Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Update on Chris

Hey, y'all!
I wanted to give you an update on Chris, since last time I posted, I didn't really have anything new on him.

Last Friday, I thought for sure his check ride would be cancelled.  The weather had been bad the whole week and it had already been canceled a couple of times.  He actually did get to do his check ride. 

For those of you who need a reminder, a check ride is kind of like a "mid-term".  It's super important and if you don't pass it, you can't continue with pilot training.  Last time we went though a bit of an ordeal because Chris did not pass his check ride.  He had to do an 88-ride, which is your second chance.  You are only allowed one 88-ride in pilot if he does not pass a check ride, he has to go straight to his 89-ride, where the evaluator (usually someone high up) decides if you have what it takes to be a pilot.  It was very unnerving that Chris had to go to his 88-ride, especially when several people seemed to agree that he should have passed his check ride the first time.  If you really want to see me go off on fairness, just check out my post from a few weeks ago when we were going through this.  In the end, Chris passed his 88-ride and all is good.  He has been doing really well since then and had a lot of encouragement from his instructors.

I was pretty nervous going into this check ride, not because I don't feel confident in Chris as a pilot, but because we have now experienced how subjective these rides can be.  One instructor may pass someone in spite of messing up one certain thing, where another may fail him for it.  Not to mention, everyone has an off day! And the fact that his check rides kept getting canceled didn't help, because I got a little nervous that he might get sick or not be in his "groove" from missing so many days of flying.

Well, I supposed I shouldn't have been worried.  Not only did Chris pass, but he got a grade of 6E...E for "Excellent", and the 6 is for his 6 downgrades (think of it like a minus 6...6 things "wrong", I guess)..the average was around 18-20 so that's good! We ran into one of the commanders at the commissary on Sunday, who said he had heard about how well Chris had done on his check ride.  Cha ching! Two down, two to go (while Chris is in T-6s).

After this second check ride, it is time for the students to move into practicing "formations", which means you get really just a few feet...from another plane.  A lot of people say this is the time where you figure out if you want to try to fly fighter planes or not.  People who go on to try flying fighters really like flying in formation, and some people really don't like it.  It was exciting because on Saturday Chris and Jon found out that they would actually be flying in formation together! Since they are close friends, that was kind of cool.  They flew yesterday.  Chris said he did like it, but he doesn't know if he loves flying in formation yet or not.  He says he thinks he may after he gets more used to it, but the first time was kind of weird and required a lot of concentration.

There were times when their wings were just feet apart.  At one point, Jon flew ahead of Chris and did all these maneuvers and tried to basically evade Chris, while Chris tried to keep track of him.  This is a similar idea to a lot of the fighter pilot training drills.  Chris thought that was fun.  He said they had the latest flight of the day, so toward the end, they were the only ones flying.  They were flying during sunset, and then it started to get dark, so by the time they landed, all the runway lights were lit up...which Chris said was really cool.  He had never landed using the runway lights before.  I'm so proud of what a great job he is doing and am so happy that he loves flying so much! When he chose to be a pilot, he wasn't really sure if he would like it...but he knew he didn't want a "desk job", and going into pilot training from the Air Force Academy is a pretty popular choice, so he decided to go with it.  It seems like he definitely made the right choice, because I know he loves what he is doing, even when it has him at work until after 10pm like it did last night.

Here is a picture of what a formation looks like...
These are actually some T-6s flying over fact...if you look to the left side slightly below the middle, that's my office building, the big white one.  I haven't actually worked in that office in several weeks since I have been in Birmingham...and I probably will barely be there anymore before the 29th.  But that's still where my stuff is!
Here is another picture...isn't it crazy how close they are!

If I were a pilot, I think this would be my favorite part, since I kind of enjoy tailgating people.  Okay, I said it.

How Chris feels after these formations will probably have a lot to do with what he chooses as his preference during what is called "track select".  Track select is coming up at the end of the summer.  Students submit a preference of whether they would like to fly a T-1 or a T-38 for the rest of training. I'm going to explain this as best I can, but know that when I say "T-38's/T-1's get this assignment", or "People who get T-38's/T-1s are top of the class/want to fly fighters/etc"  I am totally making generalizations! I am still talking about the military and so nothing is 100% set in stone, plus there are a million different reasons why people choose different things so I'm just going to simplify it by saying what is generally the case.

Usually, if you want to fly a fighter, you will choose a T-38 as your preference for track select.  Usually the people who get assigned T-38's in track select are at the top of their class and have it as their #1 choice.  T-38's generally get either a fighter, bomber, or T-6 instructor pilot (FAIP) assignment.  There are usually only a couple of fighter slots that go out per class, so if you don't want a bomber or a FAIP, then you are somewhat taking a risk when you try to get T-38's because there aren't as many options when you train with that plane. But if you want to be a fighter, you have to fly a T-38.  The T-38 track is very demanding as far as studying and how you are expected to perform.

They almost look like little fighters.

