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Primary After Action 2020 or, A Giant Wall of Text

Dontcallmegump

Well-Known Member
pilot
After API I brain dumped everything I saw and experienced into a thread for the sake of the curious as well as taking a look back for what I had done and what I could improve on moving forward. Seems like it was popular so here’s the next edition. After my 44.4 weeks in primary I figured I should do this again. Bear with me, most of this is for my own catharsis and the writing may be rough, but if inquiring minds have any questions, shoot. This isn’t meant to be all encompassing, just things that stick out to me looking back. The delays have followed me yet again into the space between primary and advanced so ill have time…


Starting where the last story left off, when you get to the wing, TW-5 in my case, we were assigned to “Primary Pool” while waiting to class up to ground school and be assigned a VT squadron. During this time, I may have done “work” for a solid hour or two a month on avg. Some work included setting up for a (training) Wing, wing cook off and then eating wings until my flight suit needed expanded. Only maybe two other times in 4.5 months did I do something useful and one of those was “watching” a T-6 that had landed at KMVC and broke, with another student waiting to class up. Kind of like an FBO sleepover, I guess…

Besides intermittent busy work, all that was required of us was in person musters with very liberal hours on Monday, phone musters Tues and Thurs, Pt on Wednesday (more on this in a moment) and the weekly “don’t be an idiot this weekend you morons” talk on Friday. As for the PT just do what you’re supposed to, its easy to satisfy the requirement and you’ll likely be bored enough in the pool to work out a whole lot more. Pro tip: don’t attempt to incite a small rebellion against basic fitness by telling your platoon that were not doing any of this, while the Divo stands right behind you. Leave was pretty easy to get, the Dept head and his civilian counterpart were fair and helpful if you did what you were supposed to. I got 3 weeks in one block shortly after finishing check in. Liberty was generous both in radius and duration, and any excuse to give a 96 was used. Even had a week long standby watch stood down for the 4th. As many others have said around these parts, take this down time to enjoy yourself. Make memories and take the time to go do interesting things. Its easy to just sit around, waste the days and drink too much. Instead go new places with friends and drink too much.

When the work begins it will be overwhelming the scope and depth of what is being asked of you (at least relative to anything you’ve seen before). Bite sized chunks was the method I employed, every day go over the material again and add in new items. Repetition is the way to memorize deeply. You need to constantly work on memorizing EP’s, the cockpit setup, configurations and the associated numbers for performance, maneuvers and procedures understanding the NATOPS and systems, Limits and seemingly endless details, course rules including OLF info and home field procedures, ejection and survival gear knowledge and procedures, NATOPS brief info etc. This is a massive amount of info, but a working knowledge of it is something every primary student is capable of. A lot of it won’t make sense or mean little in practice away from your desk or outside a classroom early on, but having it on quick and accurate recall is necessary. In addition, as has been repeated many times on this site and doubtlessly will be told to you many more times, STUDY WITH AT LEAST 1 OTHER PERSON REGULARLY. Having an accountability partner will reduce the chance of missing details or totally misunderstanding concepts. Not all of your studying needs to be dual but at least 1/3 to 1/2 should be. There are many topics to work on from many sources. I can think of probably half a dozen different places to get info and much of it overlaps. In the process of getting to know all the different areas of study, make sure to draw from all sources. At a bare minimum the NATOPS, FTI and FWOP are where you’ll find things, make sure to cross check for different angles on the same idea and potentially additional information or clarification at the local level. Utilize quality gouge suited to the training. There are resources for everything from tests, study guides, T6-B driver for all thing’s related to sims and many squadron products as well as the knowledge and experience of those in training with you for flight line activities.

This is only partly overlapped by what you’ll be doing in ground school. The classes are based off some of these subjects but are nowhere near getting you to know the material enough to fly an aircraft using it. Ground school is not like API in two ways. 1, you need to retain most all of the info during all of primary and 2, the tests are less tricky but attention to detail is still imperative. Ground school is a good warm up for many things, not EP’s, Limits and Checklists (responses, signals etc.), those should be memorized verbatim by day 1 of GS, but for systems, procedures and other areas of knowledge. Use it to help build a bigger understanding in holistic sense and uncover what you may have overlooked or misunderstood.

