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B-52 Formal Training Unit keeps pipeline full despite pandemic

Photo of pilot giving instruction in B-52.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jonathan Gunther, 11th Bomb Squadron instructor pilot, gives a block of instructions on a flight helmet to student pilots at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, April 22, 2020. The student pilots were preparing for their first flight in a B-52 Stratofortress after four months of academic study. The students are in the B-52 Formal Training Unit led by the 93rd Bomb Squadron and run in conjunction with the 11th BS. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of instructor and student looking at ejection seat.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Smith, 93rd Bomb Squadron weapons systems officer instructor, teaches 1st Lt. Joshua Benard, 11th BS weapons systems officer student, the finer points of the B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, April 22, 2020. Benard was preparing for his first flight in the jet. Smith, who has over 10,000 hours in the B-52, is one of many experienced cadre teaching in the B-52 Formal Training Unit. The FTU, run by the 93rd BS, provides the Air Force with all its B-52 air crew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of student pilot putting on helmet.

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Wilfred Chan, 11th Bomb Squadron student pilot, prepares for his first flight in a B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, April 22, 2020. Students in the B-52 Formal Training Unit must complete four months of academic study before beginning flight training in the jet. The FTU is led by the 93rd Bomb Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit, in active association with the 11th BS, an active-duty unit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

Photo of pilots walking on exterior of a B-52.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jonathan Gunther, 11th Bomb Squadron instructor pilot, leads 1st Lt. Wilfred Chan and 1st Lt. Kelsey Shane, both 11th BS student pilots on a visual inspection of a B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, April 22, 2020. Chan and Shane were preparing for their first flights in the jet as students in the Formal Training Unit run by the 93rd Bomb Squadron in active association with the 11th Bomb Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --

The 93rd Bomb Squadron has pushed forward on its mission here, graduating 30 new B-52 Stratforfortress aircrew during April and maintaining a steady pipeline of initial, upgrade, and re-qualification candidates even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The 93rd Bomb Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing, is the only B-52 Formal Training Unit in the Air Force.  The unit is responsible for providing the Air Force with its entire contingent of pilots, electronic warfare officers and weapon systems officers, a critical role in keeping the nuclear-capable jet a viable deterrent to potential adversaries. 

“We are committed to preserving the ability of our instructors to train our aircrew so they are able to provide for our national defense,” said 307 BW Commander Col. Steve Kirkpatrick. “We must stay mission ready even in the current situation.”

Adjustments, in the classroom and beyond, had to be made in order maintain that ability.

The number of students allowed in the classroom at one time was modified to adhere to Force Health Protection and Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.  Other safety measures implemented included assigning students as specific set of instructors, minimized traffic in work spaces, and assigned mission planning rooms.

Also, the past graduation ceremony in April didn’t happen on stage with family and friends as previously done.

 “Family and friends didn’t get to cheer on the class that graduated in April because of the distance requirements resulting from COVID-19,” said Capt Kyle Allen, 11th Bomb Squadron Academic Flight commander. “We decided to have something for them that met the guidelines, but still recognized all of their hard work.”

The 93rd BS operates the B-52 Formal Training Unit, but they don’t do it alone. They have an active association with the 11 BS who falls under the 2nd Operations Group.

The total force arrangement helps ensure B-52’s have a steady supply of personnel to fly them, regardless of what else is happening.

“We are do everything possible and practical to continue training,” said Lt. Col. Chris Chandler, 93 BS commander. “We, alongside our active-duty counterparts in the 11 BS, are committed to getting these students trained and out the door to their squadrons.”

The first four months for an FTU student consist of academics. Following this phase, they start the flight line portion which lasts approximately four months.

The next group of students moved into this hands-on phase immediately following the previous class’ graduation, ensuring a steady supply of new aircrew.