IST Program

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Juliana Londono
  • 9 RW/PA

Do you have what it takes to fly 70,000 feet? The U-2 Dragon Lady pilot program is a competitive program that takes pilots from different aircraft platforms and even different service branches into consideration. Members from different service branches can qualify through the Interservice Transfer Program, or IST.

The IST program creates a unique opportunity for commissioned officers from other service branches to transfer into the Air Force. One of a handful of IST’s here is Maj. Pritt, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 pilot and former Navy pilot.

Pritt, now retired, first enlisted into the U.S. Navy in 2002, where he served for six years before commissioning in 2008. He would then go on to fly the P-3C Orion and served with the Patrol Squadron (VP) 45. Wanting to reach new heights in life, he applied for the U-2 program as an IST and was accepted, transferring in June 2018.

“Through the grapevine, I learned about the U-2 program and the more I pulled that string the more I realized that the U-2 program within the Air Force was the right choice for me and my family,” said Pritt.

Another IST here is Joshua Smith, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 instructor pilot.

“I started in the Navy in 1998 and flew the S-3 Viking for six years,” said Smith. “When the Navy was retiring the S-3, I transitioned to the EA-6B Prowler and flew it for four years, then, I did the IST program to fly the U-2 in 2010.”

After piloting for 20 years, Smith now uses his experience to teach pilots in the U-2 program. Smith was also one of the chase car drivers following Pritt on his final flight.

It usually takes six to nine months for the transfer process to finish, however it took about 14 months for Pritt because of delays, like the birth of his son, to finally join the elite U-2 community.

“From this process, one may expect a community with huge egos and narcissism, yet the majority of the U-2 community is some of the most humble and helpful people I’ve ever met,” said Pritt. “For my entire interview process, everyone was cheering me on to succeed, from the students to the instructors and leadership. They want motivated individuals from all backgrounds and experiences because they know it makes the community stronger.”

The U-2 program is unique as applicants must meet certain requirements, like having a specific amount of flight hours on other aircraft, to qualify. This allows for the U-2 community, as small as it is, to be so diverse.

“One of the strengths of the U-2 community is the diverse background and experience of its pilots,” said Pritt. “Given the continued emphasis on joint operations, pilots from other services are an invaluable asset to this community as they bring knowledge from their previous branch.”

After a long and successful military career including two branches and three careers, Pritt leaves behind a commendable legacy with his U-2 family.