Aircrew Training Ensures U.S. Air Superiority
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, Sept. 7, 2004 Superb people and state-of-the- art technology help make the U.S. Air Force the most formidable air power in the world. But the general who oversees flying training for more than 19,000 airmen a year says the biggest single factor that makes America's military stand out from other countries' is its emphasis on training.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Edward R. "Buster" Ellis, commander of
19th Air Force at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, said a strict emphasis on
training makes the U.S. military the world's best. Photo by Mike
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"The one common denominator that I would say makes America's forces whether they're airmen, soldiers, sailors or Marines better is our training," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Edward R. "Buster" Ellis, commander of 19th Air Force, headquartered here.
Ellis is responsible for the day-to-day training of some 2,000 U.S. and allied students as pilots, navigators and air-battle managers from the day they begin introductory flight training until they arrive mission ready at their operational units.
"We in the United States have chosen to invest the money to make sure that our people are trained and equipped as best as we possibly can," Ellis said. "And what it produces is a capability that is matched by none other in the world."
Ellis said the Air Force is leveraging technology to make sure its training is as realistic and efficient as possible and to ensure crews know what to expect during combat missions.
Upgraded, updated training aircraft and new, high-fidelity simulators that enable aircrews to "fly" missions before ever leaving the ground, he said, "help make sure that young man or woman has everything going for them when they go out there to fly that mission."
Simulation is bringing a level of realism to training not possible when instructors briefed students about upcoming missions "with nothing but a word picture," Ellis said. "Now I can sit there with a computer, and by touching a screen, I can give you all those words, but I can also show you pictures that show landmarks (and) the ground track to fly" and other issues of interest to the crew.
Threat recognition is an integral part of the training, Ellis said. "We want to make sure that the first time a person flying a C-17 (Globemaster III aircraft) into Baghdad or Tallil (Air Base, Iraq) sees someone shooting at them is not when they're doing it for real," he said. "We want to be certain that it won't just be something they've read about and been briefed about, but that they have had the opportunity to 'see' it."
Ellis said other measures avionics, fighter data link technology and digital heads-up displays, among them are increasing aircrews' situational awareness during missions. This, he said, enables them to focus on their mission "and come back healthy, safe and alive."
While taking advantage of technology to train its aircrews, Ellis said 19th Air Force also is looking at other ways to make training more efficient. Beginning in October, the combat systems officer course will teach non-pilot aviators to become a more integral part of the crew, he said. "They'll be more actively involved in flying the airplane than in being limited to working the radar, doing navigation and calculations and functions like that.
"We think it will hone their aviation skills and be a real 'value added'" for the Air Force, Ellis said.
Similarly, Ellis said he wants to give copilots more hands-on training early in their career, reducing the need for extensive schoolhouse training when they switch from the right seat to become full-fledged pilots.
Ellis said he expects the change a stark contrast to what he admitted was sometimes a 'sit down, shut up and don't touch anything' mentality toward copilots to be "very encouraging and rewarding" for young pilots. "They want to be challenged," he said. "They want to do the mission and they want to be feel like it's worthwhile."
The war on terror is delivering important lessons about flying training, Ellis said, particularly about importance of the men and women who operate the equipment.
"It's a reaffirmation that no matter how sophisticated the equipment and technology gets, we are still going to need great people to do the job we do, fly the airplanes we fly, and then come back to our schoolhouses and instruct those people who are going out there as new pilots, weapons systems officers, navigators, air-battle managers," he said.
But Ellis said the war is also reinforcing the need for 19th Air Force to produce near-combat-ready aircrews that require minimal follow-up training at their gaining units.
With "a very, very real-world mission going on out there" as the United States and the coalition wage the war on terrorism, Ellis said he "can't imagine a more exciting time to be involved in training."
And the bottom line in training the force, the principle Ellis said guides his leadership, "is to make sure that we don't come in second place."