Well, well, well…so, you’ve done it. You’ve officially decided that you want to go fly jets for the airlines. It’s a big step, and quite a difficult choice to make, especially if you will be getting out of the military before retirement. That is how I did it, so I decided to help out fellow #RTAGers by putting together what I learned during my transition, providing a rough timeline that could help you decide what steps to take, and in what order. If you’re still on the fence, it could also give you some clarity for what to expect if you decide to pull the trigger. Some of this may not apply if you are retiring, but a lot of it goes for everyone making the leap.
First things first. Do the following ASAP:
- Decide on your transition date. This could be based on your retirement date, or the date of your flight school or most recent ADSO expires. If you’re not sure, check AIM 2.0 or your ORB. More on this later.
- Develop a plan. This will come in handy in all of your conversations with your chain of command. Be able to brief the plan in broad strokes, maybe even with a sweet PowerPoint slide if you’re nerdy/high speed.
- Begin flying airplanes. The sooner you get started on this, the easier and quicker your transition will be. It is what you plan to do soon, after all, so go get that Airplane CSEL add-on, or even a PPL right away. This will allow you to start building airplane PIC time now, because 250 hours takes time to build!
Begin collecting and creating UQR paperwork.
There are numerous memos that have to be typed, and you will do these yourself. Contact your BDE S1 for the URQ example packet. They will likely send you one that has been approved recently to start with.
Contact your Branch manager.
Let them know your intentions so they can mark it in their system if you haven’t done so already. If you are currently in a KD position (i.e. Company Command for RLOs) that generally results in a PCS afterward, or you’ve been on station for a long time, branch may contact you to ask what you intend to do. This could be a great time to let them know your intentions. If you are already marked by HRC as a mover, the unit will lose you anyway, whether you PCS or ETS. Keep in mind, manning is a numbers game-they are not necessarily trying to screw you over, but PCSing someone in to fill your soon-to-be-vacant slot may take a while. It is in your best interest to give them as much notice as possible.
Let your chain of command know your intentions.
This one can be tricky, and each command climate can be different. Frankly, this part scared me the most. You’ll have to talk to them about it soon enough for your URQ paperwork. Once you let the cat out of the bag, it isn’t going back in. Up until this point, you may have been the golden child, a real go-getter who is committed to Stewarding the Profession and all that. Or maybe not. It is all about to change, as you declare that you do not desire to sacrifice the rest of your life for the empire. You may be selected for different jobs, or not selected for the position you’d hoped for. It takes courage for sure.
If you are professional about it, you shouldn’t have any problems. If you are protesting the unit and the Army outside of the commander’s office, they may be, well, less receptive. It’s is probably better to discuss things in a positive light, such as your family plans, your personal and professional goals, and how you desire to spend more time with your kids. It is NOT advised to discuss how much that last JRTC rotation sucked, how working 60 hours a week for the foreseeable future-including many weekends-is miserable, how you detest those powdered eggs with a passion, and how you have no intentions of doing what your boss does in the future. I digress. Be positive and you’ll have greater success.
Submit your UQR packet to your BN S1.
You’ll be require to have signed counselings from both your BN and BDE commanders, so it may take a few weeks to get on their calendar. You may have to be persistent about this. Once again, each command climate is different.
Brief your plan.
Go on the offense and tell them what you want to do. Also be prepared to discuss Plan A, B, and C, and how you plan to deal with the transition financially, especially if you are not retiring.
Attend SFL-TAP Classes.
You can attend up to 12 months prior to ETS or 18 months prior if retiring. It is a week of classes, and is your place of duty during that time. Lots of great info there.
Start your application on AirlineApps.com.
Almost all of the airlines are using this site, with a few exceptions. The application is similar to that looong security clearance you had to fill out years ago, and many of the questions are similar, so it will take some time to fill out. There is a limited free option, or you can pay for a one-year membership for $65 a year to apply to as many airlines as you’d like. The system will hold your information for future applications so you won’t have to do it completely over again.
Your UQR packet should be complete now and submitted to HRC by your S1. If you are not included on the message, ask for a copy of the email. If you do not hear anything from them in 60 days, follow up with HRC to make sure they received it. They deal with a lot of these things, so calling before 60 days may just make them mad.
Check out airline cadet programs. There are some that allow RTP candidates or CFIs to participate with no obligation, such as SkyWest and GoJet. These companies will even fly you to their headquarters to get a firsthand look at what they have to offer-an outstanding opportunity that is completely free. Essentially, they are trying to hook you early, but it’s not a bad idea to see what is out there in order to make a well informed decision. Many of these also tie company seniority to this program, so if you are a cadet for 6 months, you’ll have 6 months of company seniority when you arrive at ground school, which could be YUUGE! Seniority could determine simulator schedule, pick of bases, and even profit sharing and benefit eligibility at some places.
