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TitleAir Force Academy History
TagsUnited States Air Force United States Air Force Academy United States Military Academy Gliding Cadet
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A Brief History of the Cadet Airmanship Programs

The airmanship programs at the United States Air Force Academy’s (USAFA) have
continuously evolved to suit the needs of the cadet wing since the establishment of the institution
in 1955. Their foundation can be found in the flying training that West Point conducted during
World War II. Over the succeeding decades, the airmanship programs underwent radical
changes in style and implementation. Due to operational and maintenance issues that arose from
financial and military troubles at the Academy, operational control of flight screening, soaring,
and parachute training transferred in October 2004 to Air Education and Training Command
(AETC). A look at the origins of the Academy’s cadet airmanship programs and their subsequent
history provides a glimpse into the motives for placing them under AETC control.

Origins of the Academy

The foundation for the United States Air Force Academy dates back to 1919, when Lt
Col Barton K. Yount, Division of Military Aeronautics in the Army Air Service, first submitted a
proposal for a separate Air Service academy. The program included 14 months of training, with
11 months of ground school at the proposed Air Service academy; in the remaining three months
students would take basic flying instruction at various airfields. By the end of 1919, however, it
was apparent that a separate Air Service academy would not be achievable for any foreseeable
time. Consequently, Army Air Service commanders adjusted their plans for basic flight training
towards incorporating flying programs into the West Point curriculum. During the following
decades, West Point slowly added flight training programs to the cadets’ schedules. By 1936,
interested cadets could get 25 hours of flying instruction at Mitchel Field in New York.1

With the outbreak of World War II, the Army Air Forces needed more pilots. The
service authorized Basic-Advanced Flying training at West Point on 22 May 1942 to instruct
cadets interested in flying. The United States Military Academy (USMA) Superintendent and
the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command commanded by Yount, now a Major General,
created and controlled a three-year program at West Point, which divided cadets into two
categories: “air cadets” who wanted to fly and “ground cadets” who would serve in the infantry.
Each cadet would spend three years with the traditional curriculum. During the fourth year,
those interested in flying would enter basic flight training. On 25 August 1942, Stewart Field at
West Point was officially dedicated, and 245 cadets from the Class of 1944 began flight training.
Of that number, 170 graduated with pilot wings on 6 June 1944. West Point canceled the flight
program on 31 October 1944, just months after the first class earned its wings, as the war turned
in the favor of the Allies and the Army Air Forces did not need as many new pilots.

After the Air Force gained independent status on 18 September 1947, a fresh movement
for a separate air academy began. Plans for the future United States Air Force Academy were
structured so that the new academy would be “established and developed with the U.S. Military
Academy as a principal model.”2 President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Air Force

1 Hamlin M. Cannon, Flying Training at West Point (United States Air Force Academy: June
1970), p. 13
2 Ibid., p. 118

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The contractor delivered the last T-3A on 9 January 1996 and with it came follow-on
testing. By October 1996, the follow-on test and evaluation (FOT&E) determined that the T-3A
was completing its mission of reducing the attrition rates in UPT, but the aircraft failed to meet
three of the five measured criteria for maintenance. This meant that the aircraft were considered
highly unlikely to meet the mandated 95 percent fully mission capable rate or the 98.5 percent
mission completion success probability rate. While these rates were optimistic, the plane was
not performing as well as expected.27

Fully aware of the maintenance issues, the program continued. On 30 September 1996, a
second T-3A crashed at the Academy after the engine stalled. The IP was unable to recover the
aircraft, and both the IP and the student died in the crash. Again, AETC made changes to the
program, including having Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center’s management come in to help
with the maintenance problems. The problems were again thought to have been fixed; but on
26 June 1997, the Academy suffered its third fatal T-3A crash, which killed both the instructor
and the cadet. On 25 July 1997, AETC commander, General Lloyd W. Newton, terminated all
T-3A training in the EFS program.28

General Newton’s order to stop flying the T-3A caused a major switch in the flight
screening process. The end of T-3A flying operations concluded the enhanced flight screening
program. For about a year and a half, there were no light plane flying programs at the Academy.
Then, in October 1998 the Academy initiated an interim program known as Introductory Flight
Training (IFT). The IFT program mirrored the Flight Instruction Program that AFROTC had
used for many years. Small numbers of cadets initially flew Cessna 172s at the Academy.
Cadets at first flew 40 hours, but later this increased to 50 hours, which allowed cadets to earn a
Private Pilot’s License (PPL). 29

