The hauntingly reverent final verses of the Marine Corps Hymn rang through the otherwise silent Little Hall Auditorium as 239 officers became graduates of The Basic School (TBS). Six months of dedication, physical exhaustion, and mental stamina tested the men and women who earned that walk across the stage. Pride swelled in my chest as my honors graduate graced the platform, essentially walking his way to the very thing he’s worked years for: flight school.
I let out a sigh of relief as we walked out of the building knowing that TBS was over. It had been such a tiring, physically and mentally exhausting six-month process for him and now he could finally take a breather and start doing what he had been working toward doing for five years.
Little did I know, the hard work and crazy schedules were about to take a whole new turn. And, it was going to last longer than six months.
Walk Before You Run
Whether your pilot-to-be has just finished at the Naval Academy, or completed TBS or Naval OCS (among other routes), there is only one place they will all be funneled into: NAS Pensacola, in the panhandle of Florida.
The first stop is Introductory Flight Screening (IFS), which serves as the initial “weeding out” to determine who is ready to take on flying. However, if a student already has their civilian pilot’s license, they will skip this step and go directly to Aviation Pre-Indoctrination (API), also known as: Don’t-See-Anyone-For-Six-Weeks.
Your spouse will be holed up in their study room for hours on end because the amount of information and testing they will endure throughout the six weeks of API is nearly equivalent to an entire semester of college.
Students are tested on aerodynamics, engines, and weather systems, as well as physical testing that ensures the student can cope and survive if an aircraft goes into the water. This is a fast-paced stage and reveals who of the new students have the stamina to push through. The reward is admittance into primary flight training.
Remove (Expectations) Before Flight School
Now that your spouse has survived API, they get to take off into the sunset in a high-powered turboprop known as the T-6 B Texas II. These orange and white painted Navy trainers litter the skies over the Florida Panhandle on any given day, so get used to some noisy streaks across the sky.
Another thing to get used to during flight school is zero spare time. There will always be something your student pilot could be doing: route planning, chair flying for an upcoming event, rehearsing a brief, or of course, the all-consuming studying. With dozens of flight and simulator events, written exams and maintaining physical regimens to stay within military regulations, the student will have to be diligent and intentional with family time. However, do not be discouraged. There have been hundreds of winged pilots who walked the same squadron hallways of flight school who had newborns, pregnant wives, and large families.
Help Where You Can
You might be called upon to help your student pilot study. You won’t know a single acronym and will have a hard time with even knowing how to phrase a question, but trust me, this actually helps them. By explaining even the questions, they are relearning the material themselves. As well as teaching you how to…well, teach them.
Also, try to refrain from getting upset when weekend plans you made way in advance suddenly get derailed. I’m afraid our spouses have two spouses themselves (us and the military), and the military often wins. Be understanding. Be gracious. But of course, we aren’t saints — allow yourself to be upset, but do so while going for a run or taking it out on the bag in your kickboxing class. Let your spouse worry about whatever new event or duty suddenly ruined their work-free weekend plans.
Get Their Perspective
Take every opportunity to see as much of their world as the government will let you. Get out on the flight line. Walk around the squadron building. Nod and smile as your spouse shows you all the routes they take on the giant maps in the ready room. (Unless you’re not directionally challenged like me and don’t have to actually pretend you understand.) Get in a training simulator. Attend FAM 0 and hear from your spouse’s superiors about what all is to come. Acclimate yourself to the new lifestyle as much as you can. And if your spouse doesn’t volunteer any of these things, ask for them!
These student pilots have worked so hard to get where they are, and now that they’re here, they want to show off what they do every day. They will be the first to tell you it isn’t always glamorous, but they love it still. And they love you. When both of these loves collide…well, just wait. The pride in their face as they show you around their world will describe what I mean more than I can explain it to you here.
This is such an exciting day, and yet incredibly stressful. Often, the students use the phrase, “Oh I’ll love whatever I get,” but, as a spouse, you know exactly which platform they have been dreaming about the most. You fear the disappointment your student pilot will feel if they don’t receive it.
Friends, I have honestly yet to meet (or hear of) any aviator who hated the platform they received. In my pilot’s case, his platform was number two on the wishlist, and I can honestly say that I was more disappointed in the assignment than he was. He left the squadron building that day with a skip in his step, knowing he would get to be a helicopter pilot, and I sat there stewing in the car, mentally laying into his superiors for not letting him fly jets.
Flash forward two years and my husband has said too many times to count, “Man, helicopters are so much cooler than jets.”
All I can say is be patient during this flight school ride, love on your student pilot and soon enough, you’ll be beaming with pride as you watch them get their wings of gold.
Are you heading to flight school? Learn to Live Like a Local in Pensacola.
Photo Credits: Renee Dolan | Eastern Sky Photography NC