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How to 'CRAFT' a more effective, resilient pilot

  • Published
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Vance Air Force Base continues to lead the way in 19th Air Force’s pilot training transformation initiatives, the latest being the Comprehensive Readiness for Aircrew Flying Training program.

CRAFT looks at training in a different way, tackling physical, mental and nutrition education by treating student pilots like professional athletes.

Curriculum development and testing began at Vance in October 2020, with the ribbon cutting for the dedicated facility occurring in late January 2022.

In that time, utilization and testing has proven effective in accelerating the training and overall health and well-being of aircrew who utilize the service. So much so that other bases and commands have begun their own programs based upon the Vance model.

“CRAFT’s core curriculum is based around improving strength and conditioning, cognitive performance and performance nutrition,” said Col. Joel Pauls, the 71st Operations Group commander. “The coaches in each of these areas give our students the building blocks to optimize their study habits and problem-solving abilities.”

Coaches interact with aircrew based upon their specific training specialties and have seen great gains over the last nine months.

For example, cognitive performance specialists demonstrate and train students on tools to help with task saturation and problem-solving skills, resulting in improved situational awareness. The “Mind Gym” tool enhanced the effectiveness of students prior to reaching their initial solo flight. Students who utilized the CRAFT tools tested out of requirements more quickly and fluidly than peers who utilized traditional methods.

“One 30-minute session with the cognitive performance specialists helped me break through some stagnation I was experiencing,” said 2nd Lt. Jason Roe, a student pilot with the 71st Student Squadron. “I was able to really focus on what I needed to study in order to continue to progress in Undergraduate Pilot Training.” 

Developing a more resilient body is the job of the strength and conditioning specialists. They work with student pilots to help build musculature that helps improve g-force tolerance and prevent neck and back injuries. Students who failed the centrifuge on their first iteration but passed on the retake credit CRAFT for their success.

“Using strength and conditioning training at CRAFT has helped me prepare, both mentally and physically, for my flights and for the fast-paced lifestyle at UPT,” said 2nd Lt. Stephanie Hand, another student pilot with the 71st STUS.

Ensuring busy aircrew understand nutrition and how it affects their performance is another segment of CRAFT. Specialists help student pilots understand how what they eat and drink not only fuel their bodies but their brains as well.

“CRAFT helped me better utilize nutrition to help fuel me better as a pilot, especially as I go through pilot training,” said 2nd Lt. Shannon Hoffman.

“The gains we’ve seen with CRAFT have been impressive and highlight one of the best changes of Undergraduate Pilot Training 2.5,” said Col. Jay Johnson, the 71st Flying Training Wing commander. “This proactive and innovated approach is long overdue. I wish the Air Force had this level of innovation when I went through training.

“At the end of the day, we’re looking for ways to train the next generation of pilots in a way that makes them effective and resilient,” said Johnson.