks from Hamilton Field, California, but it was not many months later, August 1941 and the P-50’s were upgraded to the superior P-38 Lightning. 15th May 1942, the 50th Pursuit Squadron was redesignated the 50th Fighter Squadron.

During WW2 the 50th Fighter Squadron saw action in the European, African and Mediterranean theatres of war. During the late 1940’s, the Squadron was deactivated twice and reactivated once. 22nd March 1972, the Squadron was redesignated the 50th Flying Training Squadron and on 1st June 1972, the 50th FTS was activated as part of the 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus Air Force Base where it still resides today.

Columbus Air Force Base is in Lowndes County, Mississippi. United States, approximately 5 miles north of the City of Columbus. Columbus’ mission is to conduct undergraduate pilot training and to perform quality assurance for contact maintenance.

Columbus Air Force Base began life on 26th June 1941 when the war department approved establishment of an Army Air Field for the Columbus, Mississippi area.

February 1942, the installation was named Kaye Field in honour of Captain Sam Kaye, a WW1 flying ace from Columbus, and Pilot training began. Confusion with another base in the area, Key Field saw the name changed in March 1942 from Kaye Field to Columbus Army Flying School.

The base stayed as a training field until April 1955 when it was relinquished to the Strategic Air Command and assigned to the Second Air Force to counter the threat of the USSR.

Columbus was once again switched to Air Training Command on 1st July 1969 due to an increasing need for pilots to support the war in Southeast Asia. The 3650th Pilot Training Wing was activated on the 1st July 1969 to fulfil this role. 1st June 1972, the 3650th Pilot Training Wing was discontinued and the 14th Flying Training Wing was activated in its place. In 1992, Air Training Command was inactivated and the 14th Flying Training Wing came under the newly created Air Education and Training Command’s 19th Air Force.

Every year, the 50 FTS produces around 100 new pilots and all training is done in the Northrop T-38C Talon. The course consists of 110 hours of flight instruction and covers many areas of flight including advanced aircraft handling, tactical navigation, fluid manoeuvring and an increased emphasis in formation flying.

Decorations. Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards: 1st January 1974 – 31st December 1974; 1st April 1985 – 31st March 1987; 1st July 1992 – 30th June 1994; 1st July 1997 – 30th June 1999;
1st July 1999 – 30th June 2001; 1st July 2001 – 30th June 2002; 1st July 2002 – 30th June 2004; 1st July 2004 – 30th June 2006.

The Northrop T-38 was the worlds first supersonic jet trainer. Designed by Edgar Schmued, the T-38 took its first flight on 10th March 1959 and entered service with the United States Air force on 17th March 1961. 1,187 T-38’s were built until production ended in 1971.

Primary Function: Advanced jet pilot trainer
Builder: Northrop Corp.
Power Plant: Two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines with afterburners
Thrust: 2,050 pounds dry thrust; 2,900 with afterburners
Thrust (with PMP): 2,200 pounds dry thrust; 3,300 with afterburners
Length: 46 feet, 4 inches (14 meters)
Height: 12 feet, 10 inches (3.8 meters)
Wingspan: 25 feet, 3 inches (7.6 meters)
Speed: 812 mph (Mach 1.08 at sea level)
Ceiling: Above 55,000 feet (16,764 meters)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms)
Range: 1,093 miles
Armament: T-38A/C: none; AT-38B: provisions for practice bomb dispenser
Unit Cost: $756,000 (1961 constant dollars)
Crew: Two, student and instructor

The latest variant, the T-38C has a service life to 2020. The T-38C boasts a Head Up Display (HUD), Global Positioning System (GPS), Inertial Navigation System (INS), Traffic Collision Avoidance System  (TCAS), as well as propulsion modifications which improve low altitude performance by increasing thrust. All T-38C’s are upgraded T-38A’s and T-38B’s

I find it difficult to sum up just how honoured and impressed we all were with the access afforded to us by the 50th Flying Training Squadron. I also recognised an enthusiasm for the job they do every day, which made our time with the Squadron very special and made it for all of us, a visit to remember.

Today, the squadrons’ heritage is proudly displayed throughout the hallways and rooms at Columbus AFB. A fitting tribute to all the pilots that have passed through the 50th Flying Training Squadron in the last 68 years.

Jason Grant and the rest of the team that visited Columbus AFB would like to thank Jim Bright from the Public Affairs Office for his time and patience in arranging the visit. We would also like to say a very special thank you to Lt. Col. David G. Risch of the 50 Flying Training Squadron who took time out of his day to take us on a very special tour of the Squadron.