SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
When Air Education and Training Command’s newest pilot training program takes to the skies in early 2018 in Central Texas, the fingerprints of the 80th Flying Training Wing’s Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program will be all over it.
Paradigm-breaking Pilot Training Next will take 15 officers and five enlisted Airmen through a roughly four to five month experimental training course that uses new and emerging technologies combined with a new framework for pilot training to discover ways to create what is being termed fighter training unit-ready Airmen. The program will be based at the Reserve Center at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin.
Leading that charge is former 80th FTW director of staff Lt. Col. Jason Colborn, who was handpicked to be commander of Detachment 1, a new organization under the AETC Innovation Center.
“I’m looking forward to the lessons we’re going to learn as we go through the program because the reality is that with the way that we currently link technology to our current pilot training model I would argue, in the traditional sense, we’re already maxed out,” he said. “But with current and emerging technologies, including our utilization of cognitive analysis, we have a great opportunity to see how the pilot learns thereby allowing us to more effectively train.
“The aspiration is that we can take those lessons and apply them to other areas, not just related to pilot training.”
Colborn, who was an instructor pilot in the 88th Fighter Training Squadron, said the past several weeks have been moving quickly since he first learned in early November that he was to command the new detachment. He said the primary focus of the program will be to test the capabilities of technologies — public and private — available matched with the experienced cadre of instructor pilots in AETC.
In the end, the test aims to determine if the traditional methods of training combat pilots can be enhanced and upgraded in a way that produces combat pilots with the same or better capabilities. That also includes introducing the five enlisted members into Pilot Training Next.
“One of the things we’re looking to explore are ways to broaden the talent pool,” the colonel said. “If you broaden the talent pool, then you’re still able to maintain the high standard that we expect of people that we need to both receive as well as train in flying training.”
Colborn, an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot by trade, said the instructor pilot cadre will arrive in Austin in mid-January with students starting training in mid-February. He said they are hoping to produce the first fighter training unit-ready Airman by the end of summer 2018.
In addition to Colborn, two other 80th FTW Airmen will be part of the innovative pilot training program. Maj. James Johnston of the 89th Flying Training Squadron will serve as the unit’s director of operations, and 97th FTS instructor pilot Maj. Erik Brown will be an instructor.
PTN will, in some respects, be a reflection of ENJJPT, not just in personnel, but also some of the materials used to train the pilots.
“Our Pilot Training Next program will rely heavily on the experience of the instructors that we’ve recruited,” Colborn said, “but we’ll be leaning on a lot of training regimens that are used here at ENJJPT. ENJJPT delivers a slightly more advanced few weeks of training for their (undergraduate pilot training) students, and we’ll be leaning on the instructors and the materials that are used for that as we look to build our program.”
Col. Andrea Themely, 80th FTW commander, said it wasn’t by chance that Colborn was selected to lead the new unit. She said when AETC Commander Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast was developing the program, he wanted the first leader of PTN to have a specific skillset. That’s when Colborn’s name was brought up by 19th Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, the former commander of the 82nd Training Wing.
She said Colborn is not serving as a UPT instructor pilot, so that enables him to enter the new program without any preconceived notions about the process. His diverse background, including time spent in England flying a Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jet, has formed the experiences leadership desired to create the best program and combat pilots possible.
Themely said there is also a reason why ENJJPT is being leaned on to form PTN.
“That was actually requested from General Doherty,” she said. “He wanted fighter pilot experience, and in the other T-6 units at the other bases, they don’t have the same fighter pilot experience that we do here because this is a fighter-centric base with a lot of fighter pilots doing the instructing. So, that was specific and deliberate request from 19th Air Force, which is why we have our hand and our stamp, if you will, on this program.”
Themely said there are also modules in the T-6A Texan II training syllabus that aren’t taught at the other flying training wings in AETC, including two-ship low-level flights and tactical formations.
Officers selected for the ground-breaking program were already slated to begin pilot training sometime in January or February. Enlisted Airmen were selected from a pool of recent graduates of basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and are not college graduates.