When the classes and most of the tests are over the sims start. This is a time to double down on the information needed to be memorized to fly. Typically it will take a few weeks to complete the initial sims and this is valuable time to bring the many areas of study together into being able to safely operate a T6-B (with massive amounts of help from instructors at first) through an hour and a half flight. If you can recall every detail of a flight as well as a myriad of other things pertinent to flying from FAA regulations and how to read the Aircraft Discrepancy Binder plus much more AND brief this info (practice with your study partner) then you’re ready for FAM 0. In my experience it was very hard to conceptualize this before I began. No doubt it’s a steep learning curve, but remember; it’s all 100% doable.

The next section of training is called Contacts. 12 flights, 10 or so sims between blocks, a check ride and then your solo to cap it all off. A typical flight event begins with the brief, the first half or so is the standard NATOPS brief, about 15 minutes (when you’re slow) of things you say at your instructor to prove you’ve studied, as time goes on this can be accelerated to about 5 min depending on wx to be briefed and any other oddities . A winning strategy is to practice this with a partner and brevity is key. A great mentality is “you don’t have to say EVERYTHING” but be prepared to when/if asked. The second half of the brief will be discussion items (study homework) and is related to what the flight is trying to teach you. Make sure you can explain from memory a working knowledge of whatever it is that’s listed as an item. Also, don’t brain dump this stuff, much of it is important for at least the whole stage if not all of primary (and maybe even good general knowledge for all flying). A note about briefing, if you make sure you’re prepared and look like stuff is squared away, it should be easy. Very few times has there been any stress added to the proceeding that came from the IP, any that exists is almost certainly from within. If you satisfy the IP that you know enough to get something out of the flight, you’ll finish up making sure you’re both on the same page and go suit up, check out the plane from maintenance control and walk to the aircraft. The point of contacts is to enable you to go from never having sat in a T-6 to being able to reliably and safely operate it ON YOUR OWN in 12 flights. To accomplish that end you sit up front (where many of the switches, buttons and other controls are only located) and go through the execution of a whole flight with as little input as possible. Beginning with checklists, the “walk around” inspection and then starting and preparing the aircraft to fly. You’ll make radio calls to request clearance, permission to taxi and then go do the runup and then further taxi to take off. From there you’ll talk to a departure controller and go to one of a few air spaces (mostly) separated from normal traffic for preforming a series of maneuvers to build proficiency in controlling the aircraft and its performance. These include transitions, stalls, recoveries and other demos amounting to “this is bad, notice it and fix it so you don’t crash” The transition to on OLF to practice pattern work then back to home field for the full stop.

Unfortunately, contacts is where much of primary is make or break. You are new to everything, don’t know what methods will work for studying and flying with limited time to figure it out. Good news is you’ll have help in the form of an “Onwing” for many of these flights and if you show up knowing everything and can brief what is expected of you, you’ll get the training to make the flying happen. During these flights you’re learning the habits of scanning, building up your situational awareness “bubble” and what it feels like to do things correctly, something a sim really can’t provide. Academic study is important, but at this point what matters is execution in the cockpit. Chair flying early, often and with others, using the best approximation of the flight is what makes the difference. If you know the info (read: procedures in order, perfectly and quickly) and have an idea of what’s coming and plan for all of that, you can focus on executing and not trying to come up with a idea of “what next” or trying to remember all the things you need to do. Chair flying is memorizing steps in sequence to build a habit pattern because it just isn’t possible at this stage to think on your feet for most students. Personally, I was horrible about rushing myself and making mistakes because of it. It was very difficult in practice, but make a conscious effort to do everything deliberately and methodically then stick with it as much as you can. Talking through what you’re doing most of the time can help with this by keeping the flow of things steady as well as letting the instructor know what you’re thinking. It’s when you can’t verbalize at the rate of keeping up with the aircraft, what you’re doing/thinking of or planning for that you don’t know it well enough.
For the love of god take the time to trim because this will reduce the frequency of corrections to maintain alt and hdg as long as you’re not dynamically maneuvering. In turn that will allow for more bandwidth to be devoted to other tasks and SA. Utilize your kneeboard and write down before things to remember and reference it. You will have plenty to memorize, don’t corner yourself into getting worked up and blanking out only to miss something easy. If it’s written down it can jog your memory and keep you moving. This needs to have balance, too much density or content is useless as the one thing you’ll need gets lost, but not enough leaves you wanting. Take the time to breathe and do things with purpose instead of panic. I found a good way to know the profile of a contacts (and other stages) flight was to build gouge sheets in chronological order with reminders for radio coms, the maneuvers to be completed and other notes that que off what to do and when. That forced a detailed look through all the pubs and gave a better understanding in the process of the entire flight forward and backward. It worked for me that treating studying like planning and developing materials was how I was able to get the most out of it. The challenge here is for every person to find their own way of accomplishing that.

