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Civilian Instructors help ease AF pilot shortage

By Kathleen Murray, AFCS Talent Acquisition

If there is any one thing that keeps us here, it’s ‘They need us. The students need us.’

Few are more passionate about the need, the value and the rewards of simulator pilot instructors than Ken Knox, Civilian Simulator Pilot Instructor at Laughlin, AFB in Del Rio, Texas.

Ken is a retired military pilot. And that informs his drive to continue to serve. It is something he has in common with his fellow instructors. 

“We know what it was like being a student and the challenges they are going to face. When you are doing these [flight simulation] missions you are teaching a technical skill, but you are also passing on life-lessons and experience. It really gives you a sense of purpose.”

Ken said that because he retired for medical related reasons, he wasn’t sure he would be able to work for the Air Force in this capacity. Being a simulator instructor allowed him to continue to serve and build upon an already impressive career.

“I had served at Laughlin [Air Force Base] as an Instructor pilot from 2005 to 2010.  When I retired in 2014, I spent about two years farming in Pennsylvania and decided I couldn’t support my daughters’ college ‘habit’ on the farm income. I was able to call some people I knew at Laughlin and asked if they had positions open. And they said, “Yes.” I applied through the USAJobs process online and was accepted.” 

“If you cannot fly, this is the second-best thing.  You still have a purpose and you can still pass on your experience. You can get into a simulator and simulate the dream,” he said, laughing. 

But he and his family didn’t want to give up their dream of farming, so they moved the entire production—family and farm—from Pennsylvania to Texas. While Ken and his family have a hair-raising story of transporting their animals cross-country, everyone is thriving. They recently doubled their stock of goats, welcoming 32 new babies onto their ranch. 

“We love the history and the ranch aspect of the area. The idea of living in Brackettville and Fort Clark—especially the historic aspect of the community—really appealed to us. It’s wonderful being around people who ranch and farm; it’s been great.”

Because of the flexibility of his job, he is able to pursue both his passions, train new pilots and ranch.

“The typical day could be doing a basic simulator flight (training session) with a student who has never been in the airplane. So you are really starting out at a foundational level, running checklists, and teaching them how the military wants them to think in the airplane. And then in the afternoon simulator sortie you might have an advanced student. For example, today I’m instructing a navigation sortie taking a student who has actually flown in the plane but has not completed the training yet.  He will ‘fly’ a cross-country sortie from Dallas/Fort Worth down to San Antonio.”

Flexibility and a robust commitment to work/life balance is fostered by leadership. Simulator Instructors have the option of working a conventional 5-day-a week schedule or condensing their schedule to four days on for 10 hours a day. 

It’s not only the purpose and the flexibility of his job, Ken loves the team he works with.

“The civilian simulator instructors are some of the greatest people I have ever worked with,” Ken said. “They are all very dedicated individuals. We have such a breadth of experience. We learn from each other. We help each other learn how to teach. Not only am I passing on my experience to a student, but my fellow instructors are passing on their knowledge to me of how to teach, how to get a point across to that student pilot. The breadth of experience is just fantastic.” 

Ken knows he’s not alone in finding enormous satisfaction in this career field. His fellow instructors demonstrate their commitment every day. 

“The best thing we do is working with the students, themselves. And knowing that in less than a year the student you’re teaching today will be an operational pilot who is going to need every skill you can give them. It sounds kind of kitsch to say, but we are talking about the security of our country. We are helping the Air Force overcome the biggest pilot deficit we’ve ever had.”


If you are interested in learning more about ways you as a civilian can assist the Air Force through employment with the Air Force Civilian Service (AFCS). AFCS is actively recruiting civilian simulator instructors for positions around the country.  Learn more at