If you want a heavy plan (like a cargo plane), you generally will go the T-1 route.  You also get a T-1 if you wanted a T-38 but weren't selected for it.  From a T-1, you can get a T-1 instructor pilot position, or pretty much any other plane besides a fighter or bomber.

I wanted to go ahead and describe this process because I feel like it is right around the corner and will be here before we know it! Naturally, Chris' selections for his preferences (T-1 or T-38) is something he is already thinking about.  Originally, Chris was only interested in flying larger planes, especially the C-17.  Pro's: good experience for a future in airlines or parcel services, desirable base locations, more laid-back culture.  Cons: usually gone about 260+ days a year!  He has received some encouragement by instructors that he should consider the T-38, and he spent his "casual" job (that 6-month period where we were in Columbus but not in pilot training) working for the fighter training squadron here on base, where he formed some good relationships and enjoyed the very distinct culture that fighter pilots have.  So now he is a little interested in that, too, but not sure if he is sold on it.  I think he is hoping that the formations will help him decide. A lot of people hear "fighter pilot" and think that they are probably in the air shooting at enemy plans all the time.  While this is possible, it doesn't happen very often now.  There aren't very many air forces in the world, at least not that we have tensions with right now, that could put up a fight against our planes, so "dog-fights" aren't very likely.  Fighters are home a lot more with their families, and most of their missions are training missions, so they aren't constantly overseas like cargo planes are.  They do have a much more stressful environment because they always have to stay on top of the latest developments in strategy, sometimes requiring them to lock themselves in a "vault" of confidential information to study for hours on end.  Also, Chris knows he wants his next assignment to be a FAIP (instructor pilot), and if he gets T-38s at track select, there is only a slim chance he will get a T-38 FAIP position...if he gets FAIP'd, he would probably get a T-6, which is what he is flying now...and doing 12 hours days! He doesn't think he wants to fly with green pilots for 12 hours a day for 3 years! We will keep you updated on what happens with his track select.  It truly is a big deal because it has big implications for his career. It's important that we not be short-sighted, though...his assignment for the next 3 years is very important, but it's much more important to think about the plane he will be flying for the rest of his career! that I have you updated as best as I can about military stuff (at least, this is all the way I understand it!)...I will go ahead and do a short run-down of our weekend. Not much to update, I was pretty much a bum all weekend because it was SO nice to finally be at home after over two weeks of being gone!!

Saturday, we went to Northport to view some condos.  We found one that we wanted to make an offer on, but the owners had another for sale in the complex that we also wanted to see, but the tenant would never return calls to the real estate agent, so we couldn't go see it (apparently there are strict laws about this).  Our realtor came back yesterday and said that the seller cannot end the lease with either unit's tenant early, and both leases go until next year! So frustrating! However, he said there the owners have another unit in the complex that is the exact same floor plan as the one we saw, that they have not put on the market yet but are getting ready to.  This would be available immediately, and the owners are willing to negotiate, which sounds good! He is going to look at it today and take pictures for us, and then we will probably go take a look on the way to Auburn Saturday for Hannah's engagement party and Chris, Sr.'s birthday.  Then hopefully we can make our offer, they will accept it, our pre-approved loan will process flawlessly and we will be move-in ready by July 1! I'm not going to hold my breath though...

Saturday I stepped out onto my patio to discover some sad surprises and one happy one.  Here is the happy one:

These sunflowers (I think that's what they are...just smaller? Maybe not.) just popped out of nowhere and are so pretty! Some former tenants must have planted them.

My sad surprises included the weeds that have overtaken our patio and all my plants looking funny and black...kind of like they are dying! Rather than a green thumb, I think I have a black thumb.  Notice the irony...beautiful sunflowers that I had no idea were in my yard sprouting all by themselves without me doing a thing.  All my plants that I tried really hard to grow by watering and fertilizing dying!! Ugh! I keep saying I give up on gardening and then keep trying again because I want a pretty yard like other people.  I might as well just wait until one day when we can afford a landscaper, because I am tired of wasting money and effort in the yard! So frustrating! ugh!!!!

I was so excited because my tomatoes turned red..til I got up close and saw that they were all black and had nasty holes in them! I just don't understand.
 Saturday night I cooked dinner and we invited Jon and Autumn over.  It has been a while since I've entertained, and I really miss it! I have been planning to have a big dinner party for some other couples, but that's pretty much impossible to organize and carry out successfully when I'm working in Birmingham all week.  Hopefully I will have the free time to accomplish this next month.

Potato salad, roasted asparagus and squash (Autumn grew the squash...clearly she is more talented at growing things than I am), and steak.  Normally we buy filets from the commissary where they are a good price, but this time we bought sale steaks from Publix...have to say, we were not impressed!

Well, that's all for now.  I just couldn't wait to share Chris' success with y'all so I hope you enjoyed a slightly lengthy, but hopefully interesting, description of what is next for him in this journey!

In Birmingham 'til Friday...Solo Party (party where the class celebrates everyone completing their solo flight and everyone gets their call signs) is Friday  night, and then Saturday we head to Auburn for more celebrating of a birthday and an engagement!

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