By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterApril 4, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 4, 2013) -- A few Aviators at Fort Rucker had the opportunity to experience for the first time something that hasn't taken place in almost 15 years.
Solo flying in flight school was re-instituted by Col. Kevin J. Christensen, 110th Aviation Brigade commander as an incentive that limits the potential to solo to only students who score 85 percent or above on all written and flight evaluations, including their final basic warfighter skills check ride.
Two flight students out at Shell Field were among the first to pass all the requirements and take part in the new solo-flight incentives.
"It was foreign to us, but we were told that we were going to get the chance to go out and do what we've been training to do without the instructor pilot," said 1st Lt. Glenn Dorth, 2-228th General Support Aviation Battalion, Indiana National Guard. "All the responsibility was on us and we didn't have a safety net. At first it was kind of scary and I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it, but I figured I was in a good position for it and I've been working so hard, so I told myself that I might as well take the shot."
"It was only by chance that we got to be among the first," said 2nd Lt. Jennifer MacGibbon, recent West Point graduate. "It's definitely a cool opportunity to be able to conduct a solo flight."
The flight students trained with the OH-58 Kiowa for about four weeks, and although the incentive is in place to help drive Aviators to excel, Dorth said that wasn't what motivated him, it was a desire to do well for himself.
"I just wanted to do well regardless of whether there was a solo flight, incentive or not -- that's just the type of person I am," he said. "I'm sure that everyone that is [going through flight school] is going to try their hardest anyway because everyone had to try their hardest to get here to begin with."
Even with sufficient training, MacGibbon said that it was tough to not rely on the instructor pilot when going out for the solo flight with just her stick buddy, Dorth.
"Even when an instructor pilot tells you that he or she is going to be activated copilot -- they're going to rely on you to tell them everything -- you still rely on them to make sure everything is safe," she said. "When it's just you and your stick buddy in there, all of those things that [the instructor pilot] queued you to do throughout the course is now on you and you have to remember to do it yourself."
The students weren't left completely alone, however. The instructor pilot follows the students in a chase aircraft to make sure that everything is going smoothly.
"It's still definitely a little scarier," said MacGibbon. "As I saw our IP walk off, I just looked at Glenn and said, 'We're by ourselves,' and that was scary -- it was that epiphany moment."
"When you're sitting there, you're just thinking about what you need to do," added Dorth. "We were sitting there for a while [during our solo flight] to try and figure out what it was we had to do, and then it just clicked and we said, 'OK, we've got to go and this is what we need to do to go.'"
MacGibbon said that the incentive is not only a great motivator, but great training, too, and a good way to make sure that Aviators are ready to take the next step in their training.
"It's a great confidence builder and it's a great time to be able to put everything together and show that you do know how to operate the aircraft -- the procedures while you're flying and what you need to do," she said. "This is something we do right before we select our main airframes, so we go in feeling prepared that we have the basic piloting skills -- it's a good situation to be in."
MacGibbon said she doesn't know what airframe she will be going to, but Dorth said he will be training to fly UH-60 Black Hawks.
"They're the workhorse," he said. "I come from a transportation unit and we've had lots of experience with flooding pulling people off of rooftops, and that's [the kind of thing] I want to do with the Black Hawk."