You or your spouse have just been selected for Army flight school. Congratulations and how exciting! You’ve chosen to join a great group of people, the Aviation family has been nothing but warm and welcoming to us. I can understand however, that the transition can be confusing and scary at first. This is a whole different part of the Army, and when we started this journey, we hardly had any help. Being thrown into the deep end can be a frustrating, but also a rewarding learning experience. From my own experiences I know and I want to save you some of the trouble.
Flight school is broken down into a series of courses that span over 18 to 24 months. It takes place at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in the southeast corner of the state. The base is surrounded by three small towns: Enterprise, Ozark, and Daleville, Enterprise is the largest of the three. Just 30 to 45 minutes to the east is Dothan, a larger city with the most shopping. Fort Rucker itself is a smaller post, but has the usual amenities: PX, commissary, clinic, post office, bowling alley, CDC, and so forth. Here is a brief timeline of what to expect during flight school.
WOCS: Warrant Officer Candidate School. If you are previously enlisted or just out of basic, this is the first course you have to attend. It lasts approximately six weeks. During this time, you will have to stay in the barracks, much like basic training. However, your family can move to Fort Rucker before you leave for WOCS.
BOLC: After WOCS is Basic Officer Leader’s Course, where you will learn more about being an officer in the military. If you are switching from commissioned to warrant (as my husband did), you will only have to attend about two weeks of this course before getting a bypass. This class lasts eight weeks.
Dunker: This short course of only a few days teaches you how to properly exit a helicopter that has gone down in water.
SERE: This secretive course lasts three weeks, where you will have no contact with the outside world, and will learn survival, evasion and escape skills, in case you go down behind enemy lines. It is a rough course, but very rewarding.
Primary/Common Core: Now it’s time to finally fly a helicopter! This course lasts 22 weeks and involves four separate phases. The first is pre-flight, where you’re working mainly in a classroom. Then, contact, when you first get to fly the training helicopter. The next is instruments, a course that teaches you how to fly without actually seeing outside the helicopter and having to rely solely on your instruments. Finally, basic warfighter skills, a course that teaches you the basics of flying in the Army. During common core there is a family day, typically before you enter instruments phase,
Selection: Selection day has arrived! On this exciting day you choose your airframe based on class rank, and also put in your duty station requests. Unless you’re National Guard, then you already know what you will be flying.
Advanced: Now that you’ve selected your airframe (Blackhawk, Chinook, Kiowa, Apache) you are off to Advanced, where you learn to fly your specific helicopter and its mission. This course ranges from 15 to 22 weeks, depending on which airframe you choose. If you’re lucky enough to select fixed wing, add on another three months on top of your helicopter.
Graduation is a couple weeks after Advanced is complete. Typically you will leave for your next duty station (or back home, if you’re National Guard) after graduation, unless you have a short follow-on course. However, consider Advanced to be the end of your flight school journey. Congrats! You’re a pilot! And welcome to the Aviation family.