Its time! If you haven’t already, purchase a membership to AviationInterviews.com and check out the forums on this site. These are collections of interview experiences and questions that each airline is asking right now, and is constantly being updated. Live by these gouges. Check with others that you know on the RTAG page who have interviewed recently and pick their brains. One book that I personally recommend is “Everything Explained for the Professional Pilot” by Richie Lengel. It is an encyclopedia of everything you need to know as an airline pilot, and is an invaluable reference. There are many others. Between the books and the gouges, you should be able to prepare well. Some may also considering investing in interview consulting firms that will conduct interview prep sessions and webcasts to prepare you. These are generally more used for major airline interview prep, but could be incredibly helpful. Also practicing with other RTAG members or your spouse could be quite helpful. Forcing yourself to answer the questions out loud helps to refine them, and identify any areas that need further refinement.
This may be painful. Most of us Army folks haven’t done one of these in years, if ever! There are tons of formats out there for pilot resumes, including the RTAG Website. Another book that I found handy for this was “Checklist for Success” by Cheryl A. Cage. It has example resumes inside that can help tremendously, along with countless other tips to help out during the interview process, specifically on the HR side.
Conduct interviews if able.
Some companies, such as Envoy and PSA, will conduct interviews well before you can transition and give conditional job offers (CJOs). If possible, interviewing well in advance may be a great way to lock in a position and provide predictability.
Buy an interview suit.
That sweet suit you wore to your sister’s wedding 12 years ago may not fit you anymore. If it does, great, but it never hurts to invest a little in yourself, especially if your only formal attire is a blue wool suit with shoulder boards and a giant yellow stripe on the leg. Check out some places like Express, Men’s Wearhouse, or Joseph A. Bank for some good deals on sale weekends. Expect a couple hundred bucks at least, maybe more for a custom suit if you are super swole. Ladies probably wouldn’t wear a suit and tie, although it is an option. Business professional is the name of the game.
Get a Class One Flight Physical.
This will be good for six months as a Class One, and then six more months as a Class Two. You can fly with either while time building and getting those ratings, but most, if not all, interviews require you to bring a current Class One along.
Publish your application!
You’ve spent the last six months building your application in Airlineapps.com so it should be accurate by now. Time to click submit to get the party stated!
Most regionals these days want to interview you within 6 months of availability, including terminal leave, so plan your interviews around your earliest availability date.
Consider Career Skills Programs.
Also known as DOD Skill Bridge Programs or CSPs, these are generally available up to 180 days prior to your ETS date and require lots of paperwork and signatures. If you are able to get one approved, you could be doing many of your ratings while still on active duty in an approved program. See your SFL-TAP center for more details. A number of RTAG members have been able to get approval for these, so check within your network for their experiences.
If you have separation orders by now, you can begin scheduling appointments with the VA for any VA disability claims you plan to file.
Decide! By now, you likely have multiple offers because you kicked some butt at your interviews. Time to pick your favorite and move forward! Make your final plan. Determine how you plan to use the RTP funds, or when you will begin at the sponsored RTP partner school.
Don’t be an ass. You may be so excited about your future, that you find it difficult to focus on anything Army anymore. Trust me, I understand. REMAIN PROFESSIONAL. It may be difficult, but keep your head in the game, and show your chain of command that you’re not a “quitter”, but rather you’re a professional aviator until the end. If you are a heavy hitter in your unit, you may still be busy and needed at the unit. That is okay. Do your best. You may also be cast aside and replaced immediately. That is also okay. Remember that you are representing this movement and RTAG, and how you present yourself now will set the stage and form the opinion of your chain of command for those that will follow in your footsteps. Make that impression a good one so they only have nothing but great things to say about us airline scum.
- Get your final airplane ratings if not using an RTP partner school. Consider using leave if needed.
- Book a final class date with your airline recruiter
- Begin clearing CIF. This one is exhilarating. Don’t forget that E6-B and crappy kneeboard with a built in light they gave you in flight school. Yea, they want those back.
Last 2 months:
Clear the unit
Start terminal leave! Grow a beard, take a vacation, finish your time building and ratings if needed, sleep in a lot, shave off the beard, then start training at your new airline!
We are a relatively new population that the airlines haven’t really seen in mass before in the industry. Let’s demonstrate to everyone who is watching us that helicopter pilots also make outstanding airline pilots!
I hope these tips will help you in your transition, and that you are able to share what you learn with others behind you. Best of luck!