Primary - Contact Phase

Before moving to the back seat, Student Naval Flight Officers (SNFOs) experience a handful of flights at the primary controls during the Contact Phase of Primary Flight Training. This post discusses the Contact Phase, follow-on training, and my progress so far.

UPDATE 20140210:
a) Purpose of Contact Phase is not "Pilot Appreciation."
b) T-39s are not flown as a part of Advanced in VT-86.

A Pilot Appreciation Course A Procedures-Learning Introductory Course

While the lessons are immediately NFO-specific, in that they are not identical to what Student Naval Aviators (SNAs) are taught in their Primary, the Contact Phase exposes SNFOs to the role of the pilot in order to provide a baseline of how much is happening during a flight for the explicit purpose of allowing us to better find ways to make the pilot's job easier. For example, an NFO often takes control of radio communications, allowing the pilot to focus on executing the simplified instructions from the back seat without dealing with Air Traffic Control himself.

Update: You can see what I previously wrote about the purpose of the Contact Phase above, stricken. That was honestly what I had thought was the purpose of the phase until, after my third flight, my on-wing2 asked me what the purpose of Contacts was and then corrected me when I answered. The real purpose for the Contact Phase is to introduce SNFOs to the idea and practice of procedures. That is the thing that NFOs do; by memorizing Emergency Procedures, practicing the ground procedures checklists, as well as the procedures for maneuvers like stalls, spins, and VFR pattern work, it sets up students for success when we have much more complicated procedures in later stages. The best advice I can give students for the Contact Phase is to develop habits that enable you to learn procedures. Heed these words!

The Contact Phase consists of about 3-4 weeks of ground school courses with 4-6 exams covering the Hawker Beechcraft T-6A Texan II's systems and emergency procedures, communications practices, and weather; several graded simulator events; and finally 5-6 flights at the primary controls.

A T-6 Static Trainer
(click to enlarge)

Follow-on Phases

After the Contact Phase, SNFOs complete Instrument and Visual Navigation phases. (There may be more, but those I know for sure.) Each subsequent phase follows the same general pattern: ground school classes, simulator events, then flights.

After Primary

At the completion of Primary, I will remain in Training Squadron Ten (VT-10) but will begin Intermediate Flight Training. Eventually, I will transfer to Training Squadron Eight Six (VT-86) where I will train in the T-39 Sabreliner1 and T-45 Goshawk during Advanced Flight Training. After 12 weeks in VT-86, I will be selected for either the EA-6B Prowler or the F/A-18D Hornet, which will determine how much longer I remain with VT-86 before completing SERE School and finally being sent to the RAG.

Sitting in a T-39
(click to enlarge)

My Progress

I finished ground school for the contact phase earlier this week. Today should have been my first graded simulator event. However, I am now once again in a holding pattern of undetermined length.

Due to plane unavailability, students in classes ahead of me are being delayed completing their flights; rather than continue to push students through the simulator events only to wait around before flying (which increases costs to the taxpayer since the student is now owed a "warm-up flight" before being graded), we are being delayed prior to simulator events until they are ready for us to move forward so we can flow right into "flight side" and complete those events without warm-up flights being required.

Personally, I am quite okay with the delay, as it provides me more time to study prior to the events. However, dealing with the uncertainty of whether I will be scheduled "tomorrow" keeps me on my toes. And I do also have a concern that instructors will set a higher bar knowing that we have had more time to prepare—basically a backfire on what I am hoping is a boon.

Time to go be more productive.

1. The T-39 is being phased out of training due to its age, but nobody knows for sure yet if I will be in it or not. It could go either way by the time I get there. If I end up not using it, those stages of training will be replaced by extra simulator events and more flights in the T-45, as far as I have heard.

2. An "on-wing" is an instructor pilot (IP) with whom a SNFO will fly his first 3 contact flights and who is intended to be an instructor to whom the SNFO can direct questions about learning or personal issues. It is a complementary program to the Class Advisor program. I personally directed my questions to my Class Advisor instead.


  1. Thanks for the update. Glad to see that you are moving forward, using your time to master the essential skills and knowledge, and enjoying your assignments.

    Proud Papa

  2. Hello, I wanted to say how much I appreciate these posts you are doing. I have been constantly scouring the internet to try and find out what I have coming and I feel that there is a lot of speculation going on. These posts are so informative and I have already learned a lot seeing what this journey looks like in light of someone going through it currently. I recently commissioned as a 2nd Lt. and I will be going to TBS in about 8 months as of now and I am getting married in a few months. I am more than excited to start all of this but it definitely can be daunting. I hope to hear more from you and I will keep checking back. This also is helpful for my fiance who is very excited and supportive but very uninformed.

    -2nd Lt. Adam Mello

    1. 2ndLt Mello,

      Thanks for sharing that with me. Every time I post an update, I'm trying to think of how it might be helpful to those who are coming along behind me, so I'm glad to know that it is helpful.

      Maybe someday I can convince my new wife to share some about her experiences as a new wife of a young SNFO.

      Good luck to you and your fiancée!

      -2ndLt Allen


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