Accelerated Path to Wings: Challenges and Benefits

Michael Hsu

October 19, 2022

The Air Force is undergoing a revolution with its pilot training program. The new program is testing concepts and reducing costs, but it’s not without challenges, including opposition from senior aviators. This article will outline some of the challenges and benefits of the new program.

Air Force pilot training in the midst of a revolution

The USAF is experimenting with new ways to train pilots. Before the T-7A Red Hawks arrive, the service wants to test new ideas. Accelerated Path to Wings is one such example. This new pilot training concept will be implemented at Vance AFB and Columbus AFB.

The new training paths have been instrumental in cutting the training time for a select group of graduates. Still, they have been met with some resistance from senior aviators. But the resulting reduction in training time has resulted in a record number of graduates. General Wills told that these changes are needed to fill the pilot shortage.

While traditional pilot training can take up to one year, the new program cuts down on that time by about half. Instead of spending one year in school, students can start flying in as little as seven months. The curriculum also skips aerobatics and other skills training. Instead, student pilots fly all training in the T-1A Jayhawk. In some instances, the Air Force is trying out augmented reality training to help students learn flight skills more efficiently.

New concepts being tested

The USAF’s new Accelerated Path to Wings pilot training program is transforming the pilot training process. It’s a two-phase program that takes students from academics to the cockpit of a T-1 aircraft. The seven-month training mission culminates in earning pilot wings.

The new program builds on the success of Pilot Training Next, a new, technology-heavy approach to pilot training. However, unlike previous training methods, this new program requires students to spend 100 more hours in immersive training devices, such as virtual reality simulators. The Air Force is working with a contractor to develop an even more advanced immersive training device. Eventually, this could reduce the number of time Airmen spends in simulators.

The new program has been in operation for seven months, and the first seven Airmen have graduated. The program is a radical departure from traditional pilot training, divided into three phases. Traditionally, pilot training is completed in 12 months. However, the Accelerated Path to Wings program cuts five months off that timetable, producing a pilot in seven months.

Resistance from senior aviators

The resistance to the Accelerated Path to Wings pilot training program is not only a political issue but also a cultural one. Senior aviators’ professional identity and the way they train future aircrew is shaped by aviation culture. This culture often encourages resistance to new technologies that disrupt the military’s operations. An outstanding example is the Marine Corps, which spent decades fighting to protect its plan to modernize its staffed aviation force. While the Marine Corps did lead the joint force in developing remotely piloted aircraft in the mid-1990s, its culture and tradition have prevented it from adopting armed drones. As a result, senior aviators are now doubled down on human-crewed aircraft.

Changing the Air Force’s culture is not easy. The Air Force still flies almost exclusively with humans in the cockpit, and it’s impossible to change the culture overnight. Despite the public extreme-fidelity air combat video game, which real A-10 pilots are now using for training, some experienced front-line pilots remain wary of the new training, citing concerns about the amount of time spent on simulators.