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Alseides

RPA Training Courses

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I recently got selected for Reserve RPA pilot training.  I noticed that the threads with information on what training is like are a little dated.  Would anyone be willing to share what their experiences at the courses at Pueblo, Randolph, and Holloman were like?  Or has not much changed?

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I can only speak for Holloman, MQT at Cannon and what I have seen the last few years. Holloman expect to be there 6-8 months. Some weeks you won't fly at all, some you will have a event almost everyday. Some days you will go in early as 3am, and some days you will go in at 3pm and leave at 7. I didn't find Holloman to be a difficult course, but I went through  as a prior manned guy. From talking to the MQT instructors here at Cannon their has been a noticble decrease in "product" from the school house. The RPA pipeline has been opened to absolute full capicity the last 2 years and that has allowed some slow swimmers to make it though the course, or people that maybe should have been washed out earlier make it through. 

That being said, take advantage of every ride and if you find yourself struggling find a instructor that you like and ask for extra help on your own. Just skimming by at Randolph or Holloman might be ok but it's going to hurt you in the long run. 

 

Otherwise have fun in San Antonio, it's a good place, Holloman is decent if you enjoy outdoor activities and making day/weekend trips around. ABQ is good to see once, Carlsbad Caverns is cool to checkout, their are lots of great hiking/camping locations within a few minute to few hour drive. 

Are you 2nd SOS? I can't think of any other reserve units off the top of my head. 

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On 8/6/2017 at 1:26 AM, Alseides said:

Thanks for the info.  I will be headed to the 91st ATKS.  I have my PPL and I have been on aircrew but I was not rated in my prior service.

I would expect to skip Pueblo having your PPL. From what I have read on here they won't allow you to go if you already have it. That seems to change though so don't quote me. 

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On 8/8/2017 at 8:49 PM, viper154 said:

I would expect to skip Pueblo having your PPL. From what I have read on here they won't allow you to go if you already have it. That seems to change though so don't quote me. 

I was originally going to skip Pueblo.  Then they changed their minds and now I am going.  The reason is because it has been awhile since I last flew.  I think IFS is 6 weeks?  Also, you mentioned Holloman is 6-8 months.  Is Randolph about the same amount of time?

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6 hours ago, Alseides said:

I was originally going to skip Pueblo.  Then they changed their minds and now I am going.  The reason is because it has been awhile since I last flew.  I think IFS is 6 weeks?  Also, you mentioned Holloman is 6-8 months.  Is Randolph about the same amount of time?

How long has it been since you flew? Months or years?

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17 hours ago, Alseides said:

I was originally going to skip Pueblo.  Then they changed their minds and now I am going.  The reason is because it has been awhile since I last flew.  I think IFS is 6 weeks?  Also, you mentioned Holloman is 6-8 months.  Is Randolph about the same amount of time?

I think RPA IFS is 6-8 weeks, and I think Randolph is 3 months. I'm a prior manned guy, I didn't go through either  

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I went through the pipeline about 6-7 years ago, but I was recently instructing at the FTU at Holloman, so I was able to ask the students going through how things have changed:

IFS is now IFT ("training" instead of "screening"), since the washout rate was too high as a screening program, and lasts approximately 6-9 weeks, depending on weather and your performance (i.e. repeating rides or double turning events). EX: At Pueblo, my class had 4 of 8 wash out and the class behind me had 7 of 8 wash out. When I went through, we would do stand-up briefs every morning, but I'm not sure if that's still the case in the new kindler/gentler course. The syllabus is pretty similar to what you would accomplish for a PPL, with a solo, some night flying, and some cross countries. What it leaves off from a true PPL program is the final written exam, a night cross country, the FAA certified flight exam, as well as a stupid rule (not sure if it's still in effect) where we weren't allowed to actually touch wheels down at any cross country airfield, you could only do low approaches. Your cross country flights would then be a three legged flight out to two airports, but you would only log one takeoff and one landing at Pueblo. Work-around would be to do a few patterns at Pueblo to log more and make it look like a true cross country in your logbook for FAA purposes. If you're going to IFT, hit up the Doss website and start memorizing the Boldface and ops limits. It'll be one less thing to worry about when you get there.

RIQ, RPA Instrument Qualification, (4 weeks 8 weeks) is done in T-6 simulators and consisted of the contact and instrument phases of a UPT syllabus, leaving out formation. It's structured to replicate UPT with intense stand-up briefs every morning, fire hose method of teaching, and long days of academics and events. Front loaded with academics and CBTs, I took an instrument ground school course before going to Randolph and did well.

