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25 years, two pilots, one special flight

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Steven R. Doty
  • 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
The dollar ride represents a special event in every pilot's career. Simply put, the dollar ride is a student pilot's first flight in an airframe that occurs in phase two of training. The ride is a non-graded and low-stress orientation to a new aircraft that is guided by an instructor pilot. The T-6 Texan II dollar ride tends to have more significance than others because it represents the very beginning of a student pilot's introduction to Air Force aviation. Sometimes it's a random match-up of student and instructor, while other times, the two pilots share more than just a passion for flying.

5:50 a.m. 2nd Lt. Reese Futrell, 47th Student Squadron student pilot, and other students enter the student squadron to prepare for the morning flight brief.

6:06 a.m. Students with class 15-03, Mustangs, make last minute preparations for the morning flight brief required to occur at 6:10 a.m. These updates are crucial to the training days' flights and must be the most up to date reports to help prepare student and instructor pilots.

6:10 a.m. The routine morning brief begins on time.  This formal briefing is held in each flight room and is attended by all students and instructor pilots.  In turn, each student is responsible for learning how to conduct the briefing that covers topics like weather, landing pattern tendencies and emergency procedures.

6:12 a.m. "Ten seconds to hack. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one...hack. Time is now zero six thirteen local." Futrell calls out time hack as everyone sets their watches simultaneously. A key aspect of the morning brief includes synchronizing watches so no one misses any established time requirements throughout the day.

6:35 a.m. Col. Timothy MacGregor, 47th Operations Group commander, provides feedback on the morning brief and last minute advice for Futrell's dollar ride. After learning of a new lieutenant who went to the same high school he had attended 25 years ago, MacGregor coordinated with Mustang flight instructor's to instruct Futrell's dollar ride.

12:00 p.m.  One and a half hours prior to scheduled takeoff, MacGregor meets with Futrell to brief the flight.  In the brief, MacGregor covered the flight plan and any special syllabus items that needed to be discussed. In this brief, instructors will use all available weather and aeronautical information to summarize data applicable to the proposed flight.

12:45 p.m.  Futrell dons his G-suit and collects all of his necessary equipment for his flight. Anti-G suits, or G-suits, help aviators exposed to high levels of acceleration force; G's. It is designed to prevent a black-out and G-induced loss of consciousness caused by the blood pooling in the lower part of the body when under acceleration.

1:04 p.m. Thirty minutes prior to scheduled takeoff, MacGregor and Futrell receive a briefing from the squadron duty officer, Capt. Sean Abling, 434 Flying Training Squadron Mustang flight commander, on last minute NOTAM's. Prior to 'stepping', pilot's will also verify that they have all required documentation and training, are fit for the flight and will receive their aircraft assignment.

1:06 p.m. MacGregor, Futrell and other pilots are transported to their aircrafts where they will prepare the T-6 for takeoff.

1:13 p.m. MacGregor walks Futrell through the pre-flight process for the T-6. The purpose of a preflight inspection is not only to see that everything is attached to the airframe, but also ensure everything works as it should so there is a decreased risk of incidents during the flight.

1:35 p.m. MacGregor and Futrell walk through the 'before take-off' checklists and prepare to taxi to the runway. Although the scheduled takeoff time of 1:30 p.m. has passed, the dollar ride is Futrell's first pre-flight or checklist completion, therefore MacGregor stressed that more time was required to ensure there were no missed steps. As students become more familiar with the airframe, the process from pre-flight to takeoff will move much faster.

1:48 p.m. MacGregor and Futrell sit at the end of the runway awaiting clearance from the tower. After clearance they'll push the throttle forward, release the brakes and speed down the runway as they fight for centerline and work to "rotate" speed of 85 knots.

1:49 p.m. Eight hours since arriving at the student building, MacGregor and Futrell takeoff south from Laughlin for Futrell's dollar ride flight.

2:28 p.m. MacGregor allows Futrell to take control of the aircraft during the flight. Important aspects of the flight direct students to visualizing, understanding and gaining an initial hands-on approach to the instruments; radio communications; airspace and weather; and handling the airplane.

3:10 p.m. One hour and twenty-one minutes after taking off, MacGregor and Futrell are on final approach. Final approach is the last leg in an aircraft's approach when the aircraft is lined up with the runway and descending for landing.

3:24 p.m. MacGregor and Futrell depart the flight line after completing shut-down procedures and securing the aircraft. From here, they will return to life support and clean and store their equipment before heading back to the classroom for a flight debrief.

3:38 p.m. MacGregor debriefs Futrell and his fellow classmates upon completion of the dollar ride. The flight debrief is an opportunity to reinforce the components of the flight that went well and discuss the best way to correct the segments that were not so successful; an opportunity all students can benefit from.

4:28 p.m. A 12 hour day approaching its end culminates with the longtime tradition of the student pilot presenting a personalized dollar bill and mementos to their dollar ride instructor pilot. For MacGregor and Futrell, it was the 25 years of separation that stood between high school graduations that marked a unique bond no other student pilot in his class had with their dollar ride instructor pilot.

MacGregor and Futrell graduated from Ballard High School in Seattle, Wash. As unique as it was to graduate from the same high school 25 years apart, during both of their times in high school they had resided in houses less than two football fields apart.

Essentially, had they attend Ballard High School at the same time, they would have been neighbors.
The presentation included a dollar bill with their high school mascot, the beaver; Futrell's college mascot, University of Washington Huskies; and a Ballard High School t-shirt and "beanie".

Flying is an extraordinary opportunity that few individuals are privy to experience. For a student pilot, the chance to fly with a seasoned pilot in a stress-free flight emphasis the incredible responsibility they will be accepting. For instructors, the dollar ride is more than a silly tradition; it's a bond that ties together new and seasoned pilots who may be asked to fly side by side into combat. The dollar ride represents that continuation of trust and mutual respect imparted on every pilot since day one.