Now in its second week of training this month in Columbus, Indiana, Civil Air Patrol’s U.S. Air Force Rated Preparatory Program (AF-RPP) gives CAP instructor pilots the unique opportunity to help train active-duty officers and enlisted members aspiring to fly.
“This is a great opportunity for the Air Force to generate more pilots in a time of need,” said Ron Olienyk, CAP’s deputy director of operations. “It also gives our volunteers a chance to give back. Many of our instructor pilots are retired military flyers, so they feel like this is kind of paying back for the opportunity they had.”
This is the fourth year of the program, which provides essential preparatory flight training for officers and enlisted members to achieve their goal of earning their Air Force wings.
To date, nearly 300 airmen have participated in AF-RPP — launched in 2019 as an experimental initiative to identify future pilots, navigators, and other crewmembers to help address the Air Force’s potential pilot shortage.
“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to several airmen who have participated in the Rated Preparatory Program,” said Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, commander, First Air Force. “They have been very candid that the experience gained flying and interacting with CAP instructors has better prepared them for becoming an Air Force pilot than any previous opportunity offered.
“Additionally, they have found that they improved their fine motor skills, and the hands-on situational awareness is a distinct advantage to becoming comfortable in a cockpit. We are grateful CAP is helping our members ‘aim high’ and strive to achieve their dreams,” Pierce said.
This year, CAP — an Air Force Total Force partner — completed two weekly training sessions in Denton, Texas, in March, with 60 Air Force students participating. That effort is being duplicated this month in southern Indiana with the same number of participants.
The intent for each week of training is to provide active-duty Air Force officers and enlisted members with a minimum of 10 flying hours — combined real-time flight and simulator time — at Columbus Municipal Airport and enough practical knowledge to increase their Pilot Candidate Selection Model scores and leave them be more likely to be selected for a rated slot by the Undergraduate Flight Training board.
“In one week, they’re immersed in aviation,” Olienyk said, adding that those who complete the program are provided a waiver to retake the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test and the Test of Basic Aviation Skills. Their flight and simulator time, combined with their new test scores, are then used in calculating their new Pilot Candidate Selection Model scores — making selection for Undergraduate Flight Training more likely.
This partnership between the Air Force and Civil Air Patrol has been an overwhelming success and is now a permanent fixture used to bolster the service’s pilot base. In all, Olienyk said, “73% of those airmen who have been through the program and submitted UFT applications have been selected for additional Air Force training.”
That’s good news for Air Force 2nd Lts. Kaitlynn Griffie and Joel Sanchez Rosado — two of the 30 officers and enlisted members participating in last week’s first session of AF-RPP training. Along with their CAP instructor pilot, Capt. Andrew Jender of the Idaho Wing’s Mountain Home Flight, Griffie and Sanchez Rosado teamed up last week for 5½ days of training — over 40 hours of aviation contact, discussion, and ground training.
Three days into last week’s session, both students were already seeing the program’s benefits .
Griffie, stationed at the 325th Force Support Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, said, “I think it’s great. It’s been really helpful, I tried to get flying hours before this, and it’s a bit too expensive out of pocket. This is an awesome opportunity for us to have instructors here, to use the simulators, and get some air time for free.”
Sanchez Rosado is assigned to the 818 Mobility Support Advisory Squadron at Joint Air Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, serving in an air adviser role. “It’s an awesome program — very well done,” he said.
Jender, also an active-duty officer in the Air Force who volunteers with CAP, agreed, saying he has “really enjoyed” his first instructor experience with AF-RPP. He said the program is organized for the optimal benefit of students like Griffie and Sanchez Rosado. Much of what they need to be successful is provided upfront, he said, so they can just enjoy the ride.
Sanchez Rosado was embracing the moment halfway through his week of training. Asked what he liked most about the program, he said, “Honestly, the air time or any moments that are around the aircraft. I think it’s a great experience to do the whole checklist around the aircraft, touching everything inside and getting ready for flight, working the engine, and turning it on.
“Getting that flight time, being in the clouds, everything in the aircraft itself. That’s my favorite part,” he said.
Sanchez Rosado applied for flight school as an Air Force ROTC student, but his score wasn’t competitive enough. “I never lost interest in flying,” he said. “Therefore, I applied for this program awhile after commissioning. I’m very grateful to be here getting all this experience.”
The program was also meaningful to Griffie. “I think it’s more or less solidified that this is the career path that I want to pursue long-term,” she said.
Jender, a maintenance officer at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, working on the F-15 Strike Eagle, has been a Civil Air Patrol volunteer for about a year and a half and now serves as the operations officer and an instructor pilot for the Mountain Home Flight.
After experiencing AF-RPP for the first time, he said using CAP instructors is a wise choice.
“I like that it’s all volunteer-based,” Jender said. “I think that actually ups the value of a lot of the [program’s] services and instruction you can get. … Because it is volunteer-based, I’d say 95%, almost everybody I know that instructs is doing it because they want to do it. — they don’t need the flight hours, they’re not looking for money, they just want to teach.”
That passion translates to the students, he said, which adds to the quality of their experiences and sets them up for success in the Air Force.