Delivering pilots despite global pandemic, face masks

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zoë Perkins
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – In the midst of a global pandemic, what does mission essential mean? What does it look like? At Vance Air Force Base, it is simple: continue the vital mission of training the world’s premier pilots.

On March 18, 2020, Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Education & Training Command, issued a formal memorandum declaring the training of student pilots to be mission essential.

"AETC executes the critical mission of training and preparing our servicemen and women to provide for the national defense and current worldwide military missions," said Webb.

Social distancing and wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic has limited student pilots at Vance gathering and working together. As a result, flight training is scheduled on an every-other-day basis to mitigate the spread of the virus. Half of each flight flies on one day while the other half flies the next. On days where they’re not flying, some students complete simulator missions in a different building or complete their virtual academics over the internet.

To make up for lost training time, flying squadrons are now operating six days a week. Before the COVID-19 limitations, Vance units flew 675 sorties in five days. Now 600 sorties are flown in six days.

Reducing the chance of spreading Covid-19 during flight training is critical. Conducting flight pre-briefs over video chat, social distancing in the squadrons and always wearing masks when within 6 feet of each other are currently standard practices.

“Everyone has had to dig deep for the last six weeks,” said Corey Simmons, 71st Flying Training Wing commander. “Our people have been truly innovative in how we approach keeping the mission going, and that evolves every week as we come up with better ways to get at it while ensuring the health of all our Airmen remains a top priority.”

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Air Force and Vance continue to train aviators that are capable of doing what is required to defend the nation’s interests. "Maintaining AETC's recruiting, training and education activities and pipeline is critical to the operational mission success of our commanders executing the National Security Strategy,” said Webb.

Training quality aviators despite pandemics and face masks is Team Vance’s essential contribution to that mission success. A contribution delivered with pride.