U.S. Air Force Weapons School: Producing premier weapons officers since 1949

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Ryan Whtney
  • Nellis AFB Public Affairs
Before the Aggressor aircraft attacked their first "blue team," before the Thunderbirds amazed audiences across the nation, before the "blue team" got their first kill on the "red team" in Red Flag operations, back when Nellis Air Force Base was still Las Vegas Air Force Base, there was the U.S. Air Force Weapons School.

Known then as the Aircraft Gunnery School, it was established in 1949 as a way for World War II pilots to train the next generation of pilots for future challenges like the Korean Vietnam Wars. The aircraft pilots trained in were the F-86, F-80, and F-84.

In 1954, the Aircraft Gunnery School was renamed the U.S. Fighter Weapons School. Along with changing its name, the school also changed its curriculum from training pilots to producing premier fighter instructors.

The school made a few key changes during the Fighter Weapons School era, which helped to increase the impact that the school had on the entire Air Force history, pulling officers from across the Air Force to attend the school.

The Fighter Weapons School also increased the number of pilots they trained, to include the F-51, F-100, F-105, A-7, F-4, F-111, F-15e, F-16 and the A-10. The school also started to expand its mission toward other platforms and started a course for intelligence officers in the late 1980s.

Initiating this intelligence class was a huge shift from the schools primarily fighter-focused history, and the first change of many to come.

1992 brought many more changes to the school, as well as the Air Force. With the standup of Air Combat Command, the school's official name was changed to the United States Air Force Weapons School.

This change reflected the current school curriculum, which no longer focused primarily on the fighter aircraft of the Air Force. The school had increased its class curriculum to include every type of Air Force aircraft, from heavy body transport aircraft like the C-130 and C-17 to Rotary wing aircraft like HH-60 pavehawks, to Bombers like the B-2 and B-52, and began offering courses to non-aircraft professions, like Special Operations Forces, Space Operations, and Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (J-STARS).

Currently, the school trains 20 different combat specialties at eight school locations, with more courses planned in the near future. Presently under construction at the main school house at Nellis, which is home to nine of the 16 squadrons, is the 433rd Weapons Squadron, which is scheduled for completion in December with the course scheduled to come online in 2009.

"Our goal here is to teach graduate-level instructor courses, and produce humble, approachable, credible U.S. Air Force Weapons School Officers," said Maj. Donn Yates, U.S. Air Force Weapons School director of staff.

Major Yates believes these three traits to be the key to being a successful officer, and without them, the information obtained at the school will not be fully transmitted to each weapons officer's respective units.

There are two classes held each year, each lasting 5 ½ months, and on average producing 200 students per year. This is an officer's course, which is open to primarily 1st lieutenants and captains with no more than 10 years of service.

"We take the best the Air Force has to offer here at the Weapons School, and even some of them don't make it to the finish," Major Yates continued. He continued to say that out of 100 students, three to five will not make it to the end of the course.

Whenever students become weapons officer's, they are awarded the U.S. Air Force Weapons School Patch, which is worn in place of the squadron patch for the remainder of their Air Force career.

"Whenever someone with this patch walks into a room, he gains instant credibility with anyone in the room, because they know what he did to earn this patch," the major continued.

A weapons student's main job is to be a student and learn as much about their aircraft as possible. Another major goal of the school is integration.

Instructors try to integrate everything they do with the other weapons instructor's courses, so the students learn a little about each asset and what they can bring to the table.

Although the name has changed, the U.S. Air Force Weapons School has been producing premier weapons school officers for more than 55 years and is showing no signs of slowing down.