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Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic

New Naval Introductory Flight Evaluation Program Provides Modern Foundation for Flight Training

by Anne Owens, Chief of Naval Air Training Public Affairs
09 November 2020 CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - The first 33 students graduated from the Navy’s new Naval Introductory Flight Evaluation (NIFE) program aboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Oct. 14. 

NIFE, launched in September, combines and replaces the Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API) and Introductory Flight Screening (IFS) programs, which have been in place for decades. 

NIFE is the first step in the undergraduate aviation-training pipeline for every student naval aviator and student naval flight officer in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. It is designed to provide students with fundamental aviation knowledge, introduce military procedural-based training and performance standards, provide aeronautical adaptability screening, decrease attrition later in the training pipelines, and improve overall student performance during Primary flight training. 

Naval Aviation Schools Command (NASC) facilitates the 8 1/2–week program, delivering students to Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) for their first flight experience in Navy aircraft. 

While students will still get their first flight hours in civil aircraft with mostly civilian flight instructors, NIFE introduces students to military procedures earlier than ever before. NIFE also incorporates military flight instructors (MFIs), who provide flight instruction, serve as mentors, and oversee students’ progress throughout the program. This allows MFIs to manage students’ expectations of Primary training requirements, provide assistance to underperformers earlier, and lay the foundation of students’ military aviation knowledge so they feel confident moving through the pipeline. Working with MFI mentors and applying appropriate study techniques early on is expected to reduce the number of initial progress checks, ready room UNSATs, and reduce academic failure overall. 

“The restructuring of NIFE is a major step forward in CNATRA’s vision for the Naval Aviation Enterprise,” said NIFE Director Cmdr. Mark Yates. “Students are briefing, pre-flighting, and executing procedures in flight just like they would in Primary, Advanced, and the fleet. When NIFE students arrive in Primary, they will be very comfortable with how to prepare and execute sorties. We have essentially moved the learning curve to the left with expectations of higher performance in Primary.”

NIFE is divided into two parts: ground school and flight. The first is what was formerly known as API. It covers the gamut from physiology and water survival to aerodynamics, weather, and engineering. The program includes five academic exams as well. Students then progress to the flight phase where they review Primary-styled course material, conduct briefings, aircraft pre-fight inspections, and execute airborne procedures just as they would in Primary flight training and beyond. Instruction has a greater focus on Navy Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) and relies less on commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) flight training programs. The goal is to develop a more confident and successful flight student throughout the remainder of training.

The aeronautical adaptability-screening portion allows the earlier application of Naval Aviation processes to identify active and passive airsickness. Students who are unable to achieve success due to physical considerations will know earlier to pursue alternate career choices, reducing Primary attrition and instances of airsickness. 

“NIFE represents a generation leap in preparing students for success in Primary,” CNATRA Assistant Chief of Staff for Training Capt. Steven Hnatt said. “The program will shift skill set development to the left, reducing time to train and increasing competency for the officer beginning Primary. This permits opportunity to train to a more challenging Primary, Advanced, and FRS phase. We are training for victory in the high-end fight - each level of training becomes more sophisticated from year to year. The demands on skill sets and required competencies continue to increase based on the threat we train to as directed in the National Military Strategy.”

Ensign Kyle Roberts, a native of Chicago who grew up in Orlando, Florida, is currently enrolled in NIFE. He attended Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida, and earned a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice in 2016 before commissioning via Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. He has already completed the ground school portion of NIFE and three of seven scheduled flights in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, a single-engine high wing civil aircraft. 
“My favorite part has been the academic challenge,” Roberts said. “My degree is not in a related field so this is all new to me. I’m learning so much about aviation in general and it has been really fun.” 

Roberts is on track to become a naval flight officer and will report to the “Wildcats” of Training Squadron (VT) 10 at NAS Pensacola for Primary flight training in a T-6A Texan II turboprop aircraft. VT-10 graduates select either jets and go on to operate in EA-18G Growlers or F/A-18F Super Hornets, or they select “big-wing” aircraft and go on to operate in the P-8 Poseidon, EP-3 Aries, E-2C/D Hawkeye or E-6 Mercury.

NASC provides an educational foundation in technical training, character development, and professional leadership to prepare Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and partner nation officers and enlisted students to become combat-quality aviation professionals. CNATRA trains the world’s finest combat-quality Naval Aviation professionals, delivered at the right time, in the right numbers, and at the right cost to naval forces that are ready to fly, fight, lead, and win. 

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