RPP: Boom operator jumps into the cockpit

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kari Degraffenreed
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

When U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Alex Gavon, 343rd Training Squadron flight chief, stepped off the Cessna 182T Skylane he had just flown through the skies of Denton, Texas, an all-new experience for him despite being no stranger to the air.

Before becoming a Security Forces military training leader at the 343rd Training Squadron in San Antonio, Texas, where he helps to train and develop Security Forces Airmen, Gavon spent more than six years as a boom operator on the KC-135 Stratotanker, an Air Force aerial refueler. His experiences while traveling the world on a tanker and interacting with pilots were what motivated him to apply for the Rated Preparatory Program, a week-long course hosted by the Civil Air Patrol and the Air Education and Training Command.

RPP's main objective is to teach Airmen the fundamentals of aviation and give them practical flight experience. This will help applicants get higher scores on the AFOQT, TBAS, and Pilot Candidate Selection Method (PCSM) and make them more competitive for selection to the Undergraduate Pilot Flying Training Board. For a minimum of two and a half hours of simulator instruction along with related ground instruction, and roughly seven and a half hours of flight time, each RPP cohort consists of two one-week sessions.

Though Gavon had knowledge of flying before coming to RPP, getting behind the stick of a Cessna has given him a new level of confidence he intends to bring when supporting his crew.

“It’s definitely helped me as a boom operator,” Gavon said. “When I go back, I’ll be able to better understand our pilots and their mission. After this program I can watch their altitude, their descent rate, and it’s going to help me grow as an aspiring pilot.”

Brett Kollar, CAP pilot instructor, has been supporting prospective pilots and RPP students since 2019. Kollar has participated in five iterations of RPP, and watching students like Gavon become more comfortable in the cockpit is still his favorite part of the whole process.

“They come in here with absolutely nothing,” Kollar explained. “The first day is a little rough, but by the end of the week they're literally flying the plane by themselves, navigating and doing all kinds of maneuvers they had no idea how to do the first day.”

Air Education and Training Command provides immersive training technologies to support a learning ecosystem for Airmen to complete training and education requirements anywhere, anytime.

After spending hours on a flight simulator, Kollar told Gavon he had shown quite a bit of
improvement since his initial flight.

“The simulator is a great opportunity, and [at] an extremely low cost, to get the flying experience,” Kollar said. “I can spend an hour on the simulator working on a maneuver and if there's a question, I can stop the simulator to discuss it.”

In just one week, RPP packs in as much learning as possible to ensure their students leave with no less than 10 hours of logged flying time between the simulators and the planes.
“Once you settle in and you start to apply yourself, it's amazing.” Gavon said. “You're actually on a plane, even though you’re starting from zero hours of flight time. You get so much knowledge, especially from the instructors. I’d tell people to try out the program.”

While completing RPP does not guarantee Airmen a rated position or selection from a commissioning board, students that complete the program and seek to become part of the Air Force’s rated officer corps will gain aviation experience and be more competitive. According to RPP planners, since inception of the program, participants in RPP have on average increased their AFOQT Pilot composite score by 22 and their PCSM score by 34.

For those interested in the RPP or for more information, email AETC.RDI.Workflow@us.af.mil with “Attn: Rated Prep Program” as the subject line.