Life in the United States Air Force (USAF) begins with the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) with their mission to “recruit, train and educate Airmen to deliver air power for America”. Often nicknamed ‘The First Command’, over 30,000 students – both domestic and international – train with the 19th Air Force and the many units falling under the command of AETC that include Air Force Recruiting, Air University, Technical Training, Flying Training, Air Force Guard and Air Force Reserve. In total 17 bases across the United States report to AETC, covering almost every aeroplane in the force’s inventory. On January 23, 2017, the AETC celebrated its 75th anniversary, from its humble beginnings as the Air Corps Flight Training Command to becoming the world-renowned system it is known as today. For this article, AeroResource features some of the major bases within the Flying Training Wings (FTW) as well as an exclusive look at the 82d Training Wing (82 TRW) based at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

12th Flying Training Wing (12 FTW) 

The 12 FTW is made up of three operational flying groups, each of which has a specific mission, these being the 12th Operations Group (12 OG), 306th Flying Training Group (306 FTG) and the 479th Flying Training Group (479 FTG).

With an overall mission of conducting instructor pilot training on the Raytheon T-1A Jayhawk, Beechcraft T-6A Texan II and the Northrop T-38C Talon, its headquarters are found at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas

12th Operations Group (OG) – Randolph AFB, Texas

Four squadrons fly as part of the 12th OG:

Formed during the Second World War, the 99th Flying Training Squadron (99 FTS) is most famously known as the Red Tails, the nickname given to the ‘Tuskegee Airmen’ who were trained in Tuskegee, Alabama before going on to become the first unit to fly with all African Americans. Today, the 99th flies the T-1A Jayhawk and is the only squadron in the USAF to provide instructor pilot training on the type. It also provides the initial instructor qualification for Combat Systems Officers (CSO) of the 479th Flying Training Group (479 FTG). In honour of the unit’s history, the T-1As fly with a red tip on their tails.

Training over 150 international students and instructors the basics of Fighter Combat on an annual basis, the 435th Fighter Training Squadron (435 FTS) fly the T-38C Talon. During the nine-week long training syllabus, the unit trains pilots and CSO’s in aerial maneuvers, low-level flying and ground attack. Upon completion, instructors move on to other training units within the AETC whilst the pilots and CSO’s transfer to squadrons across Air Combat Command (ACC).

The 558th Flying Training Squadron (558 FTS) provides Joint Primary Pilot Training or JPPT and instructor training on the T-6A Texan. Known as the ‘Billy Goats’, the 559th has flown the single engined T-6A since 2000 when it started to replace its ageing T-37 Tweets. The squadron trains over 200 United States and international pilots per fiscal year and flies more than 16,500 hours annually.

Nicknamed the ‘Chargin Cheetahs’, the 560th Flying Training Squadron (560 FTS) also fly the T-38C Talon but with the aim of teaching pilots on how to become an instructor pilot or IP. Pilots who successfully complete the course go on to become instructors within USAF, USN Test Pilots School and NATO. As it stands, the unit currently fly around 9,000 hours and graduate more than 130 instructors per year.

306th Flying Training Group (306 FTG) – USAF Academy, Colorado

Located at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado, the 306 FTG provides over 900 cadets a year the chance to start their Initial Flight Training with parachuting, soaring and powered flight. This introduction highlights any candidates who are able to advance forward to the Undergraduate Flight Training Program within the AETC. Four squadrons form this particular FTG.

The 1st Flying Training Squadron (1 FTS) is based at Pueblo MAP, Colorado flying the Diamond DA-20 Eclipse. Cadets begin their Initial Flight Screening (IFS) on the DA-20 and must complete 25 hours of flying.

Training cadets the ‘Art of Soaring’ with Flugzweugbau DG-1000 glider – designated the TG-16A in USAF service – the 94th Flying Training Squadron (94 FTS) has some 19 examples of the type in use.

Better known as the ‘Wings of Blue’, the 98th Flying Training Squadron (98 FTS) operate three examples of the UV-18B Twin Otter based out of Peterson AFB, Colorado. Cadets who train on the UV-18B are taught the fundamentals of parachuting and are required to perform two jumps from it.

The 557th Flying Training Squadron (557 FTS) is responsible for training cadets in the science of powered flight. Each cadet will train in three types of machine, the T-41D Mescalero, T-51A Cessna and the T-53A Kadet.