RFC, RPA Fundamentals Course, (4 weeks) is low threat, no daily stand-ups, and includes some introduction to RPAs using very rudimentary desktop computers/simulators. I believe there's a series of structured sims you'll accomplish using unofficial/abbreviated checklists to get you used to how things will be at Holloman. This is also where you'll first work with a Sensor Operator going through their basic course.

Your time at Randolph will be highly dependent on how quickly they schedule you for courses. I was in an early group, so we spent no more than a week or two in between classes. As with any training pipeline, there's a chance for backlogs and longer waiting time between courses.

Holloman is slow. Much slower than the previous courses. Go with an expectation that events will be feast or famine where you'll do an event every day of the week on top of academics, and the next week (or two) you'll sit and do nothing. It's been that way since I went through 6 years ago, so I doubt it's going to change anytime soon. Whatever your orders say, tack on an extra month or two. If you go during monsoon season (Jul-Oct) or winter (Jan-Mar), expect it to be even longer due to weather cancels. The toughest part about Holloman is not the course itself, but the motivation to stay engaged when you're not scheduled for events and your stuck in the armpit of America. With prior aircrew experience, use that to mentor the younger, inexperienced guys. Go to the squadron bars for class graduations and/or go to the club for crud and cheap drinks. Once you hit shift work, the squadron event stuff doesn't happen. There's also skiing in Ruidoso in the winter and hiking in the summer. Advice: just don't go to El Paso with a personal weapon and "accidentally" find yourself across the border in Juarez, it won't end well (actually happened).

Edited by DeskPop
Fixed RIQ length

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On 8/31/2017 at 8:26 AM, DeskPop said:

I took an instrument ground school course before going to Randolph and did well.

 

Which course did you take?

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17 hours ago, nsplayr said:

 

Which course did you take?

I started with Gleim's online course while deployed to Al Udeid in 2010, but didn't have the time/motivation to stay on the self paced stuff to fully complete it. I then took an in-person course at Offutt's aero club after getting back when I found out tuition assistance would cover the cost.

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On 9/5/2017 at 7:43 AM, DeskPop said:

I started with Gleim's online course while deployed to Al Udeid in 2010, but didn't have the time/motivation to stay on the self paced stuff to fully complete it. I then took an in-person course at Offutt's aero club after getting back when I found out tuition assistance would cover the cost.

Small world, I did my PPL at Offutt's Aero Club.  I'll need to check if I have any of my GI Bil left after finishing grad school.  Thanks for the info about the courses, I really appreciate it.

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I recently completed Initial Flight Training (IFT), RPA instrument Qualification (RIQ), and RPA Fundamentals Course (RFC).  It was quite a journey.  Although I do not even try to imagine that it is the toughest military training out there, it was no cake walk either.  I served on active duty in the AF as a weather officer for 7 years.  I separated from the AF as worked as a defense contractor and federal employee.  After 10 years out of the military, I re-joined the AF Reserve when the chance to be a military aviator came up.  These thoughts and impressions are my own.  Hopefully some of you reading will find it helpful.

Initial Flight Training (IFT) took place at Pueblo, CO and lasted about 7 weeks.  It used to be called Initial Flight Screening but it has changed to Training.  Apparently, they do not try to really screen people out as much as they used to.  I could have skipped IFT since I had my PPL already but I still went.  There are a few reasons for this: I have never been in a formal flight training program before, it had been a few years since I last flew, and it had been a while since I had worn the uniform.

The whole IFT operation is situated on one compound.  You live in pretty much a hotel room with your own bathroom and microwave.  The walls are paper thin unfortunately.  The cafeteria serves three meals and it is decent food.  There is a fitness center on site but it is a little cramped.  There is also a recreational room with board games, pool table, ping pong table, big screen TVs, couches, and refrigerators.  There is also a small, overpriced self service convenience store and a barber shop with limited hours on site.  Your instructors are contract employees of Doss Aviation, now owned by L3 Communications.  There is a small cadre of AF staff on site.

IFT starts with a week of academics.  You take these classes with fellow students in the pilot and CSO pipelines.  After academics you split into separate flights to complete your respective syllabus.  There were 3 RPA flights while I was there.  The type of instruction, stress levels, and overall learning environment varies depending on the flight and your instructors.  I know quite a few folks considered our flight to be pretty demanding.

