• Frank Visser

2019 Randolph revolution

Updated: Feb 23


Dating back to the twenties last century Randolph Air Force Base has always been a pilot training facility. Nowadays the 12th Flying Training Wing (FTW) is based at this Texas air base. Frank Visser visited the 12th FTW and spoke with its current commander Colonel Mark. S. Robinson.


History The history of the base dates back to the twenties. In 1926 the U.S. Congress agreed plans building a new pilot training facility just East of San Antonio, Texas. A year latter construction of this Army Air Corps location started, which led to the opening in 1930. The field received the name Randolph Field, dedicating Captain William M. Randolph, who was part of the committee to select a name for the new field. He was a native Texan and was killed in a plane crash in 1928. In 1931 pilot training started and by 1935 already 2,000 candidates started their pilot training on different types of aircraft. During World War II basic flying training continued until 1943. In two years more than 15,000 instructor graduates completed this course, before CIS moved to Waco Field in 1945. The Air Force established the Crew Training Air Force (CTAF) in 1952 and based its headquarters at Randolph AFB. The 3510th and 3511th Combat Crew Training Wings (CCTW) were part of the CTAF and were tasked to train crews on the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and KC-97 Stratofreighter, Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar and Martin B-57 Canberra for five years before it was discontinued. By 1957 headquarters of the Flying Training Air Force and Air Training Command (ATC) were relocated to Randolph AFB and by the coming year the ATC became responsible for all Air Force training and this meant the end of the Flying Training Air Force. During the same year 3510th CCTW was renamed to 3510th FTW, with its primary mission to train jet pilots for the United States Air Force. For this role the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star was the primary jet trainer. Pilot Instructor Training (PIT) was edited to 3510th FTW in 1961 making Randolph AFB the primary PIT base for the U.S. Air Force. In 1962 the first student pilots graduated on the new Northrop T-38 Talon and in 1967 training on the Cessna T-37 started at Randolph AFB. In order to preserve the histories and lineage of combat units, the U.S. Air Force ordered the ATC to replace all its four-digit flying units to two-digit ones and so 3510th FTW was renamed to 12th FTW in 1972. In 2009 479th FTG with two squadrons (451st FTS and 455th FTS)were added to the 12th FTW. Because the UNT and IUNT task became part of 479th FTG the squadrons at Randolph AFB were inactivated. With the Boeing T-43A being retired in 2010, Joint Under-graduate Navigator training and Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) training and Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) training was solely conducted on the 479th FTG T-1As. Not much latter the navigator, EWO and WSO training merged and was called Combat Systems Officer (CSO). Upon this day the 479th FTG is based at NAS Pensacola, Florida, operating the Raytheon T-1A Jayhawk (451st FTS) and T-6A Texan II (455th FTS) wearing the tail code AP.Besides 479th FTG a second geographically separated unit (GSU), the 306th FTG was added to the 12th FTW in 2012. This GSU is based in Colorado and is part of the USAF Academy. Its task is the initial flight screening for commissioned aviation candidates and trains selected cadets for pilot and CSO training. The 12th FTW, with its two CSU are part of 19th Air Force Air Education Training Command (AETC).


Two CSUs Since its reactivation in 1972 the 12th FTW has been based at Randolph AFB for nearly half a century.

Col. Mark S. Robinson

Its current Commander Col. Mark S. Robinson explains: "The wing is fast and has three distinguished flying units at five different locations." Training cadet starts at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. After cadets passed the Introductory Flight Screeningthey can go through different airmanship programs. 1st FTS is an entirely contract operated unit under supervision of the U.S. Air Force. Based at Pueblo Memorial Airport cadets follow an introductorycourse and are trained to become Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) pilots and CSOs. For this purpose the 1st FTS flies the Diamond Da20C Eclipse, a small VFR aircraft. The 94th is based at Colorado Springs and conducts glider training for cadets. This squadron uses three German build type of gliders being the Schempp-Hirth TG-15A Duo Discus and TG-15B Discus-2 and the DG Flugzeugbau TG-16A. The second FTS also based at Colorado Springs is 557th FTS. Here Academy cadets conduct flight training on three types, the Cessna T-41A and T-51A and the Cirrus T-53A. The Academy is not all about airplanes. At the 98th FTS based at Peterson AFB individuals are trained to jump out of aircraft. The aircraft used for this training is the UV-18B Twin Otter, of which the U.S. Air Force has three in its inventory. All four FTSs are part of the 306 FTG and one of two GSUs within the 12th FTW. "At the U.S. Academy we train in fundamentals of airmanship and this is the source of American Airpower." Col. Mark S. Robinson.


