A T-6A Texan II rests under a hangar at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., Nov. 3, 2022.

A T-6A Texan II rests under a hangar at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., Nov. 3, 2022. (Jonathan Soferr/U.S. Air Force)

Members of an Air Force training squadron in Oklahoma worked weekends and overtime to get pilots qualified on schedule after a severe storm damaged several aircraft on July 21, the squadron commander told Stars and Stripes.

The storm, packing winds of 80 mph, knocked down trees, derailed 29 cars of a freight train and damaged nearly 20 T-6 Texan II trainers at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Okla., about 90 miles north of Oklahoma City, according to NBC News on July 22.

The storm left a lot fewer aircraft for student pilots to fly, Lt. Col. Michael Kissinger, commander of the 33rd Flying Training Squadron, said by phone Sept. 25. They had been putting up to 40 planes in the air each day, he added.

“Once it hit, all the decision makers, key leaders and maintainers all got together and we looked at the event,” he said. “The overall feeling from everybody was, this has happened, let’s just roll up our sleeves, figure out what we got in front of us and then get after it.”

Pilot training at Vance was two days ahead of schedule before the storm, Kissinger said. To stay on pace, the squadron flew the remaining aircraft more often.

“We would take that small group of aircraft and we would just fly them more times during the day,” he said.

The squadron usually has six classes of 26 student pilots each flying trainers, Kissinger said. They focused on “what was important,” flying on weekends and doing extra turns throughout the week.

“In the end, we didn’t miss a graduation timeline,” he said.

That’s good news for the Air Force, which fell short of its 2023 goal by about 120 pilots.

The service also produced 1,276 new pilots in fiscal 2022, down from 1,381 the previous year, “due to continued challenges with civilian simulator instructor manning levels, T-6 supply shortfalls and T-38 engine overhaul delays,” Air Force spokesman Benjamin Faske told Stars and Stripes by email in September.

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Jonathan Snyder is a reporter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Most of his career was spent as an aerial combat photojournalist with the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is also a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program and Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus.

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