Like I said earlier, my time to train was over 44 weeks, meaning during contacts I flew infrequently. Between my first flight and solo the avg was around once every 9 days. At first it was hard to feel like I was able to make any progress, even once airsickness was no longer an issue. What made the difference was taking time to ask questions during the debrief and get all the critique I could so that nothing was left unanswered to then go back and chair fly while referencing what could improve and how to do it better or in some cases something I totally missed and needed to go back and figure out. With what I got out of the debrief and studying for the next event I would come to the next flight with a “hit list” of three things I wanted to do better on, how I anticipated accomplishing that and went over with the instructor what I thought I needed to do better so that if I started doing whatever was wrong they would be on it immediately. I got more than a few surprised looks and comments when I briefed how I thought I was going to screw up and basically tattled on myself in advance but I found that as this went on I was able to see improvement after every flight based on instructor coaching and my own awareness of what I was doing (and what I didn’t want to do). I rarely regressed in areas that I put this focused attention on. This investment in taking charge of your own training will come up again later.

On airsickness; You will get a brief from your wings AMSO during ground school, if you think motion sickness is something that will affect you, take all their advice and follow it. You cannot fly and learn while getting sick. Don’t be afraid to admit if you’re not feeling well and taking a moment of straight and level to settle things. Bring bags and use them if necessary but fight it as much as possible, “puke and rally" won’t work here. If it comes to going to the AMSO for “rotational therapy” take the plunge and just do it, don’t kick the can down the road and fly sick, your grades and quality of flying will suffer if you do, and you’ll feel like hell all the time. I had to get spun and I won’t lie, worst week of my life. HOWEVER, once I completed the “training” I never got sick again anywhere close to how like I had before and even if something came up, I was able to manage it. I was told the airsickness program has a 99.7% success rate. I believe that and everything they did was for the better. Just hit the “I Believe” button, suffer through it with their amazing support and you will not be disappointed. The relief of going back to flying and being able to execute is amazing. Have faith.

After contacts is the aero block (still contacts) and a night flight. These are amazing reminders that flying is serious, but should be fun while training. Enjoy them but make sure to apply the same work ethic that got you past your check ride and solo, don’t let off now. Not much stress here after the time bomb that is contacts

The fork in the road ahead (your VT may vary) is between Formations and Instruments. One will have to come before the other and your ops department will decide for you which comes next. Everyone only knows how it is to do one before the other and there is no consensus on which is better. I did forms before instruments and I’m inclined to think its better to stay in the VFR mindset until its over instead of flip flopping like some get to do. Things like VFR departures, course rules, local airspace procedures, PELs are all still part of the training. If you came straight from contacts/aero those are as easy as they will get and a bit rusty if you’re back from instruments. In either order the secret to forms (and anything really) is to bust ass at getting all the knowledge down to a T and showing up ready to learn. If you can know everything in the FTI and for the brief, the IP’s will bend over backward to get it done in the plane. There is a great tolerance for “non-natural” pilots, but exceedingly little for people who wont study. That’s not to say it will be easy, not much is from a studs point of view with another T-6 20 to 30 feet away, but there’s no need to fear an initial lack of stick skills. All in all, enjoy the unique opportunity, there aren’t many places outside military aviation where you get to experience the thrill of going 250 mph close enough to another plane to wave to your buddy (do not do this). Speaking of, make sure to spend an almost annoying amount of time studying with your partner, and then take a little time to relax and get to know each other. I had some trouble meshing on a personal level with my partner, and it was mostly my fault. Take it easy and just get it done, chances are slim this portion of training will give you any issues if you study together and laugh off any hiccups. Remember, you’re “fighting” the IP’s and to keep in good parade, never each other.
 

Dontcallmegump

Well-Known Member
pilot
Continued...

