Flying the Thunderbolt

Training the Air Force Way

At the beginning of the World War II, Air Force flight training lasted nine months, with three months each of primary, basic, and advanced training. Each pilot had 65 flying hours of primary training in the PT-19 or PT-22 and 75 combined hours in basic and advanced aircraft. Basic training was in the BT-13 or BT-15 and advanced training in the AT-6.  So with around 140 hours total and less then 40 in a more demanding plane, they turned many of these guys loose in  a 2,500 hp monster called the “Jug”.  The P-47 Thunderbolt was the biggest and heaviest (single engine) airplane in the Air Force inventory during the WWII.  It was a tough warbird with a reputation for returning after battle damage and while it flew escort and interception missions, it really excelled at mud moving missions. It’s size made it less maneuverable than other fighters such as the German ME-109 in dogfights.

Later, each training phase was further reduced to nine weeks and to speed the process, they produced training videos. If you’re a fan of old WWII aviation movies, you will like this pilot familiarization video for the P-47. Check out the humungo turbocharger at 10:00. It was behind the pilot with exhaust gas routed from the 18 cylinder engine up front.

If you liked that you should also check out this one on Ground Handling, Take-Off, Normal Flight and if you still have nothing else urgent ,wrap up your training with aerobatics and high altitude operations compliments of Airboyd.

Those familiar with general aviation realize that military training is much, much different. It’s a full-time job for prospective pilots. The screening process sifts with finer and finer mesh filters until they end up with the best material for aviators. The training is top-notch. A WWII pilot was combat ready with 200 hours. Today, it’s still quite compressed given the complexity of the machine; weaponry and tactics.

 I contacted Lt. Col. Fred Clifton about getting rated in the L-39 (military jet trainer) which is a fairly basic jet when compared to, for example, an F-16. It’s certainly far more complex than most general aviation aircraft. The FAA requires 1,000 hours w/500 hours PIC to be eligible for a type rating in that plane. The air Force handed the keys of an F-15A to Col Clifton with only 200 hours total flight time. I think we would all  agree that the F-15 is considerably more airplane than anything in the civilian world. It’s all in the quality of training.


One response to “Flying the Thunderbolt

  1. virgil xenophon

    Not for the faint of heart–the quick and the dead.
    Although my heart wanted a front seat right out of plt tng, years later my head tells me I probably profited from being eased into it as a back-seater. (But you couldn’t have proved it by me at the time)

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