Saturday, January 30, 2021

Doug Routt: Young Air Force Pilots Restore My Faith

Doug Routt
I had an opportunity recently to go to Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma and watch my granddaughter proudly receive her USAF silver pilot wings. She becomes thethird generation Routt to become an Air Force pilot and I was extremely proud of her. But perhaps even more than familial pride was a rekindling of the faith and promise that the youth of this country provide.

 The trip on airplanes to Oklahoma City naturally involves   transfers in Chicago and lots of crowds and masks and Covid restrictions and instructions and isn’t much fun. From Oklahoma City to Vance is another hour-and-a-half drive through wind-swept countryside that is dotted with giant windmills and oil pumps and huge grain silos.

As you approach Vance AFB you start to see all kinds of jets buzzing around the sky. There are small single engine turboprops that the students fly first. From there they either go to a T-38 an old, albeit still cool looking, little fighter jet or a small twin engine business jet to train for either fighters, or bombers or cargo or any of the myriad types of jets that our Air Force flies.

However, it wasn’t the flying or the planes that most impressed me. It was the dedication and effort that these young people had to their mission of getting their wings. Air Force pilot training is one of the most rigorous endeavors that one can take on.

To be admitted you must pass an extensive physical and take a few flights just to see if you may have the aptitude to complete the program. Once enrolled you endure 13 months of arduous training in which you are judged in virtually everything that you attempt. Academic classes and tests are every day, and you must become intimately familiar with meteorology, aerodynamics, hydraulics, airplane systems and numerous other subjects. You are constantly graded and tested and if you don’t meet standards you are washed out.

Flying is also a daily occurrence and you go to the flight line where you are made to stand up and recite any and all emergency procedures relevant to the aircraft that you are flying. Then you will go up with an instructor pilot and he or she will critique every move you make during the flight. You will receive a grade sheet for every flight and if you bust too many you go for an elimination ride. Fail that and you are gone.

Physical standards must also be met, and you are graded on your condition and whether you are in shape. It is one of the toughest years that anyone would endure. Yet here were these young, clean-cut kids busting their hump to do the very best that they can. There is no “Whatever,” or “I don’t feel like it” or “ask me later, I’m on my phone.” These are dedicated young men and women with a goal and a dedication that is truly inspirational.

Everybody is rushing everywhere, there is precious little down time and between studying, working out, flying, and grabbing a bite to eat there doesn’t seem to be enough time in a day. Couple that with the omnipresent grading and critiquing and evaluating and one can lose any confidence they may have had when they first arrived.

But these kids are all enduring extremely difficult times and reveling in the competition. They hold their heads high and meet the challenges with eagerness and whatever confidence they may have left after being graded every day. They are our future tip of the spear and I loved it.

Doug Routt was proud as his granddaughter earned her wings.