An average day at IFT consists of a formal briefing, a stand-up emergency procedure scenario, and a flight.  The formal brief covers weather, airfield conditions at your home airfield and other locations you’ll be flying to, NOTAMs, a time hack, etc.  The stand-up EP consists of a random student picked to stand in front of the class and instructor and talk/work through an emergency scenario.  Flights typically last 1.5 hours with a 45 min brief before the flight and a 45 min de-brief afterwards.  Your day lasts about 10-12 hours and can start anywhere from 0400 to 0900. You may fly twice in one day and/or on weekends depending on how much weather or other circumstances impact the schedule.  You are also required to log a certain amount of PT time during the course.  When you do it is up to you.  Formal release is a big thing here.  You must stay in your flight room studying or prepping for flights from formal brief time until release by your flight commander (The senior Doss instructor for your flight).  If your flight can demonstrate that they are doing well or progressing, ie knowing the boldface/ops limits cold and not screwing up the formal brief, you can get off formal release and go back to your room or rec room after your de-brief.  It can be used punitively too and you can be put back on formal release.  You should have plenty of time to study and know the boldface/ops limits so they frown upon those who do not already know it when they show up.  And know some people that never looked at the boldface and ops limits until arriving at Pueblo and they had months on casual beforehand.  They had a rough go of it.

You’ll get about 38 hours of total flight time in the Diamond DA20.  Under different circumstances, it would be a fun little aircraft to fly.  Very responsive and relatively forgiving.  Sometimes it could be a little dicey returning to Pueblo airport and seeing all those aircraft coming in to land or do pattern work on both runways though.  You’ll get to do solo flights and it is a lot of fun seeing folks complete their first solo.  It is something you’ll never forget.  However, you are not allowed to touch down on the runways during your solo cross country flights so they do not count if you are working toward your PPL.  It is possible to wash out of this course but it is not easy to do so.  It would have to be academics, chronic debilitating airsickness, or an absolute inability to land.  Commander’s Action Program (CAP) does exist here.  It can be for academic as well as flying performance.  It’s not the end of the world, it’s more for them to show they are aware of your performance.  That being said, I did struggle a bit in IFT.  It was entirely in my own head though.  I was fixating way too much on my errors, letting them snowball, and psyching myself out after pursuing this dream for so long.  I did not go to an 88 ride but I did have an 87.  That being said, I know some folks who did go to an 89 ride and still pass.  I also know someone who did wash out because he just could not land the aircraft.

IFT is not impossible but it is not a leisurely stroll either.  It is just a grind.  For the RPA pipeline, you are there the longest.  There is not that much to do in Pueblo and a lot of folks spend a lot of the weekend nights in the rec room.  Since everything is located on that compound, you feel cooped up rather quickly.  The cafeteria, maintenance, and security staff are all really friendly.  I think they know that students go through a lot and do their best to support the students.

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RIQ takes place at Randolph AFB, TX over the course of about 10 weeks.  The course was created by basically cutting and pasting portions of the UPT T-6 syllabus. You’ll go through about 2 weeks of T-6 academics and then 8 weeks of simulator training.  Your instructors are mainly retired military aviators who are now federal employees.  There are some active duty AF instructors, some who have RPA experience and a few who do not.

The first 2 weeks of academics covers T-6 systems, propulsion, aerodynamics, weather, and instruments.  The course is so cobbled together that you have chapters on the OBOGS, ejection system, etc that you do not need to study since it is not part of the course.  They have purged the test bank of questions on these subjects but every so often, one still shows up and the instructors have to look up the answer so it does not screw up the test.   You’ll be in blues for this phase.  A lot of these lessons are taught by computer based training (CBT) modules.  Get used to it.  Tests are usually 30 questions and a passing score is 85% (Yes, I know, if you do the math…).  Quizlet and gouge are common study aids.  Most instructors discourage use of these resources and some are outright hostile, banning them from the flight rooms.  We were told that the test questions banks get revised periodically to eliminate the usefulness of Quizlet and gouge.  However, previous classes told me that every class gets told that.  I found Quizlet and gouge helpful but I did not rely solely upon them.  Fail a test and you must re-take it after a review with an instructor.  You get three failures and you are washed out.  Flunk out for academics and you are out of any further flight training for any other career field.  Likewise, if you self eliminate, you may not go to another flight training program.

After academics, you split into two flights for the simulators.  Again, the quality, style, and learning environment varies widely for each flight.  Again, I was in a flight known for being very demanding.  Your class will need to pass a boldface/ops limits test for right to be in flight suits for the sims.  Otherwise, you’ll be in blues and have to change to step for your sims.  So try to have the boldface and ops limits down cold before beginning RIQ.  You will have a sim everyday. It was rare to have two in one day and there were no weekend sims.  At the end of each week you will have a quiz called an EPQ.  These are not treated like academic exams.  Flunking one is like busting a stand-up EP, you have to have a quiz review with an instructor, you do not sim for that day, and you have to re-take the quiz.  You can also schedule solo sim times outside of your official instructor-led ones to get extra practice.  A good technique is to get 2 or 3 classmates to go with you for a 1 hour session and you each take about 15 min to practice specific maneuvers.