Say it with me; Its. Not. That. Bad.
Instruments: I liked it from the get go. If you haven’t figured it out by now, military classes aren’t to introduce you to the subject material, they’re designed to review it after you’ve gone over the texts and done the heavy lifting yourself. If you read the chapter, do the homework and come to class with questions you’re doing it the right way and more than likely are ahead of the curve. If you expect to have all there is to know delineated in the classroom with a brush up in the books later, you’ll come away confused and having missed half the info and all the nuance that was presented. That being said, with whatever time you have between the last block and instrument ground school, dig into something, anything. Effort in any direction to learn about IFR operations and any of the facets of it will pay off later. The two best sources of learning are the publications (FTI, FIH, workbook, charts and plates) and talking to those who are ahead of you. Ideally each of those methods applied together will yield the best results. Take time to learn what is “ideal” and good conceptually, then figure out how shit actually happens from trustworthy students ahead of you. Striking a balance between solid understanding of the source knowledge and the real world from gouge is the way to go. Neither alone will do it but combine them and you’ve got a good grasp of the situation. When you finish all the lectures you’ll move to sims. This is another case of building good conceptual foundations and learning to plan. In the sims everything will go to plan, if you’re using all the available resources you’ll never be surprised and can get good marks while never losing procedural practice reps over not being prepared. That’s all well and good, but it’s setting a false expectation for what’s to come next.

Ill venture this opinion based on my 30 or so hours of flying instruments, it’s all about situational awareness and adaptability. That’s to say the mindset should be “where am I? what’s going on? And what should I be doing to get where I want to go?” Having a solid SA picture and a plan for at the very least a few minutes or two tasks ahead is what you’re going to be fighting for. It's harder than it sounds, at least at first. In my experience, I learned how to plan in the sims, and I learned how to do without that luxury in the aircraft. Planning and being able to understand all the angles of IFR is great, but what’s better is learning how to be able to flex on the fly (literally), and still get it done with minimal hiccups. Do your best, but at the end of the flight, this is primary instrument training. There are divergent ideas on what that should mean but the fact remains you will not be checking for an instrument rating and many more hours of instrument training is ahead of you regardless of your platform. Do your best and enjoy it for what it is, become brilliant at the basics and covid willing, go some cool places and eat good food between the flights. Chat with the IP's as able to become more knowledgeable about whatever they have to offer. Most have a true passion for teaching and it's an amazing resource. The further you are from home field the cooler most of them will be, enjoy it.

Hot take: Nav is so easy (simple) compared to everything you just accomplished that if you prepare to the same degree that brings success up to this point, you’ll likely be bored on the last two flights of primary. All it takes is two more units of “give a shit” and you’ll complete. Wait until your gears off back in the paraloft to drop the pack.

I hate to begin closing with this, but the flow seems to favor it. Grades: All I can say is that there are three reactions I found to be useful to seeing a grade sheet from a flight or sim. First; I did well, that gives me a little boost of validation to keep doing the hard work I have been. Second; I got some valuable and honest feedback for what I did well and what I struggled with. Couple that with a debrief and a plan to amend those deficiencies and work to maintain proficiency on the positive aspects. Third, and most controversial; it didn’t seem to matter what I did wrong or right, I was graded MIF and the debrief was a lot of meaningless and trite business sounding jargon on things they somehow chose seemingly to just satisfy the IP’s desire for their own voice. Unfortunately, there are some instructors who don’t really care or can’t be bothered to consider individual items and give valuable feedback to develop students. These are in the vast minority but it happens. In the case of a “MIF monster” do yourself a favor and apply some self-critique to be better the next time and simply accept that the grades are what they are. A good mindset is to be focused on being proficient and safe, while improving every time and the grades will be what they may. focus on being safe, doing better every time and actually enjoying flying.

Selections. Just put down what you want to fly in that order. Game it at your own risk if it makes you feel better. It’s your effort to get to this point. Something that gets lost in the noise is that no matter what you get picked for, you still have one of the coolest and most rewarding jobs in the world. If it makes or breaks your attitude to have a certain community think long and hard what that means and why you may feel that way. Be prepared for anything and celebrate the accomplishment of making it this far. I’ve heard many times, and believe it myself that anyone who gives their community a fair chance will fall in love with it, embody that sentiment or its obvious to everyone around you that you’re unhappy or dissatisfied.

Then again, my #1 and #2 were neck and neck and I got #2.

