U.S. Air Force Academy cadets participate in a structured summer session. Retired fighter pilot Jay Waitte (Class of 1972) remembers his Sophomore summer.
Each summer at the Air Force Academy is a unique experience that prepares you for the challenges you’ll face during your career as an officer.
Summer session is 9 weeks long, divided into three segments. You would take one segment off, i.e., you were on leave, unless you chose to do something optional, such as glider lessons or a special research project. Sometimes cadets were required to do an academic study to catch up (I never had to do that one).
The other two segments were devoted to military orientation and training.
The summer before I started my freshman year (aka my freshman summer), I was busy graduating from high school and saying goodbye to civilian life, so all the other first-year cadets and I missed the first segment. We spent a combined second and third segment taking mandatory Basic Cadet Training (BCT).
During my sophomore summer, I spent one segment in the mandatory Survival Escape Resistance and Evasion (SERE) training program that I mentioned in an earlier article.
During the second segment of that summer, the Air Force took us to tour the headquarters of several different commands, such as Mobility Command, Fighter Command, Tanker Command, and Space Command. We visited the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, for the Air Education and Training Command.
They broke us up into three groups that rotated between the different bases and flew us around in C-141 Starlifter transports. We’d stay at each place for three or four days.
The Air Force wanted to give cadets a feeling of what each command would be like.
But I had already picked being a fighter pilot, and during the tour got my first F-4 Phantom ride in the backseat out at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. This was not my first military jet ride; my very first was during my freshman year at the Academy, in a T-33 Shooting Star trainer.
I had asked to fly in an F-4, but there were so many of us that I had to win a lottery first.
There wasn’t much pre-flight preparation involved. The F-4 pilot just talked to me a little bit about what we were going to do because I didn't know anything about the jet.
Once we got in the air, he let me fly it a little bit. But other than the thrill of being in an F-4, nothing special happened. I didn’t throw up or anything.
They treated us well at each base. You got briefings in the morning on what all the different commands do. They had events all day long.
Everywhere we went, they had big, big parties, social events like dances. They threw a luau when we were down at Tyndall AFB, Florida.
The Command tour was quite an experience. And when it was all over, I still wanted to be a fighter pilot.