The Army has found a viable alternative to assist Fort Rucker in the training of D model Apache instructor pilots and maintenance test pilots.
The last D model IP/MTP courses at Fort Rucker ended in early April, which meant D model IPs/MTPs would have to be taught another way. Among those that needed training were pilots from 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, a unit scheduled to deploy later this year. The Department of the Army G-3/5/7 Aviation contacted the Apache Attack Helicopter Project Office to find out if it had the capability to train Apache D model pilots. The project office builds Apache attack helicopters for the Army fleet and trains its aviators on how to fly the latest aircraft version.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Aaron Simbro, flight training lead for the project office, was charged to find a solution. The “new process” would have to be conducted at a temporary location. This required tremendous amount of coordination with and support from 4th CAB in order to properly prepare for their primary mission and upcoming deployment.
“We got the program of instruction straight from Rucker,” Simbro said, “so that we would be able to teach on behalf of them.” But the idea on how to conduct the training came from the unit, he said, and they provided all the resources needed. This enabled Simbro and his team to plan the course and conduct training that resembled what would have been taught at Fort Rucker, achieving the same standards, course length and flight hours to complete.
For the maintenance test pilots course, the project office was able to team with Fort Rucker and students received academic training at Fort Rucker, with flight training at Fort Carson, Colorado. The instructor pilots course presented unique challenges. Fort Rucker has significantly changed the IP course and from teaching a pilot to be a Fort Rucker IP to being a unit IP. The project office’s Apache standardization pilots would have to undergo additional training to teach the course to standard.
The three-week preparation for the instructor pilots training, which was conducted at Fort Carson, required Simbro’s new equipment training team to travel to Fort Rucker for one week of mentored training from Fort Rucker, one week at Fort Hood, Texas, for simulation training, and one week of flight training at Fort Carson.
John Haeme, NET project manager for the project office, admitted some apprehension as to whether everything would come together as they prepared the new instructor pilots to be what they need to be. “We were excited that the AH-64 IPC had made the changes that would better prepare the candidates for their new responsibilities and position,” Haeme said. Most of the project office’s NET team instructors had previously taught the AH-64 IPC years ago, and the changes implemented by the AH-64 IPC are fully endorsed, he added.
The typical AH-64 instructor pilots course at Fort Rucker is normally six students. Simbro’s team was able to train five IPs and five maintenance test pilots at Fort Carson. The MTP course completed March 13 and the instructor pilots course ended April 24.
But the mobile AH-64E instructor pilots course would not have been successful without the determination and perseverance of 4th CAB and the NET instructors, Simbro emphasized. Simbro praised the efforts of Chief Warrant Office 5 Mike Corsaro, command chief warrant officer for 4th CAB, and William Ham, IPC task lead NET.
“The unit attacked all the issues with gusto. We were able to graduate the IPs on time – actually two days early,” Simbro said. “As the training manager, it’s the people who make all the difference. It wasn’t just a job for them. It was their passion for getting things done right and supporting the warfighter.”
The instructor pilots and new equipment training team had numerous and difficult challenges throughout training. Fort Carson is almost 7,000 feet above sea level, so the altitude was the first obstacle to overcome. Next was the record snowfall in Colorado, which meant days of not being able to conduct flight training and coordinating alternate flight schedules to compensate for the time lost.
The most difficult challenge was the onset and impacts of COVID-19. From daily decontamination of the aircraft, adhering to safe social distancing policies, and training work-arounds due to the travel ban implemented in Colorado, the team successfully mitigated all challenges.
“The fact that the unit kept on going with the training when they could have elected to postpone it in order to be with their families during a difficult time in the country speaks volumes,” Simbro said. “They never stopped training, including a live fire gunnery, and instead were focused on accomplishing the mission.”
John Haeme and Troy Snook, NET project leaders and retired E model Apache pilots, also sacrificed to complete the mission. Both were only scheduled to be in Colorado for three weeks at most. They ended up having to remain in Colorado for two months. Additionally, the NET team was short two instructor pilots, so all the instructors pulled double duty to complete the training on time for the 4th CAB, specifically 6-17 CAV.
“We were proud to be asked and challenged to meet the standard set by the Institutional AH-64 Instructor Pilot Course,” Haeme said. “Especially with the new changes in philosophy and application implemented by 1-14th Aviation to the AH-64 Instructor Pilot Course. To take this on the road to a unit; it was an honor for our team to be trusted with the responsibility and exciting to take on.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nathanael Tramm, one of the instructor pilot students from 4th CAB, said he expected the course to be similar to that at Fort Rucker but tailored to Fort Carson. “The instructors came switched in and out. Overall it has been a good course,” he said.
Simbro and his team collected many lessons learned that they can now apply and improve on with the next course. The new course better prepares the instructor pilots to manage an Aircrew Training Program and train/evaluate unit pilots though all stages of readiness level progression and annual evaluations. The addition of role reversal and implementation of training plans will better prepare the instructor pilot candidates in the application and their correlation of the fundamentals of instruction.
“I’ll be able to go back to my unit as an instructor pilot and be able to do tasks and help train other pilots and be proficient in our jobs,” Tramm said. “It helps relieve some of the workload since we’ve been low on instructor pilots. I would recommend it to other units because it means you’re at home and can go home to your families every night and not be TDY for three or four months at a time.”
Ultimately, the success of the instructor pilot training has been about the people, Simbro said. “This is the first Apache graduate course outside of Fort Rucker,” he said. The ability to expand training – to help Rucker build pilots to support the warfighter is the fundamental outcome.
“We’re validating the ability to produce graduate level training. I credit that to 6-17 CAV and 4th CAB,” Simbro said. “It was their heavy lifting and determination that allowed us to validate a new process that works.”