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Rated Prep Program: Master sergeant gains experience for rated career opportunities 

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Keith James
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO- RANDOLPH, Texas— Sixty active-duty Airmen from across the Air Force flocked to Denton, Texas, to participate in the bi-annual Rated Preparatory Program from March 27 – 31, 2023. 

One of those Airmen was Master Sgt. Careen Lewis, 7th Equipment Maintenance Squadron fabrication flight superintendent, at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, who expressed gratitude for being able to experience the program firsthand. 

“I remember getting the notification email via myVector stating I was eligible for the March 2023 RPP for Rated Prep in helping my aviation skills,” she explained. “I clicked the link, answered about five questions, completed a quick interview with the commander who endorsed me, and I later found out I was selected.” 

The Rated Preparatory Program is an opportunity for active-duty Air Force officers and enlisted members interested in becoming rated officers to develop basic aviation skills, enhance their aviation knowledge through developmental modules and acquire flying experience at no cost. The Air Force partners with Civil Air Patrol to provide primary flight familiarization, along with ground school and formal aviation academic instruction. 

U.S. Air Force rated career fields consist of traditional pilots, combat systems officers, air battle managers and remotely piloted aircraft pilots. 

“Through this program, Airmen gain skills they may not have had the opportunity or resources to gain before entering the Air Force,” said Ms. Kassandra Hall, RPP manager with AETC’s Personnel Directorate. “Additionally, RPP provides our Airmen the chance to pursue their lifelong dream of flying in the Air Force.” 

Lewis’ passion for aviation was sparked with her first experience at the flight controls of a Cessna 182T , which she flew through an aero club while stationed at Okinawa, Japan. However, somewhere between Okinawa and her current assignment, Lewis felt as though her dreams were limited to the clouds.  

“Over the years it seemed my hopes of flying were becoming further out of reach, until the RPP program helped reassure my desire to fly in the Air Force,” Lewis said. “The program allowed me to not only get time in an aircraft, but also in a flight simulator which allowed me more time to help hone my aviation skills and be better prepared to take the AFOQT (Air Force Officer Qualifying Test) and TBAS (Test of Basic Aviation Skills).” 

The primary goal of the RPP program is to help applicants improve their AFOQT, TBAS and Pilot Candidate Selection Method (PCSM) scores and be more competitive for the Undergraduate Pilot Flying Training Board selections. 

Each RPP cohort includes two, one-week sessions for RPP participants to receive about seven-and-a-half hours of flight and a minimum of two-and-a-half hours of simulator instruction with associated ground instruction.   

A typical day for the students includes a morning briefing, where instructors conducted a weather brief, mentorship session, posted simulation times, plus information pertaining to flights and scheduling. Split into teams of three, one instructor and two students, the teams followed the simulator schedule of one-hour time blocks, taking turns in the flight simulator and practicing maneuvers and checks with instructor guidance. 

In the afternoon, the teams are out at the flightline where they practiced pre-flight checks, which included checking fuel levels, the structure of the aircraft, computer systems and flight controls before taxiing down the runway and taking off to fly. After landing and heading back to the hotel, teams got more time on the flight simulators before a final debrief to prepare for the next day of flying.

“Getting some time in the sky was exciting. It felt like a step in the right direction. Some of us started to feel the fatigue of flying, but I don't believe any of us would trade the experience of flying,” Lewis explained. “The time in the sky was a confidence booster for me.”  

Although Lewis and her classmates cherished their time in the Cessna 182T, they made the most of their time utilizing flight simulators as well. Not only were simulators available after hours with instructor supervision, but they were invaluable when inclement weather halted flightline activities. 

The simulator allowed students to get “stick time,” while also allowing them to various experiences through different scenarios that prepared each Airman for real-world flying challenges. 

“The simulator time helped highlight errors and allowed instructors to correct them easier than in the air,” Lewis said. “The time in the simulator provided me assurance for when I was flying within the physical aircraft. I was able to fly at different airports, with different terrains and weather, which was nice. I was also able to train on different scenarios a pilot may face while inflight such as an engine failure.” 

As an initiative of Air Force Rated Diversity Improvement, Lewis shared her thoughts on the RPP as an avenue for underrepresented members to join the ranks as rated officers.    

“You don’t see much diversity in rated positions, and I think that is due to the lack of representation in these fields,” Lewis said. “Growing up with no example of someone who looked like me, an African American woman, as an Air Force pilot makes you think that goal is unattainable. It would be pretty cool to change that standard and hopefully become one of the few African American woman pilots and become that example for the next generation.” 

Traditionally, the Air Force rated positions lack diversity with those positions being filled primarily by white males. The 2020 Air Force Independent Racial Disparity Review highlighted and addressed the Air Force’s recruitment and selection process disparities. 

Programs such as RPP provide important opportunities to those who may have encountered barriers or obstacles to aviation previously. Often, these barriers and obstacles are out of an individual’s control such as financial cost, lack of aviation exposure, lack of personal influencers to mentor in aviation. 

“Not only does RPP help the Air Force increase the diversity of its rated officer corps, but it also helps identify talented Airmen who have proven their commitment and talents on active duty and positions them as a valuable addition to our rated force,” Hall said. 

Lewis expressed her favorite experience during RPP was when she first executed power on/off stalls in the Cessna 182T. She said she was initially scared to stall the aircraft and recover but the training and her instructor got her through it, and she asked to do it again.

“My overall experience was gratifying,” she said. “As an enlisted aircraft maintainer, we don't often have opportunities to participate in programs like RPP. Even if I don't get selected for rated, at least I can use this experience to help the next maintainer with similar aspirations to follow their dreams.” 

“The goal of RPP is to enhance an Airman’s competitiveness to successfully cross train into a rated career field,” Hall said “Although successful completion of this program does not guarantee a participant will be selected for a rated position, our intent is to increase both an Airman’s desire and ability to pursue a rated opportunity.” For those interested in the RPP or for more information, email with “Attn: Rated Prep Program” as the subject line.