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  • Writer's pictureLTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.

Air Force Academy Airmanship Programs

Fun, motivating, educational and a great launch to your AF career!

The Air Force Academy is truly "Blue U." -- a nickname fitting for the reality of being an AF cadet. Being at USAFA means eating, breathing and being an airman. Even as a 'color-blind' cadet back in the day, I was able to fly gliders, parachute jump and learn navigation skills in the air flying across country with some of my classmates. This comfort level with flying and being airborne allowed me to become a flight test engineer in my first assignment. So let's explore the Air Force Academy Airmanship programs.

The programs at USAFA provide instruction in concepts of flight, navigation and operations along with real-life application of these principles through the soaring and parachuting courses offered at the Academy. All AF cadets have opportunities to experience a challenge at a different altitude through the different airmanship programs. Training is provided by the 306th Flying Training Group, which provides oversight and management of these programs, involving 2,500 cadets each year. Programs run year around including summer training too.

The Air Force Academy flying course for the T-53

Immersive Ground and Air Training

Airmanship programs at the AF Academy provide cadets an opportunity to experience aviation through immersive experiences, both on the ground using virtual reality simulators and in the air with live flight experiences. This four-year continuum of learning starts with fourth-class (freshman) cadets in Aviation 100, a 10-lesson class designed to teach the fundamentals of aviation and powered flight. The USAF Air Education Training Command supports both Aviation 300 and Airmanship 302, combining 30 lessons of flight training and allowing cadets to 'solo' in the T-53.  Cadets who are interested in attending pilot training may take Aviation 400, a 20-lesson course conducted in a virtual T-6 Texan II simulator designed to advance skills, such as formation flying and low-level navigation.


The majority of cadets are first exposed to airmanship during their Introduction to Soaring course during their freshman, or Doolie, year, which includes four glider flights. Third-class (sophomore) cadets can enroll in Basic Soaring for the opportunity to 'solo' in a glider. Graduates of this course are then eligible to apply to become Cadet Soaring Instructor Pilots or "IPs." Those selected complete a year-long upgrade program during third-class year where they earn their "G-Wings." Cadet IPs conduct essentially all glider flight instruction at the Academy.

Powered Flight

Cadets may have the opportunity to participate in powered flight during their second-class year or during the summer before their first-class year. Cadets interested in precision flight with a FAA Private Pilot Certificate may apply to become part of the Academy’s Flying Team. The team consists of 28 cadets who compete in multiple National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) competitions throughout the year. The team flies in both T-51 or T-41 aircraft. Typically, cadets try out for the team and are selected during their fourth-class year, but may be added to the team in later years as openings occur. Selected cadets receive training in precision landings, cross-country navigation, instrument flying and more. The desire is to use the dynamic training and competition to prepare team members for the rigors of active-duty military aviation.

Air Force Academy parachuting training


The 98th Flight Training Squadron conducts parachute training for 700 Academy cadets annually. Cadet training focuses on safety and emergency procedures. Three programs are supported by the 98th: Airmanship 490 Basic Freefall Parachuting, Airmanship 491 Wings of Green and Airmanship 492 Wings of BlueThe Wings of Green (WoG) program is a one-year course training Air Force Academy cadets to become official members of the Wings of Blue. WoG tryouts are in August each year to select 25 cadets for the program.

The Wings of Blue has been a long standing tradition at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The group runs the Basic Freefall Parachuting course, AM-490. The team serves primarily as jumpmasters and instructors for this training. The Wings of Blue consists of a demonstration team and a competition team. The demonstration team travels across the country to airshows, sporting events, and other venues to represent the Air Force in precision parachuting. Similarly, the competition team represents the Air Force by competing with teams from around the country.

The Airmanship programs at the U.S. Air Force Academy make it one of the most unique colleges in the nation. All cadets have opportunities to participate and are encouraged to do so. It's fun to fly and jump, and it becomes an invaluable set of experiences for your AF career. I hope you have an opportunity to find out!

[I would welcome a chance to discuss details with you. I offer coaching services to pace and prepare you (and your parents!) for the entire Academy application process . . . along with advising you on your aviation path at USAFA! Contact me at chris@cbbrechin.com, 503.515.7406 or complete my contact form on the home page.]

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