LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas--On an overcast and humid morning, a gaggle of instructor pilots--most of them wearing a black flag patch identifying them as first assignment instructor pilots--gathered on the flightline in front of the closed doors of Hangar II along with members from the 47th Maintenance Directorate and the corrosion control team.
A high-pitched constant ringing cut the atmosphere as the hangar doors slowly opened, revealing the 87th Flying Training Squadron’s FAIP flagship.
An audible reaction rose from the crowd as they caught sight of the T-38C Talon glowing in its fresh black and white paint with red lettering atop the masterful free-handed art and shadowing.
For the first time ever on June 26, 2020, the base celebrates Laughlin’s FAIP community with their own aircraft: a T-38.
According to Capt. Melaine Valentin, 47th Student Squadron instructor pilot and designer of the paint scheme for the FAIP flagship, the FAIP identity is something unique to the pilot community.
“We bring a different set of experiences and instruction as first assignment instructor pilots when compared with our counterparts on the operational side,” Valentin said. “It’s not always easy watching your undergraduate pilot training classmates go and travel the world, moving cargo, executing airstrikes, and deploying while you remain at Laughlin instructing. However, it’s an important mission we accomplish here at Laughlin, and so are the friendships and experiences we build here. The FAIP jet represents that.”
She believes the special aircraft is a visual legacy of the community, growth as pilots, and pride in the pilot training mission.
FAIPS answer a special call--becoming an instructor directly after graduating Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training themselves. It is a demanding duty only the most capable are called to fulfill.
It’s also valuable to the others in the squadron as well, including non-FAIP instructors, students and leadership.
“Everyone looks forward to flying the flagships,” Valentin said. “When assigned to fly a uniquely painted jet, it makes the sortie that much more special.”
Valentin, an artist, provided the 47th MXD’s corrosion control team with a 2D plan for the aircrafts paint design, and in her words, they turned it into a 3D masterpiece.
Juan Gonzalez, 47th MXD corrosion control work lead, said painting the FAIP flagship was a chance for his team to take off using their creativity and talent--a nice break from their typical work.
“We don’t normally get to showcase what our team can do,” Gonzalez said. “We thought it was going to be challenging, but we got the whole team involved and played to their strengths. I had a couple who took on the free-handing, which is about 70 percent of the art, and another who wanted to add in shadows to give it depth. We worked together, had fun and brought Valentin's vision to life.”
Gonzalez shared how his team found satisfaction in showing off their final masterpiece to Valentin and the pilots of the 87th FTS.
“The best part was seeing Valentin’s face and how excited all the pilots were,” Gonzalez said. “Col. Jones complimented our work and that meant a great deal to us. We feel proud of the work we did.”
After the FAIP aircraft’s debut, the FAIP flagship has already elevated to a level of fame. Recognizable and unique, it will continue to represent Laughlin, and it will tell the story of the dedicated group of pilots who take the reins of instructing so early in their careers.
The project has taken more than a year, from conception of the idea to completion of the vision. Valentin described how awesome it was for them, watching those doors roll back and seeing the jet in all its glory, signifying great flights and instruction ahead.