479th Flying Training Group (FTG) – NAS Pensacola, Florida

Located at NAS Pensacola Florida the 479th FTG is the only track that trainee CSO’s can take in the AETC. Annually over 350 CSOs graduate the program before moving on to become Navigators, Electronic Warfare Officers (EWO) and Weapons Systems Officers (WSO). The unit utilizes 21 T-1A Jayhawks and 22 T-6A Texan IIs as well as synthetic training on both types during the 11-month long course. Three squadrons are assigned to the group, with each unit wearing the tail code AP.

The 451st Flying Training Squadron, formerly a B-26 Marauder squadron during the Second World War, now provides advanced navigator training on the T-1A for upcoming CSO’s.

The 455th Flying Training Squadron performs all Joint Primary Pilot Training (JPPT) for students entering the CSO training pipeline and operates the tandem seat T-6A – the student sitting up front and instructor in the rear.

The 479th Operations Support Squadron (OSS) is an advanced student intelligence-training program for CSO’s to become skilled in Electronic Warfare for roles within the USAF, US Army and NATO. The unit also houses the group’s simulators and conducts academic, resource management and flight equipment training.

14th Flying Training Wing (14 FTW) 

Located just North of Columbus, Mississippi the 14th FTW was formed in June 1972 and is now a key Wing in the AETC. Home to over 11500 military and civilian personnel, it has seven squadrons under its command and supports the Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (JSUPT) program. The 14th FTW flies the T-1A, T-6A, T-38C at Columbus AFB and the Embraer A-29B Super Tucano for the Afghan Air Force student pilots at Moody AFB Georgia. In total, over 250 aircraft are assigned to the Wing.

14th Operations Group (OG) – Columbus AFB, Mississippi 

Seven squadrons fly under the banner of the 14th OG

Known as the ‘Bengal Tigers’, the 37th FTS fly the T-6A. All students that transfer to the unit from the 1st FTS in Colorado conduct their initial JPPT here, before moving along the JSUPT (Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training) pipeline. A student will train on average for around 22 weeks at this stage.

The ‘Flying Buzzsaws’ – or 41st FTS – also fly the T-6A in the JPPT. With that in mind it can be either squadron that students will fly with when attending Columbus for the first time. After students complete their six weeks of academic training they transfer to the 37th or the 41st FTS.

An Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) T-1A squadron, the 43rd FTS ‘Firebirds’ provide continued training for experienced instructor pilots during wartime situations. Instructors would replace pilots in the AETC training programs as active pilots are called forward for duty.

Also flying the twin-engine T-1A jet trainer, the 48th FTS ‘Alley Cats’ sees students assigned to them that have been selected or assigned to eventually fly tankers or transports. During the 160 hours of flying needed, students will train in the procedures of navigation, airdrops, multi-crew management and aerial refueling.

The 49th FTS ‘Black Knights’ currently fly with the T-38C and have two roles within the 14th FTW. The unit’s main role is to train basic fighter tactics to domestic and international students with its secondary role to deploy instructors to USAF bases across the country in support of operational fighter training requirements.

Students in the training pipeline and heading towards bomber and fighter squadrons within the Air Combat Command (ACC) are looked after by the 50th FTS ‘Striking Snakes’. Advanced flight training, two and four-ship formation flying and low-level flying are performed in the T-38C over a syllabus of 24 weeks.

The 81st FS – nicknamed the ‘Panthers’ – was a well-known unit throughout Europe while flying the A-10C Thunderbolt II from Spangdahlem AFB, Germany until 2013. In 2014 the unit transferred to Moody AFB, Georgia under the control of the 14th FTW of the AETC. A year later, the unit became the first squadron in the USAF to train Afghan students in Close Air Support (CAS) on the A-29B Super Tucano with the unit still receiving A-29Bs in support of its mission.

71st Flying Training Wing (71 FTW)

Vance AFB is situated in Northern Oklahoma just 50 miles south of the Kansas border and sits on over 2,000 acres of government-owned land with a population of around 3,000 military and civilian employees. The 71st FTW was formed in November of 1972 at Vance AFB and originally flew the Cessna T-37A/B ‘Tweet’ and Northrop T-38A ‘Talon’ – the C model of the latter of which they still fly today. The 71st FTW, as with the other flight training bases, supports the JSUPT program for USA/allied pilots and courses for the students run over a period of 52 weeks. Currently, the Wing flies the T-1A, T-6A and T-38C over four operational squadrons, with over 220 aircraft assigned to them.

