AIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. - “I went from thinking I was the
tip-top to struggling to make it through,” said 1st Lt. Steven G.
Strickland, 93rd Air Refueling Squadron co-pilot. “But because I
struggled, I was able to learn more, and I became more grateful for
the opportunity to be a pilot.”
Strickland knew from a very
young age that being a pilot was something he wanted to achieve.
Growing up on Air Force bases, Strickland saw planes flying
frequently and attended many airshows. It was because of this that
the dream of being a pilot was instilled in him.
12, 2015 - First Lt. Steven Strickland, 93rd Air Refueling Squadron co-pilot, in front of a KC-135 Stratotanker
at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. Strickland was inspired to become a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot during his last phase of pilot training by his instructors who shared their stories of the tanker lifestyle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sean Campbell)
During his high school years, Strickland lived in
Colorado Springs. The Air Force Academy was not far from the
high school he attended, and recruiters visited frequently.
“The recruiters would tell us all these cool things
about the Air force,” said Strickland. “Already wanting to
be an Air Force pilot, the recruiters made the Air Force
Academy seem like the best route to take.”
Strickland applied to the
Academy and was accepted into the class of 2011. Before
completing his four years at the Academy, he took a two-year
sabbatical to conduct a mission in Paraguay for his church.
After two years, he returned to the Academy and graduated
with the class of 2013.
Immediately after graduating
the Academy, Strickland arrived at Columbus AFB in August of
2013. The first step after arriving at Columbus was to begin
Initial Flight Screening. Initial Flight Screening is when
the Air Force determines if someone is teachable and able to
catch onto concepts quickly enough to progress through pilot
“Unfortunately pilot training doesn't wait
for anybody; you don't go at your own pace,” said
Strickland. “There is a specific curriculum, a specific
syllabus that you have to complete by a certain amount of
After IFS the, instructors begin to teach
basic Airmanship including flying, taking off, landings and
basic aerobatics. Students then progress to learning how to
fly with instruments, different weather situations and
formation flying. Learning how to land was a sticking point
for Strickland during his time at pilot training. It took
him a while to understand until one of his instructors told
him about looking down to the end of the runway and
picturing himself floating down.
“For some reason,
the way he explained it clicked, and I was able to land from
that point on without any issues,” he said.
learning all of these things, the pilots make the decision
to go on the fighter pilot track or the heavy track.
“I was not a huge fan of being in the plane myself,” said
Strickland. “I like the concept of being with a crew and
having someone to back you up. So I chose to go the T-1
Jayhawk route which is the heavy trainer.”
Strickland found his interest in air refueling during the
last phase of pilot training, mobility fundamentals. Many of
Strickland's instructor pilots were former KC-135
Stratotanker pilots. They inspired him to be a tanker pilot
with their stories about the different aspects of flying the
KC-135 and the tanker lifestyle.
pilot training, pilots are given a list of the planes that
are available and the students rank them by what they want
“The KC-135 was the second plane on my list
and Fairchild Air Force Base was the first location I wanted
for the KC-135, so I was pretty pumped,” he added.
Following graduation from pilot school, Strickland was sent
to Fairchild to complete the Survival, Evasion, Resistance
and Escape school before attending the specific training for
the KC-135. Being taken out of the comfort of everyday
living and realizing the situations that SERE simulates and
how they could be real one day led Strickland to learn
things about himself he didn't know before.
really teaches you to be resilient,” said Strickland, “and
to trust in everything the United States and the Air Force
After SERE training, Strickland went to
Altus AFB, Oklahoma, where he completed a five-month course
to get acquainted with the KC-135 Stratotanker.
“While at Altus, they kind of bring you into the brotherhood
of tanker pilots and it's really cool,” he said.
Strickland reflected on his journey through pilot training
by saying, “When I graduated the academy, I thought ‘I'm
going to be a pilot. I'm pretty much already a pilot.' I was
super prideful. Going through training was a humbling
experience, because you recognize that you're not good at
flying. There were moments where I thought I was going to
It was because of this that Strickland
studied more and learned more than if he was able to simply
breeze through it.
By U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Sean Campbell
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