Talons Out: Companion Trainer Program keeps pilots in air

U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Granberry, the 394th Combat Training Squadron T-38 Talon assisted director of operations of the Companion Trainer Program (CTP), adjusts his gear prior to boarding a T-38 Talon aircraft at Whiteman Air Force Base, July 12, 2016. Unsecured gear during in-flight emergencies can lead to complications during egress procedures.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Granberry, the 394th Combat Training Squadron T-38 Talon assisted director of operations of the Companion Trainer Program (CTP), adjusts his gear prior to boarding a T-38 Talon aircraft at Whiteman Air Force Base, July 12, 2016. Unsecured gear during in-flight emergencies can lead to complications during egress procedures.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Granberry, the 394th Combat Training Squadron T-38 Talon assisted director of operations of the Companion Trainer Program, does a safety check of a T-38 Talon Aircraft at Whiteman Air Force Base, July 12, 2016. Pilots inspect several aircraft mechanics prior to takeoff to prevent in-flight emergencies.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Granberry, the 394th Combat Training Squadron T-38 Talon assisted director of operations of the Companion Trainer Program, does a safety check of a T-38 Talon Aircraft at Whiteman Air Force Base, July 12, 2016. Pilots inspect several aircraft mechanics prior to takeoff to prevent in-flight emergencies.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Granberry, the 394th Combat Training Squadron T-38 Talon assisted director of operations of the Companion Trainer Program (right) and Capt. William Jensen, a pilot assigned to the 394th Combat Training Squadron, prepare for takeoff in a T-38 Talon aircraft at Whiteman Air Force Base, July 12, 2016. Pilots must fly the required amount of sorties a month to maintain combat mission ready status.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Granberry, the 394th Combat Training Squadron T-38 Talon assisted director of operations of the Companion Trainer Program (right) and Capt. William Jensen, a pilot assigned to the 394th Combat Training Squadron, prepare for takeoff in a T-38 Talon aircraft at Whiteman Air Force Base, July 12, 2016. Pilots must fly the required amount of sorties a month to maintain combat mission ready status.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Granberry, the 394th Combat Training Squadron T-38 Talon assisted director of operations of the Companion Trainer Program (CTP), signs off pre-flight requirements before piloting a T-38 Talon Aircraft at Whiteman Air Force Base, July 12, 2016. Pilots undergo a flight briefing that includes a weather report and other aircraft in airspace before flying.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Granberry, the 394th Combat Training Squadron T-38 Talon assisted director of operations of the Companion Trainer Program (CTP), signs off pre-flight requirements before piloting a T-38 Talon Aircraft at Whiteman Air Force Base, July 12, 2016. Pilots undergo a flight briefing that includes a weather report and other aircraft in airspace before flying.

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- The T-38 Talon plays a vital role in the Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., mission; it provides the needed training for pilots to keep the B-2 Spirit in the air.

Pilots have monthly in-flight training requirements that must be met in order maintain their mission ready status. Every pilot stationed here depends on the T-38 aircraft to obtain and maintain their certification requirements.

The Talon first flew in 1959. More than 1,100 were delivered to the Air Force between 1961 and 1972 when production ended. As the T-38 fleet aged, specific airframe, engine and system components have been modified or replaced.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Granberry, the 394th Combat Training Squadron T-38 assisted director of operations (ADO) of the Companion Trainer Program (CTP), was assigned to Whiteman for the direct purpose of being the ADO and running the T-38A CTP, allowing pilots to train with the T-38 here.

“In order to maintain Combat Mission Ready (CMR) status in the B-2, the pilots are required by the Readiness Aircrew Program tasking message to fly three T-38A sorties per month,” said Granberry. “This requirement is in place to ensure that B-2 pilots maintain their basic pilot skills, accomplish off-station training and perform training too costly to perform in the B-2.”

The T-38 CTP program augments the limited amount of B-2 sorties, allowing aircrews the training needed to be proficient in basic piloting skills.

“For any given month, the number of hours flown by a B-2 pilot is on average 3.3,” said Granberry. “Some B-2 pilots fly more T-38A sorties than is required because their B-2 obligations allow them to while others are tasked with real-world B-2 taskings and make up any missed T-38 sorties in the next month.”

The decision to use the T-38 as a companion trainer for the bomber was made when the B-2 was designated to come to Whiteman. In the 80’s and early 90’s many bomber and tanker units used T-37s and T-38s in a program called Accelerated Co-pilot Enrichment.

Though the T-38 has different technology than the aircraft the pilots fly once certified, it is an adequate training aircraft to fighters and bombers across the Air Force.

“The T-38 develops the type of thinking and flying skills needed in order to be an effective B-2 pilot,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Michaud, the commander of the 394th Combat Training Squadron. “Sorties in the T-38 range from aerobatic maneuvering, cross country instrument flying, to low-level navigation and formation.”

The idea of adding a trainer companion aircraft is to challenge pilots to keep their physical and mental piloting skills sharp by flying something other than their primary aircraft. All of these sorties present different challenges to the pilots.

“I love the challenge of flying,” said 1st Lt. Andrew McQuay, a pilot assigned to the 394th Combat Training Squadron. “Flying an aircraft puts substantial physical and mental demands on a pilot, but there is nothing like experiencing the three-dimensional freedom and beauty of flying up in the air.”

With the help of the T-38, this feeling of freedom and the mission will continue.