The next major overhaul for the 557th was in October 2000, when the squadron once
again realigned from AETC to the Academy. Control of the squadron fell under the 34th
Operations Group, 34th Training Wing. At this point, the IFT program was structured so that 300
cadets received their instruction at the Academy airfield. Because of insufficient capacity at the
Academy airfield, another 200 went to local airfields to get their PPL. In 2002 the IFT program
was contracted out to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. While the program was “meeting
and exceeding expectations,” according to Lt Gen John R. Dallager, Academy Superintendent,
the program did not necessarily build the needed skills for Specialized UPT, AETC’s new multi-
track pilot training program, such as preflight stand-ups and bold-faced procedures. Changes
would have to be made to IFT, but they would not take effect until AETC once again took over
the 557th in 2004.30 At that time, AETC also gained the Academy’s soaring and parachute
programs, which also dated back to the Academy’s early years.

27 Ibid.
28 Ibid.
29 Hist (FOUO/PV), AETC, 1996-1999, vol. I, p. 185, info used is not FOUO/PV.
30 Hist (FOUO/PV), AETC, 2002-2003, vol. I, p. 190, info used is not FOUO/PV.

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Navigation Indoctrination Program

The Navigation Indoctrination Program (NIP) was an integral and important component
of the cadet training system. During the planning stages to establish the Academy, the primary
decision was whether to give cadets pilot training or navigation training. At the time, the NIP
was picked because it was easier to integrate the program into the academic curriculum and also
because the Air Force thought such a program would provide necessary knowledge to both the
aircraft operations and missile fields.31 Furthermore, the training facilities at Lowry prohibited
the development of a full-fledged pilot training program. The Navigation Indoctrination
Program during the 1950s, in which cadets received 171 hours in the air, allowed cadets to
graduate with navigator wings. Each fourth classman flew in the T-33 jet trainer, followed by
time in the T-29 “flying classroom.”32

While the Academy was located at Lowry AFB, the navigation program ran smoothly
because the cadets could use the existing facilities to fulfill the navigation curriculum. When the
Academy moved to its permanent location in Colorado Springs, the 65-mile distance between the
two bases put a strain on the program because cadets had to travel to Lowry AFB to complete
their training. Due to financial constraints on NIP, the Academy Board met on 27 May 1959 to
discuss how to phase out the navigation program. Over the next two years, the program was
slowly phased out. The Class of 1961 was the last to graduate with navigator wings.33


The modern soaring program at the Academy began as a club. Even before the soaring
club existed, Major William R. Fuchs of the Department of Mathematics pushed in December
1955 to integrate soaring into the cadet curriculum. The soaring club began in 1956, while the
Academy was still located at Lowry AFB. Planes were purchased from donations and surplus
funds for extracurricular activities. When the Academy moved to Colorado Springs, the soaring
club faced a severe problem with the high winds. Extremely strong wind currents destroyed
gliders, and, as a result, Academy officials temporarily disbanded the program in December
1958. Three years later the Academy reestablished the Soaring Club after new gliders were
purchased. By 1964, soaring was an official part of the cadet curriculum. The Academy had
four gliders in 1968, made by the Schweizer Aircraft Corporation of Elmira, New York. The
two gliders used for training purposes were SGU 2-22 gliders that had tandem-seats and dual

By 1970, the soaring program had expanded greatly since its days as a club. At this time,
the Academy created the Soar-For-All program that allowed all cadets to receive some time in a
glider. The mission for the program was “to form the foundation of cadet exposure to aviation
related activities, build character, and help motivate cadets toward a career in the United States
Air Force.” Selected rated officers trained cadets to become instructor glider pilots. From this

31 Hist (FOUO/PV), USAFA, 12 Jun 58-30 Jun 59, vol. II, p. 388, info used is not FOUO/PV.
32 Fagan, The Air Force Academy, p. 68.
33 Hist (FOUO/PV), USAFA, 12 Jun 58-30 Jun 59, vol. II, p. 391, info used is not FOUO/PV.
34 Hist (FOUO/PV), USAFA, 13 Jun 56-9 Jun 57, p. 331, info used is not FOUO/PV.

