Shaping Combat

Crew Training International directs way missions are flown


In an unassuming building in Germantown is a company helping to shape the way combat pilots and ground crew work, and combat missions are flown the world over.

Alan Mullen is chairman and chief visionary officer of Crew Training International. The company, which trains pilots of unmanned aircraft or drones for the military, is planning to expand. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Inside that building, situated among aviation memorabilia and artifacts, is Alan Mullen, former Navy pilot assigned to the U.S.S. Nimitz and TOPGUN instructor, and the founder of Crew Training International.

CTI, the Memphis-based firm with top secret clearance that provides training, safety management systems and innovative programs to facilitate critical skill retention and risk management for clients such as the Department of Defense and all units of the Combat Air Forces, recently won a $17 million contract to provide Contract Aircrew Training and Courseware Development for the U.S. Air Force Fighter Weapons School, part of the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas.

The contract is significant “not totally in terms of revenue, which is important, but the length of it because it’s five years and we’ll acquire 14 or so additional employees so it’s good for the company in terms of longevity,” said President and CEO, Jack Holt.

He added that CTI has provided “similar services up to and including flight training for their unmanned aerial system effort” at nearby Creech Air Force Base for more than four years.

Founded in 1992 by Steve Harden and Mullen, now the chairman and chief visionary officer, CTI now boasts multimillion dollar paydays and staff numbering 260 dotted all around the country, mainly near Air Force bases, with around 35 in the Memphis area. Their training program for NATO forces in Geilenkirchen, Germany, was just awarded a contract expansion and will see around 20 employees there.

It may not have quite that small business feel, yet this is just how it began, in a playroom above Mullen’s garage in Germantown, a second job for the now-retired FedEx pilot.

Now, however, the work is a complex network of software development, on- and off-site training, mandatory audits by government and private agencies and a constant tinkering with their products to better serve clients.

CTI works in three basic parts to its value proposition, Mullen said. The first is the development of courseware for training, using a structured methodology, a process developed during World War II that fueled the industrial explosion and made it possible to produce the vast number of fighter and bomber planes used to win that war.

“The way that those assembly lines were operated was by giving very specific training to the individuals that were building that equipment,” Mullen said. They were trained with “exactly the information they needed to perform their function; no more, no less.”

It’s a methodology that grew into a science of instructional system design and is a requirement now in the military, for the Federal Aviation Administration, and by all the airlines for their pilots and mechanics.

The second part is contract aircrew training, providing instructors to deliver the portion of the training, which is instructed live.

“Our job is to keep those instructors standardized.”

–Alan Mullen, Founder of Crew Training International

“Any class or simulator event, or over-the-shoulder training in the case of unmanned aircraft, or any one-on-one tutoring that may occur, we provide an instructor to do that,” Mullen said. “Our job is to keep those instructors standardized, keep their qualifications up to date using the courseware we developed.”

CTI employs many former members of the Air Force for its training, giving these men and women, many of whom may only be in their early 40s by retirement age, a second chance at a career with the very specialized training they’ve received.

The third part involves all of the systems and software to manage the previous two parts, including a training management system, learning management system and operations management system.

“From the government point of view, you have to keep track of all the different courses, the versions of those courses, when they were approved by the cognizant government oversight people,” Mullen said. “All that work used to be done manually. … But we have a system that we developed internally that makes all of that electronic.”

CTI has also done human factors training in the past for hospitals, outpatient surgery centers and emergency rooms, a portion of the business that was eventually spun off into an independent company.

Mullen’s path to the captain’s chair is one that has taken him by rail through Scotland, where he was born, to a harbor in Southampton, England, to board the Queen Mary and emigrate to the United States with his parents when he was only 5. This personification of the American Dream would go on to college at Cornell, join the Navy, fly for FedEx and found one of the leading company’s in its industry.