Future pilots spend "down time" helping maintenance

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Austin M. May
  • 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Last month, approximately 55 prospective student pilots found themselves working up close and personal with trainer aircraft on Laughlin's flight line, but not inside the cockpits.

The young officers, each awaiting the start of their respective Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training classes, are assisting maintainers with aircraft systems and ground procedures.

Having the future student pilots work with maintainers is a win-win situation, said Capt. Ricardo Hiraldo, 47th Operations Support Squadron transition flight commander.

Due to the current manning shortage, the recent influx of students created a surplus of officers needing gainful employment while they await training.

"The lieutenants were placed into areas where their educational skills could be utilized and areas where we were critically undermanned," said Danny Gallaher, 47th Maintenance Directorate chief of staff.

Mr. Gallaher is unsure if the current situation will become the standard for Laughlin.

"Many have early start dates for pilot training, which entails one to two prerequisite training schools that don't allow for a very lengthy time to integrate them fully into our organization," he said.

"It has been a great experience for maintainers to work with students and offer insight into how our operation provides the support to meet the flying mission here at Laughlin," Mr. Gallaher continued.

Additionally, it has been a unique opportunity for the lieutenants to see the complexity and support structure behind safely and efficiently preparing aircraft for the mission, said Mr. Gallaher.

While the future of student pilots on the Laughlin flight line is uncertain, the present is looking bright for 2nd Lt. Mitchell Wills, a recent U.S. Air Force Academy graduate currently awaiting pilot training.

The lieutenant is acting as a T-38 Talon crew chief until his scheduled class start date in December. He said his time on the line has been rewarding thus far.

"I am really enjoying the work," Lieutenant Wills said. "The days can be long and hot, but I would not trade this experience for anything."

With his sights set on tracking to T-38s, Lieutenant Wills said working around the aircraft keeps him on his toes and has taught him to pay attention to the smallest details.

"All pilots will tell you to have a healthy respect for maintainers, but I have had the opportunity to see the work that goes into keeping planes in the air," the lieutenant said. "I can now truly empathize with the maintainers when something as minuscule as misplacing a light bulb leaves them spending hours digging around the cockpit looking for it."

At the end of the day, once all the planes are on the ground and the sky over Laughlin is quiet, Lieutenant Wills begins looking forward to the following day.

"Every day that I walk out onto the flight line and help get the planes into the air I remember why I chose to fly and why I love being in the Air Force."