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The Diamond DA20-C1 trainer used for the IFT and AFS
programs at the Academy

2005, AETC paid the $1.7 million bill. For the future, AETC began working with the 98th and
the Association of Graduates to a build a $6 million Vertical Wind Tunnel that would provide
trainees the ability to practice freefall maneuvers.54

The Sailplane Landing Area was also in dire need of repair. After AETC took control of
the 94 FTS, plans were set in motion to alleviate the SPLA problem. While AETC ran the flying
programs, the Academy remained in control of the airfield real estate, and it had several plans to
fix the problem. One was to place “Avturf” on the entire 500 foot by 4500 foot area of the
SPLA, which essentially would provide artificial turf surface for soft sailplane landings. AETC
rejected the plan as too expensive; instead, command officials opted for the more cost-effective
grading and drill seeding of the SPLA with smooth brome grass. The durable grass grew well in
the elevated Colorado environment and was rugged enough to endure the harsh treatment of
glider landings. The estimated time for completion of the reseeded landing area was November
2006. Once completed, the average daily sortie count would increase to around 300, roughly
three times as many flights as could be conducted on the dilapidated SPLA.

Following the AETC transfer, the Academy was able to begin the transition from IFT to
AFS. In November 2002, the Academy
managed the contract with Embry-
Riddle Aeronautical University
(ERAU) to conduct the IFT program,
while AETC provided the funding. Six
months prior to each semester, the 557
FTS commander submitted the
expected number of cadets for IFT to
Embry-Riddle. Embry-Riddle would
then hire the required number of pilots
to teach the cadets. Cadets could not
always make it to the airfield due to
schedule conflicts with military
training, and by agreement the contract-

ed pilots were paid whether or not they flew. The out of-pocket expenses to reimburse Embry-
Riddle were fairly significant. AETC managed the contract with EMAU after February 2005. In
the adjusted contract, the Academy would pay for the unused hours when cadets could not make
it to the airfield.55

The new Academy Flight Screening program dramatically shifted the purposes and
methods of powered flight training at the Academy. The temporary IFT program was less than
ideal in many respects for providing SUPT the best candidates. In IFT, the primary purpose was
to allow cadets to fly for 50 hours to earn their PPL. Although the bulk of the program was
contracted to Embry-Riddle for training at the Academy, many cadets had to go off base to other
airfields for training. Consequently, no uniform method of training existed for the cadets,
especially preparing them for the rigors of SUPT. A major benefit to AFS was that it all training

54 Ibid.
55 Brfg, AETC/XP to AETC/CC, “IPT for 306th FTG Way Ahead,” 11 Mar 05.

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would be conducted at the Academy for USAFA cadets. The contracted IPs from Embry-Riddle
still instructed cadets with the same Diamond DA20-C1 aircraft, but military oversight increased.
The AFS program brought a distinctly military-orientated approach to the powered flight
training, which included pre-flight stand-ups, bold-faced memorizations, and a uniform method
of instruction for the cadets that simulated the environment students experienced in SUPT.
Cadets were given 25 hours in the trainer aircraft, of which 1.7 hours were solo. The reduced
number of hours meant that cadets enrolled in the program would be able to fly all the required
hours in one semester. The bottom line was to allow the Air Force to identify those cadets who
would not make it in SUPT. The AFS program officially began at the Academy on 6 June 2005,
hallmarking the latest evolution of the flying programs.56


The cadet flying programs evolved greatly after their inception during the early years of
the Academy. The foundations for the flying programs were based on similar programs
established at West Point during the 1940’s. From there, the official programs at the Academy
began small and grew over time, eventually incorporating the small soaring and parachuting
cadet clubs. While the flying squadrons at the Academy changed names and reported to different
organizations throughout the years, a common thread bound all of them together -- the desire to
provide cadets with the best flying environment that resources allowed. The most recent change
occurred on 6 June 2005 when the first class at the Academy began the AFS program. Whether
the Academy or other organizations like AETC controlled the airmanship programs, the flying
programs would continue to evolve to provide the best possible airmanship training for cadets
and to motivate them toward a rated career in the Air Force.

56 Ibid.

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