The show goes on

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Quion Lowe
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs

While our nation is trying to slow down the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate its impacts by limiting all unnecessary interaction, the Air Force must continue to train and stay operationally ready.

In an Air Force that takes pride in producing innovative and resilient Airmen, these trying times are proving they are capable of pushing through to continue the mission.

“We’ve got to find a way to work, train and fight through this,” said Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, 19th Air Force commander, while discussing why it is important for the Air Force to find ways to continue operations during this pandemic. “That’s what our nation demands. It’s about protecting our country and protecting our way of life.”

A great example of the innovation needed to continue the service’s flying training mission lies within the 16th Training Squadron. They have moved the majority of their MQ-9 Reaper aircrew training to online, while also adjusting all other aspects of training to eliminate large gatherings of people.

“There has been some significant changes in the way training is accomplished right now due to social distancing,” said Capt. Abrham, 16th TRS MQ-9 instructor pilot. “Student and instructor crews have been paired in small teams to minimize how many people are exposed to one another and we started remote academics the week of March 23rd.”

Remote academics allows students to receive a majority of their instruction online, from their homes. This was already a work in progress, but had to be accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Getting group level Microsoft 365 accounts has been in the works for almost a year,” said Abrham. “It provides students a way to be taught with a live instructor during a live session online. In order to have this ready so soon, the instructors put in long hours all week, with some working 16 hour days to get equipment set up, software configured, academics uploaded and instructors trained. We were able to use these tools to put in place an effective training plan that has enabled the remote academics.”

While being able to significantly limit face-to-face interaction is a benefit of the current structure of the classes, there are still some challenges.

“The normal cross talk between instructors and students is hampered by social distancing,” said Abrham. “We are finding new ways to keep continuation training going for the instructors particularly, and many of the ideas that are working were right from the instructors.”

Since the 16th TRS has had to reduce the amount of flying hours for the students, Airmen have found ways to improve in other areas.

“I think it is making me better-rounded,” said 2nd Lt. Brett, 16th TRS MQ-9 student. “Before, we were flying a lot more and I had less time to study. Now with all the time I have I can prepare a lot more for my next flight or look back on my last flight and really find different reasons I did certain things and how I can fix it.”