CAFB leaders laud recent inspection, upcoming agenda

By: 
STEVE ROGERS
Staff Writer

A new commander, testing a new high-tech pilot training program, and a three-year high for new pilots ... all that and more is on the agenda this year for Columbus Air Force Base.

This summer, Col. Samantha Weeks, will take over as commander at the base, becoming the second woman commander in the more than 75 years CAFB has been in existence.

Teresa Marne Peterson was the first female commander, leading CAFB from 1998 to 2000. She retired in 2007 as a two-star general.

Weeks was one of the first female Thunderbirds' pilots, flying with the group in 2007 and 2008. Since August 2016, she has commanded the 57th Adversary Tactics Group which is part of the diverse 57th Wing based at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Weeks will replace Col. David Gosney, who has been commander at CAFB since July 2016. During a New Year reception for community leaders from Clay, Oktibbeha and Lowndes counties, the community, Gosney announced Weeks' appointment but said he likely would not know until March where his next assignment will be.

APRIL AIR SHOW

Columbus Air Force Base will host the Thunderbirds during the Wings Over Columbus Air Show April 21-22.

The Thunderbirds are the highlight of a show that will feature some of the top military and civilian aeronautics and aerobatic groups in the country.

It's the first air show the base has hosted in four years.

TRAINING AT CAFB

While the Air Force continues to rely on traditional training methods, it also is looking at new ways to not only improve training but make it more efficient and cost effective. And one of those methods under study is using high-tech virtual reality programs, Gosney said.

Nine CAFB personnel -- five instructor pilots and four student pilots -- are headed to Austin, Texas, for the "Pilot Training Next" program as part of a special study group.

"It's part of a study to see if there is a better way to produce pilots," Gosney told the community leaders.

Of the Air Force training units, CAFB has the most instructor pilots and the second most student pilots picked for the program.

"I have hopes that we'll take some good lessons from that. It may not be the exact roadmap we'll go with, but we're all about producing the same quality at a faster amount of time for less money, and that will help get after our pilot crisis as well," Gosney said, referring to the program as some "Star Wars kind of stuff."

Earlier this month, a team of student researchers from Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, spent three days at CAFB to gather information on the Adaptive Flight Training Study.

The study and the work in Texas are designed to find out if the VR environment would help pilots learn at or above the rates they are currently learning, and how the brain works and reacts in conjunction with other parts of the body during the learning process.

In the CAFB study, three test groups flew a T-6 Texan II simulator with no prior T-6 flying experience. The groups ranged from experienced pilots who had not flown the T-6; pilots who have limited flying experience and none within the T-6; and the final group had no flying experience.

In addition to the flight skills, researchers are gathering information on eye movements, heart rates and a variety of other factors to model not just learning but also reactions and other measures that impact pilot abilities.

BY THE NUMBERS

While virtual reality simulators may soon be part of the training regimen, the base will use its proven methods to hopefully turn out 382 pilots this year.

"We've all heard about the pilot shortage we're facing and we're upping our goal this year," Gosney said, noting the base graduated 309 pilots in 2016 and 327 in 2017.

That 17 percent increase in pilots likely will mean one of the busiest bases in the Air Force will be even busier. Last year, pilots at CAFB flew 57,770 sorties and a total of 76,508 hours, Gosney said.
The base also deployed 104 airman in 2017, including six still in Syria. Most of the deployed personnel should return by March or April, he said.

And the base can take pride in landing its highest inspection rating ever despite the tougher new standards and inspection system the Air Force initiated three years ago. The inspections and ratings were completed last spring.

"We're proud to report it was the best inspection Columbus Air Force Base has ever had," Gosney said of the "effective" rating which is the second best available.

He noted the base rated "highly effective," the best possible, in several categories.

And once again, several CAFB units were named the best in the Air Force or Air Education Training Command. Those included the Air Force's Outstanding Unit Award to the 14th Flying Training Wing for the second year in a row.

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