The second CSU within the 12th FTW is the 479th FTG based at NAS Pensacola in Florida. This FTG contains two FTSs, which are solely used to train future CSOs. All future U.S. Air Force CSOs are trained within the 479th FTG to perform duties such as Weapons Systems Officers, Electronic Warfare Officers or Panel Navigators. The undergraduate CSO training starts with academic training, which is followed by a primary phase at 455th FTS, were the candidates fly the Raytheon T-6A Texan II.This phase covers aspects such as instruments and navigation flying and basic airmanship. After completing the course at 455th FTS the candidates move on to 451th FTS to start the Advanced Phase. While flying on the Raytheon T-1A Jayhawk candidates are trained in advanced navigation, mission management, electronic warfare etc.Simulator training is also part of the training program and conducted within both FTSs. After completing the CSO course at NAS Pensacola, which takes about 11 months, the CSO moves on to its selected aircraft type for further training and so in becoming an operational CSO.

559th FTS conducting T-6A Texan II catwalk (c) photo 12 FTW

Randolph AFB

The headquarters of 12th FTW is at Randolph AFB. At this base a variety of training programs are executed. For the PIT graduate pilots can train on three types of aircraft, being the Raytheon T-1A and T-6A and the Northrop T-38C. In four different FTSs (99thFTST-1A,559th FTS T-6A and 435th and 560th FTS T-38C)graduate pilots are trained in become an instructor pilots before they can move on to other AETC bases to train students. No students are trained at Randolph AFB. This is done at the other AETC bases such as Vance AFB, Sheppard AFB, Columbus AFB and Laughlin AFB. The PIT programs lasts about 4 months and contains Academics Training on a jet is done in the already 60 years old Northrop T-38.



New developments "At the 12th FTW we were starting using some of this VR technology during the spring of 2018. It was put in most of the 12th FTW training programs as additive for some amount of time to experiment to see how the 12th FTW can learn from it." Col. Mark S. Robinson explains.He continues: "We have been training pilots the same way for a long time and just recently are thinking about how to improve are training by using these new technologies. What we at the 12th FTW are concerned about is how you instruct in VR? Our role is to learn that. This might affect the amount of flying hours in the future, but for now this is hard to say in terms of flying hours. We might gain some efficiency with VR.

What we don't know is what events might be more suitable for training on the ground and in the air. We will be always be looking in ways to effect our training programs." Another development is the upcoming retirement of the beloved Northrop T-38C Talon by Boeings T-X, which was selected by the U.S. Air Force as the winner of the Advanced Pilot Training System Program. Col. Mark S. Robinson:"The T-X will be a game changer. At least at Randolph AFB there has not been a final determination when the 12th FTW will receive its first T-X. We have to do a series of environmental impacts assessments prior to the secretary of U.S. Air Force to say Randolph AFB is getting the T-X." As the 12th FTW trains the instructors for the pilot training bases it's not a stress to say that the T-X will come to Randolph AFB. A term of 5 years is logical, but it's likely that 12th FTW will see the T-X much sooner, so it can train pilots, maintainers etc. The replacement of the Northrop T-38C doesn't mean it will soon leaving Randolph AFB. The 12th FTW will still be flying the Northrop T-38C for the next decade to come.


12th FTW(Flying Training Wing) (19th Air Force, Air Education and Training Command)


12th OG (Operations Group) Texas

· 99th FTS T-1A Randolph AFB

· 435th FTS T-38C Randolph AFB

· 558th FTS no aircraft Randolph AFB

· 559th FTS T-6A Randolph AFB

· 560th FTS T-38C Randolph AFB


306th FTG (Flying Training Group) Colorado

· 1st FTS Da20C Pueblo Memorial Airport

· 94th FTS TG-15A,B/TG-16A Colorado Springs

· 98th FTS UV-18B Peterson AFB

· 557th FTS T-41A/T-51A/T-53A Colorado Springs


479th FTG (Flying Training Group) Florida

· 451st FTS T-1A NAS Pensacola

· 455th FTS T-6A NAS Pensacola

The complete article was published in the September 2019 issue of Combat Aircraft magazine.

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