Contacts Phase is the first phase of Navy Primary Flight Training. It’s where you learn the basics of flying the Navy way and where you can start your grades off on the right foot. Although under the Charlie syllabus Contacts is only worth 25%, it still provides a great opportunity to separate yourself.
Another great way to separate yourself is by answering “it’s just the gouge that’s been going around” when your instructor asks you about some general knowledge questions during your brief… the choice is yours.
This is the first block of sims you’ll be graded on in the T6. You’ll be in a UTD or OFT (both are types of T6 simulators) and will be expected to have the “Checklist Study Guide” also known as the “Hollywood Script” down verbatim, which is just a document in challenge-action-response format detailing every step of the checklists needed to operate the T6, what to say when executing a given step, as well as any key indicators you’re looking for (lights to turn on/off, amperage to rise, etc).
There are a few emergency procedures the instructors will challenge you with but the focus of this block is getting through all the checklists, becoming familiar with taxi procedures, practicing your comms (not graded), and maybe even taking off if you have time. If you have the checklist procedures down and are vaguely familiar with the cockpit because you spent even a couple of minutes a week in the static trainer instead of starting your 1000th round of League of Legends… you’ll be okay.
Also known as the Emergency Procedures Block, these two sims go through all the Critical Action Items you’re required to know from memory. Practice these in the static trainer for the reps but also make sure you profsit with a buddy in an actual UTD so that you can also get practice recognizing the EP.
C3100, C3200, C3300
These three blocks of sims are the start of the actual flying. In the first block, the focus will be on stalls and spins with the landing pattern added in as time permits. Some of the trickier items will be the turn pattern (specifically 60° AOB turns) and the level speed change so make sure you get plenty of practice on these with profsits when able. Although these two maneuvers in particular are never graded in the plane, they do teach you some great basic air-work skills and help in the long term.
As you progress you will add crosswind landings as well as precautionary emergency landings (PEL). Crosswind landings aren’t too difficult once it “clicks” and you understand the opposing aileron and rudder inputs needed to counter any winds. Practice rolling into both over- and undershooting crosswinds of left and right patterns to cover all possibilities.
PELs and PEL/Ps (from the pattern) can’t be practiced in UTD profsits as you need to have a full field of vision. The good news is the VR sims work well for these and are almost always available. I don’t have much technique gouge for learning PELs other than to start early and often. Even the most poorly-initiated PEL can be rescued by delaying configuration or cutting PCL to idle but this can only be done if you have the reps to realize how/why you’re off profile.
Commonly known as the “Fam” or familiarization block, these four flights will be your first time flying in the T6, putting all your past training together.
The first step is getting assigned an Onwing, or an Instructor Pilot that will be your mentor throughout the flying portion of Contacts. Typically the Fam block is flown exclusively with your Onwing so you can develop technique from one instructor until you start to get a hang of the flying. You’ll be surprised how well the simulator events prepare you to fly and it shouldn’t take much to adapt to the plane.
The biggest piece of advice I can give for the Fam block is to try and read/chair-fly ahead so that you can attempt things in the plane ahead of when you need to know them. After all, the Fam block isn’t graded so take advantage of failing consequence-free.
This block is approximately five flights long and will be flown without your Onwing. The MIF is low for this block so it’s an important group of flights, know your procedures and nail the basics and you’ll do well.
You’ll be exposed to a variety of different techniques from several instructors which can be helpful but I’d say the biggest complaint I hear from fellow students is they adapt their flying to one instructor’s technique and then the next IP they fly with criticizes them for it. Morale of the story: learn from your Onwing and try not to stray too far from what is standard and you’ll be okay.
I’d recommend using this block to check out different airfields in the area and implement some of the basic principles of what VFR flight really feels like when you don’t just have course rules to blindly follow.
The big addition to these blocks is the PA or precision aerobatics. Maneuvers like the barrel roll, aileron roll, and loops will be added to the graded items which are challenging but tons of fun once you figure it out. Not too much advice on these as I found it pretty difficult to figure out some of the aerobatics other than by simply practicing in the plane, i.e. the OFT and VR sims were relatively unhelpful.
You will probably be back with your Onwing by the 4400 block at which point the priority will be prepping you for your check flight and solo. Prep for the check means going to the working area/airfield where these are conducted (usually only one or two fields are allowed for solos so expect that on your check flight).
Check Flight and Solo
People love asking for gouge on what to expect from certain instructors for check flights but all I can say is if you are prepared and have been working on your weaknesses from previous flights, you’ll do absolutely fine. I personally never thought check flights were that scary because the IP isn’t there to fail you, their responsibility is to make sure you can safely pilot an aircraft by yourself. Your Onwing wouldn’t let you go into a check flight if they didn’t think you were ready so keep that in mind too. The last thing to keep in mind is if an IP does determine you could use one more flight before solo-ing then they’re essentially saying you’re not quite safe enough to fly by yourself and are ultimately making sure you don’t kill yourself… Which is actually pretty thoughtful of them.
Finally… the Contacts Solo. My favorite flight of Primary. Being the pilot in command and the only one responsible for safely getting the aircraft on the ground is an incredible experience. Enjoy it because if you select anything but jets it’ll be one of very few in your entire career!
Contacts is without a doubt the longest portion of training but also seems to go by in a blur. Other than forms, it’s the most dynamic flying you will do so next time you’re inverted on a barrel roll wondering if you’re ever going to get graded above a 3, look outside and smile at all the SWOs who would kill to be you.