School’s Out! Sort of…

Today was our last graded test- Flight Rules and Regulations. I know I passed, but I don’t have my score yet. There are still two weeks of API left, but from here on out, it’s more hands-on stuff and one-day courses. We’ve got an all-day land survival course on Monday, and some fun stuff next week leading up to the helo dunker on Friday. I used to be really worried about that particular evolution, but after all I’ve been through in the pool in the last few weeks, it suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. Sure, I’ll be strapped in a tube with five other guys, dropped in the water and flipped upside down, but all I have to do is get out of the thing. I can surface when I’m clear of it, and I’m not even allowed to kick with my legs (for fear of hitting folks behind me) so this thing won’t be nearly as painful as the fifteen yard underwater swim after a 12-foot tower jump. There’s a video of it here. Those guys are Marines, but we’ll be using an identical piece of equipment with our flight gear on.

I made it through the API coursework just fine. Going into the sixth and final exam, I’d missed a total of five questions on the previous five exams, giving me an overall average of 98%. The doesn’t put me at the top of the class, but probably in the top 5 or so.

Not all my friends have been so lucky. One guy I went to IFS with, who rolled into our class after failing some exams in a class ahead of us, failed another exam and ended up being removed from the flight training program. Another good friend of mine who started in our class failed two exams and is now rolled back to the class a week behind us. Yet another guy in the class (whom I didn’t know as well) failed some exams and has also been removed from flight training. It’s been tough. But it should be tough, and not everyone should pass. As sad is it is to see my friends go, and although they might be disappointed, there is also no shame in failing out. Those who are no longer with my class are still excellent officers and will go on to serve our country with distinction in other communities.

Anyone who is worried about the moral quality of the youth of America need look no further than naval flight training, or even the military in general. Sure, there are some jerks here, too, but by and large the folks I go to work with every day, both officer and enlisted, are some of the finest, strongest, smartest, and most dedicated people on the planet. I am truly lucky just to be here.

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The Extra Mile

Well, API goes on. I can’t believe I’ve only got 3 exams and 7 days of classes left. Seems like I just started this business…

Today was also the final installment of our Water Survival series: a mile swim in a flight suit. It turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. After carb-loading with massive amounts of pasta last night and a healthy oatmeal breakfast this morning, I finished the mile in 50 minutes with energy to spare.

Tomorrow is a great day: Flight Gear Issue. I’ll be getting flight suits, a helmet, gloves, a leather jacket (if they’ve got ‘em… no big deal if I get an IOU since it’s currently about 95 degrees out every day) and all sorts of other cool Navy pilot stuff. If everyone has them ready this weekend, the class can start wearing our flight suits on Monday. After this week, I probably won’t wear khakis to work on a regular basis for about 4 years.

Sure is nice to be in our own apartment. The furnishings are rather sparse: We got some folding camp chairs and set up the tent in the living room, going for a sort of “camping” motif until the Navy decides to ship the rest of our furniture down from New York.

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Splash Ensigns

Well, the last few weeks have been the roaring start of my journey in the Naval Aviation training pipeline- Aviation Preflight Idoctrination (API). We’ve been in the pool almost every day doing everything from regular swimming to jumping off a 12-foot tower with flight suit and boots on and then swimming underwater for 15 yards. Next week we’ll finish up the water survival syllabus with a final test of our strokes technique, a 75-yard swim in full flight gear (suit, boots, gloves, helmet, and survival vest) and the final evolution of the course: a one-mile swim in a flight suit.

For me, it’s the water survival that’s been the most exciting and challenging part. Yesterday on the tower jump it took me a practice jump and three graded attempts and to make it to the line underwater. By the time I was done, my lungs hurt and I had a pretty nasty headache. But the high I got from actually passing a test I’d been dreading for months lasted much longer than the physiological consequences.

For most other people, it seems like the academics are the central challenge of the preflight program. We take six week-long courses two at a time. Two courses in Aerodynamics, and one each in Weather, Engines, Navigation, and Flight Rules and Regulations. It comes out to two exams per week for the last three of our four weeks of class. For me, most of the material is a review/regurgitation of what I just spent four years learning about in the Aeronautical Engineering program at RPI. I’m doing all right so far- 98% on Aero I and 100% on weather.

I’ll have to write more later. The Mrs. and I are finally moving into our own place tomorrow morning (also a topic for another entry) so there’s plenty to do around here tonight!

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