An average day is much like IFT.  It will start with formal, stand up EP, then sims.  Each sim lasts 1 hr, 15 min with a 45 min brief before and 45 min de-brief after.  Your day will last 10-12 hours and usually starts anywhere between 0600 to 0900.  You were not released until 30 min past the beginning of the last student’s de-brief for the day.  Your average day is a time management exercise between studying for EPQs, your sim for the day, any academic tests coming up, helping your classmates, getting extra practice time in the sims, and squeezing in time for lunch and PT.

There are two main phases of the sim training: Contact and instrument. The contact portion is all VFR flying and lasts for about two weeks.  The instrument portion takes up the rest of it.  There are cross country sims for about a week during which you do not perform any confidence maneuvers you will have to do for your checkride.  Scheduling practice sims to practice these maneuvers is crucial during this time.  There was no formal release but it could be instituted if instructors felt your flight was slacking.  CAP did exist here as well, for academic or flying reasons.  At one point, 8 of my 12 classmates in my flight were on some type of CAP.  I am not sure about our sister flight.  For checkrides, you usually have your evaluation with check instructor pilots from your sister flight.  The tougher instructor we had in our flight compared to our sister flight became quite apparent.  Quite a few of our sister flightmates had to re-do their checkrides.  The only attrition we had was for one classmate due to academics.  Everyone in our class who made it through academics graduated.  The instructors all really want to see you pass and work with you on any areas in which you are having difficulty.  However, washing out due to lack of flying ability is possible.  Theoretically, I was told a washout could go to CSO or ABM, depending on the circumstances of elimination and needs of the AF.

I have heard RIQ called the toughest course in the URT training pipeline.  It is not impossible by any means.  There is just a lot of material to learn in a short period of time, it is challenging stuff, and it is just a grind week after week.  Try to have the boldface and ops limits down cold before you show up.  Looking back, had I known there was a contact portion of RIQ, I probably would have skipped IFT.  I had thought stepping into a formal flight training program and going straight to instruments simultaneously for the first time would have been a bit much.  By the way, if you have a commercial license or higher, you can skip IFT and RIQ.

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RPA Fundamentals Course (RFC) introduces concepts of RPA/UAS/drone development and employment as well as a smattering of other topics.  It is mainly an academic course with 5 tests.  You will also have about a dozen sims using PRIME, a simulator developed to mimic something like the MQ-9 control station.  Your drop night will usually take place within the first couple weeks of RFC.  RFC lasts about 6 weeks and ends with the graduation ceremony in which you will receive your wings.

The academics of RFC are all instructor taught and there is a lot of near death by Powerpoint.  You are in a “vault” cleared for classified storage for the entirety of the course.  Most of the modules are unclassified but a couple of the topics are classified, meaning you may not take notes home and you can only study the material during the hours the vault is open.  The same test standards as RIQ apply.  The academic subjects cover a wide range of topics such as UAS history, suppression of enemy air defenses, close air support, combat search and rescue, etc.  None of the topics are taught with too much depth, it is more of an introduction.

The sims provide an introduction to the task management (juggling) you will be doing as a RPA pilot.  It is not exactly like a real control station and the tools are not the same.  So what is the value of it?  I had a couple former sensor operators in my class and asked them the same question.  They said while the setup is not exactly what we will see in real operations, the basics of the type of tasks we will be expected to perform and manage is worth learning.  These sims are not graded either.  So what you get out of it is really what you put into it.  Your last two sims will be with student sensor operators.  Really demonstrates the value of experience for both crew members.

RFC is nowhere near as strenuous or stressful as RIQ but you still need to put some effort into it.  Your average day runs from 0700-0900 to 1600-1700.  For the sims, there is limited lab space so your class will be split up into two groups.  If you do not have a sim that day, you often have a free morning or afternoon.  You can use that free time to study, particularly for the classified modules where the limited vault hours can be inconvenient.

My experience going through this training pipeline was a little different that many of my peers.  I was a lot older than a lot of the new second lieutenants in my class.  I was also the sole Reservist in my class.  I was hired by a specific unit so I knew which aircraft and which base I was going to.  I had a lot of prior enlisted guys in my class, mostly maintenance.  I ran into a lot of guys in the classes behind mine who were former navigators/CSOs/NFOs.  Quite a few ANG and other Reservists.  The URT pipeline has a wide variety of people going through it.  Quite a few Marines were in the schoolhouse as well through an agreement between the USAF and USMC.  Like many others I have heard speak of their initial flight training experience, it is something you’ll remember and you learned a lot, but you’d never want to repeat.

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Great info above. I'm finishing URT next week and basically concur with everything above, although I did not go to Doss. Feel free to PM with any questions if you are heading to URT soon.

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