Now that all the training talk is summed up to some extent, a few thoughts, observations and conjectures to let anyone who’s as contemplative as I am, have food for thought. Primary is not just learning how to fly. If that was the case the military could farm out training to plenty of flight schools who could do it for cheaper, without siphoning off fleet aviators to teach you the basics that any CFI could. Instead it seems to me that primary is your first real taste of military aviation and why/how that’s different from civilian endeavors. This training is teaching you about doing things by the fire hose method AND retaining what you learned in the process while requiring real time application and adaptation. It teaches you to evaluate things holistically while under stress and varying difficulty gradients. You’re actively learning how to become organized and speak publicly with expert knowledge in the brief and then translate that knowledge into understanding and then skills in the aircraft. Take the time to ask instructors questions not just about the flight or something you read in NATOPS, but questions you have about any aspect of the life you’re beginning in. Show interest in what they’re taking time to teach you beyond the sterile curriculum. You’ll be expected to interact professionally, as an officer, with a wide array of civilians and instructors who may be JO’s still in their (late) 20’s or senior officers in the twilight of a 30+ year career. You’ll learn the ropes of social interaction within the unit and at functions away from base. You’ll learn that part of the job is to have fun, blow off steam, and build comradery with a little disregard for rank at certain times. You’ll spend seemingly endless hours in the ready room waiting to be canceled on a hopeless day, but misery will have company and you’ll build friendships and laugh harder than you ever have before in the process of waiting for nothing. You can learn just as much, if not more, from people you want to be nothing like. Remember what you think is wrong and find a better way. You’re going to make memories and grow as a person in ways that you couldn’t have imagined before any of this. Don’t think this is JUST about flying, this is about learning how to be a military aviator and is now a part of your life. Contrary to what seems to be the mentality of some students, that life doesn’t start when you get wings, it starts when you realize its already begun.

These are just my personal observations and as with everything, YMMV.

Good luck.
 

taxi1

Well-Known Member
pilot
Nice write up!
For the love of god take the time to trim...
One of my favorite instructor things was to ask the SNA up front to “show me your hands” throughout the flight, whenever the plane should be in a trimmed state. Flying parade position in form was the one where the first time I asked, there’d often be a good 5-10 second delay while the student furiously trimmed before letting go of the stick 20 feet away from another airplane. The drill improved all of their flying.
 

Dontcallmegump

Well-Known Member
pilot
Nice write up!

“show me your hands”
That's pretty common these days, depending on the IP. I must have had it on nearly all my flights because be the time the end of instruments rolled around it was almost unconscious to trim away any pressure from the stick. Makes everything way easier if the trim is set well.
 

Pags

Positive Void Coefficient
pilot
Nice write up!

One of my favorite instructor things was to ask the SNA up front to “show me your hands” throughout the flight, whenever the plane should be in a trimmed state. Flying parade position in form was the one where the first time I asked, there’d often be a good 5-10 second delay while the student furiously trimmed before letting go of the stick 20 feet away from another airplane. The drill improved all of their flying.
And then, if you go HTs, you spend 6mo learning "NEVER TAKE YOUR HANDS OR FEET OFF OF THE CONTROLS!!!' and then don't know what to do when you get a helicopter that has AFCS.
 

SynixMan

Space Cadet
pilot
Contributor
And then, if you go HTs, you spend 6mo learning "NEVER TAKE YOUR HANDS OR FEET OFF OF THE CONTROLS!!!' and then don't know what to do when you get a helicopter that has AFCS.
My first underway, I rode the controls on a DH (now in the Nuke pipeline, great guy) on a daytime approach to a CG (also first time seeing a CG) and he tried to nickname me "SAS 3". 🤣

BT BT

I'll say the HOTAS nature of T-6 trimming, plus TAD, makes it a fuckload of a lot easier than the turbo-weenie. That thing required near constant trimming for anything.

Most of my on-wings were trimming pretty well by the end of FAMs. You'd see poor trim pop up again in Forms when all the brain cells were in use trying to not hit lead, but usually it'd tamp down after a flight or
 

taxi1

Well-Known Member
pilot
And then, if you go HTs, you spend 6mo learning "NEVER TAKE YOUR HANDS OR FEET OFF OF THE CONTROLS!!!' and then don't know what to do when you get a helicopter that has AFCS.
Heh...I saw this video on the youtubes yesterday, and I am like, what the hell is she doing? Transitioning from Hornets?


The other take-home is the IP in the right seat needs to either fly the plane himself or disconnect his comms cord. Other than telling her to actually fly the plane on takeoff. Then he can chill and let the LSO do his job.
 

Austin-Powers

Powers By Name, Powers By Reputation
I was more sick of the butchered spelling of it. But I love the Greyhound and its accoutrements. I would be pissed too if I had to transition to a more challenging airframe, and any naval aircraft is challenging (please correct me if I am wrong).
 
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