71st Operations Group (OG) – Vance AFB, Oklahoma

Five squadrons are assigned to the 71st OG, operating the T-1A, T-6A and T-38C across them.

Known as the ‘Jayhawks’, the 3rd FTS fly the T-1A in the third phase of training for students in the pipeline for tanker or airlift types. Students will have a little over 17 weeks of academic, cockpit, simulator and flight training during this course, from which 42 hours will be simulator and 90 hours will be hands on flying.

The 5th FTS ‘Spitten Kittens’ fly all three variants of training aircraft used by the OG and, as well as the first phase pre-flight and second phase primary JSUPT program, the unit also support advanced flight training for instructor pilots on the T-1A, T-6A and T-38C.

The ‘Eight Ballers’ or 8th FTS, are a former P-38 Lightning squadron from the Second World War who now fly the T-6A Texan II for AETC. This FTS trains student pilots from the Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, United States Navy and the Marine Corp and currently have some 50 aircraft assigned them.

Flying the T-38C for the third phase of the fighter-bomber track, the 25th FTS ‘Shooters’ take students through a 17-week advanced training course that includes 120 hours of flight – single, formation, low-level. A further 30 hours in the simulator is also given while some 60 hours of ground training and 80 hours of academics is also included covering airframe systems, flight planning and both instrument and cockpit familiarization.

Starting life as a B-26 Marauder squadron in 1940, the 33rd FTS – nicknamed the ‘Dragons’ – currently fly the T-6A and have 48 aircraft assigned to them. The ‘Dragons’ provide phase one and two of JSUPT along with the other T-6A squadrons of the 71st OG. During the year of 2016, the Operations Group flew almost 50,000 sorties, over 720,000-flight hours and graduated over 300 new pilots.

82nd Training Wing (82d TRW)

Sheppard AFB is situated in North West Texas close to the town of Wichita Falls. Home to the 8oth FTW – which has five squadrons of T-6As and T-38Cs wearing the code EN – the unit is also home to Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program known as (ENJJPT). The largest multi-national NATO alliance combat pilot training program in the world, the 55 week training program brings personnel from 13 NATO allied nations to the table – these being Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, UK and the US. Whilst not all the nations have students attending Sheppard, all nations will provide at least one instructor pilot. Command of this FTW still falls under the control of the AETC and USAF but each of the five individual squadrons can have leadership from any of the participating nations which allows the students to interact with other personnel from other forces. At ENJJPT, the future NATO combat pilots are prepared for Integrated and coalition flying.

82nd Training Wing Technical Training Center – Sheppard AFB, Texas

Sheppard AFB has over 100 aircraft assigned to both the 80th FTW and ENJJPT, but as well as the active squadrons, Sheppard is also home to more than 150 Ground Instruction Aircraft (GIA) which encompass almost every variant in the USAF inventory. This is known as the Technical Training Center (TTC) and all students that seek to work on and maintain frontline types will come here first to learn their trade on the retired airframes. The 82nd TW is the most diverse command in the AETC with 124 specialized courses available for its students, but for those working on its aircraft it will be maintainers, data-systems, loadmaster, power production, avionics, aircraft systems, and munitions training. Courses for students are available for Department of Defense (DoD) agencies, civilians and allied foreign nationals. The TTC is housed in 15 large multi-purpose hangars either side of a half-mile long ramp which itself contains almost 40 airframes from B-52s, C-130s, C135s and A-10s to F-15s and F-16s. The hangars house many of the same types already listed as well as the T-38 maintenance training hangar and the USAF Aerial Demonstration Team Thunderbirds display team training hangar, with each hangar containing between six and eight aircraft.

The 82nd TW host unit at Sheppard AFB graduates over 19,000 students every year, The base graduates over 60,000 students annually from a combined 12,214 courses. Sheppard has almost 13,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel assigned. The economic impact of the base annually is over $730 million dollars.

AeroResource would like to express its thanks to the following – MSgt Garner 502ABW/PA, MSgt Englar 14FTW/PA, Lt Cameron 14FTW/PA, Cathy Witney Pensacola PAO, SSgt Falcon 71FTW/PA, 2nd Lt Schroeder 71FTW/PA, Lt Frank ‘N’ Steiner 25th FTS, Cpt ‘Bane’ Schliete 25th FTS, MSgt Meares 82ndTRW/PA, Major Dirty 80th FTW, Lt Col Scoff Commander ENJJPT and Mark Burden for their assistance in producing this article.