LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas--If you’re flying a heavy in the Air Force, chances are you trained in the T-1A Jayhawk with the 86th Flying Training Squadron at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas.
The 86th FTS creates the best mobility pilots in the Air Force, and when they’re called back to carry on the mission, they bring experiences from previous assignments and numerous aircraft to the classroom--and the cockpit.
Some instructors are selected directly from training to become a first assignment instructor pilot after graduation. Some return from different units as seasoned veterans after a few years away from Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training. Still other instructors are supplied by the 96th FTS, which is Laughlin’s Air Force reserve component.
“We are the Lobos, and we work hand-in-hand with the 96th Flying Training Squadron Jackrabbits,” said Lt. Col. Justin Wetterhall, 86th FTS commander. “When I say ‘Lobos,’ I’m referring to our entire total force team. Total force integration is critical to the training we do here. Our reservists have years of experience as instructors and experience from the civilian world. Iron sharpens iron, and so they sharpen the SUPT students.”
Growing the operational force to meet any future strategic requirements is a top priority but readiness remains, first and foremost, about people.
The embracing atmosphere at the 86th FTS stood out to Capt. Jason Sanchez, 86th FTS executive officer as he arrived for the first time. Everyone took a genuine interest in who he was and welcomed him into the family.
“I got to tour the Air Force Academy when I was thinking of joining, and I was struck by the thought I would be joining something greater than myself,” Sanchez said. “I think my squadron embodies that sense of service. They do that by going beyond building us into combat-ready warriors: they form a family.”
Wetterhall sees the strength of the squadron in the way they emphasize taking care of everyone there.
“We strive to execute the mission safely, and we’re always aiming to grow on a personal and professional level, but what I pride our squadron on is taking care of one another,” Wetterhall said.
Along with building morale and teamship, they take pride in the advanced instruction they provide the students with day-in and day-out, and innovative ways to overcome problems.
“We’re passionate about teaching,” Wetterhall said. “Here, our common goal is about building professional relationships with the students we fly with so we can better individualize what we teach. We believe no debrief should be the same.”
Being an instructor isn’t always what a pilot forecasts for their career, however once called to be an instructor the Lobos are ready to step up to the challenge. Often, they discover a passion for it as well.
“As an instructor, I look forward to meeting the students,” Sanchez said. “During pilot training, they are in an impressionable chapter, and I realize I have an opportunity to lead them and set a good example.”
With every component of the 86th--enlisted, such as squadron aviation resource management, civilians and of course the instructor pilots--coming together to support pilot production, Laughlin is able to continue graduating top-tier pilots who can fly anything from Air Force One for the U.S. president to the largest aircraft the Air Force has to offer.
“I know we’re accomplishing our mission of graduating the world’s best pilots when the students return as FAIPs, and we see their ability to continue accomplishing the mission,” Wetterhall said. “We see the quality of the FAIPs and the graduates who return from flying different airframes around the Air Force to teach as instructor pilots, and they validate our mission.”