Recently Dillon Precision’s “Blue Press” published a Duane Thomas article concerning the pre 9/11 Federal Air Marshall (FAM) qualification course.* This article, in conjunction with a close friend’s daughter expressing an interest in becoming a FAM rekindled my interest in the earlier FAM qualification. (*The Blue Press, June 2023, pages 60-63).
I was talking about the qualification with a shooting partner when he mentioned that a mutual friend had been a FAM. Since our mutual friend had retired as a Special Agent (SA) from another federal agency, it never occurred to me to ask about the FAM qualification. I will refer to my friend as Special Agent (retired) or SA ret. for the remainder of the article.
SA ret. confirmed all of the FAM scoring, target positioning, etc. that Thomas mentioned in the Blue Press article. Since SA ret. was a firearms instructor at his agency, he had been detailed to the FAM program literally the week after 9/11 as the government scrambled to increase the number of FAMs in the program. My friend said that since they were all credentialed LEOs or Special Agents, the detailees were put through an intensive firearms training program to ensure that their shooting skills were up to FAM standards. SA ret. said that they shot all day, every day for two weeks. He said that they literally shot so much that at the end of the training the FAM program replaced all of their issued pistols because they had exceeded the pistol’s service life.
I had written an article in 2018 that described what I was able to glean concerning the pre 9/11 from research and a discussion with Mike Seeklander at the 2016 IDPA Nationals. Mike Seeklander indicated that the FAM had used an FBI QIT-97 Target and a scoring system that differed from that which Thomas mentioned in his article which was the FBI-Q (milk bottle) target. As Thomas mentioned, the FAM program has likely used a number of qualification courses and targets over the years; therefore, the discrepancy between what Thomas mentions as the standard target and the QIT-97 Seeklander mentions are probably a result of different time frames.
Scoring: The maximum possible score is 150 points with a minimum passing score of 135 points. A minimum passing score of 135 allows for three complete misses. From my experience, if you are at the level where you routinely miss the FBI Q entirely your chances of passing the qualification are slim.
You must be within the time limits for each string of fire. Shooting the FAM qualification course within the time limits while hitting the bottle necessarily requires a balance between speed and accuracy because of its strict adherence to the maximum time requirements for each stage. This is not trivial. If you do not meet the stage’s time requirement, you fail even if you managed to shoot a passing score overall.
Shooting the FAM qualification course is best done on an outdoor range. The course requires you to shoot targets spaced across lanes and one of the stages requires the shooter to turn 180-degrees without sweeping anyone. You must use a concealment garment for two of the seven stages.
The course of fire is 30 rounds from 7-yards, fired at three targets spaced three yards apart. Per Thomas: “The FAM set up the outer two targets with three yards – nine feet – between them edge-to-edge, then centered a third target between those. When you do it that way, according to my tape measure the distance between targets edge-to-edge is three feet, six and a half inches.” Some INTERNET sources claim the targets were three yards apart. Thomas goes on to state that given the FAM program’s mission, the nine feet distance makes sense. No commercial aircraft was wide enough for three people to stand eighteen feet apart in a fuselage.
The Target: Thomas mentions that the pre 9/11 FAM qualification used the standard FBI-Q target scored as five points for a full value hit within the bottle and zero points for hits outside the bottle. In other words, a hit on the line of the silhouette scores as a miss. SA ret. told me that in the FAM program he attended they used a version of the FBI-Q target that had a circle in the upper chest; however, they ignored the circle for scoring and used the entire bottle with full value scoring.
Stage 1: From concealment, draw and fire one round on one target. Repeat. Maximum time is 3.30 seconds for 2 rounds fired.
Stage 2: From low ready, double tap (two shots) on one target. Repeat. Maximum time is 2.70 seconds for 4 rounds fired.
Stage 3: From low ready, fire 6 rounds into one target. Maximum time is 3.00 seconds for 6 rounds fired and all splits (shot to shot time) must be 0.60 seconds or less.
Stage 4: From low ready, fire one shot, reload, fire one shot into one target. Repeat. Maximum time is 6.50 seconds for 4 rounds fired.
Stage 5: From low ready, fire one round into the one of the two outer targets and then transition and fire a round into the other outer target. Repeat. Maximum time is 3.30 seconds for 4 rounds fired.
Stage 6: From concealment and facing up range with back to targets, turn 180 degrees and place one shot into each of the three targets. Repeat. Maximum time is 7.00 seconds for 6 rounds fired.
Stage 7: From low ready and standing, fire one round into one target, slide locks back, drop to one knee, reload, fire one round. Repeat. Maximum time is 8.00 seconds for 4 rounds fired. (Note this is essentially a slide lock 1-reload-1 drill just dropping to a knee while reloading).
My friend and I shot the FAM qualification during a training session in August 2023. The temperature on the range was 102 degrees with no shade so the heat challenged us a bit. We used the Range Master Q target which is similar to the to the FBI Q Target (with additional circles inside the bottle and a line at the bottom). We used the middle target for most strings which resulted in a possible hit count of 22 hits on the middle target and four hits each on the outer targets.
I shot the qualification with my every day carry (EDC) P320 Carry in 9mm and my alternate P365 in 9mm. Both have Holosun green dot optic sights. I used a closed front t-shirt as my concealment garment for the strings that required concealment.
I completed two qualifications with my P320, the first shot cold, and passed both.
FAM Qualification with P320
The times for the qualification shown in the picture above using my P320 Carry were as follows:
Stage 1. Draw: 1.48, 1.39 = 2.87 (Standard: 3.30 seconds or less)
Stage 2. Double Tap: .88, 1.08 = 1.96 (Standard: 2.70 seconds or less)
Stage 3. Rapid Fire: 2.20 (Standard: 3.30 seconds or less)
Stage 4. Speedload: 3.06, 2.95 = 6.01 (Standard: 6.50 seconds or less)
Stage 5. Transition: 1.32, 1.28 = 2.60 (Standard: 3.30 seconds or less)
Stage 6. Turn & Draw, 3 Targets: 2.69, 2.71 = 5.30 (Standard: 7.00 seconds or less)
Stage 7. Slidelock Reload: 3.54, 3.79 = 6.53 (Standard: 8.00 seconds or less)
Times = Pass for all strings
Points = Passed with 150 points
FAM Qualification with the P365
I completed three qualifications with my P365 and passed all three. The times for the qualification shown in the picture above using my P365 were as follows:
Stage 1. Draw: 1.62, 1.52 = 3.14 (Standard: 3.30 seconds or less)
Stage 2. Double Tap: 1.15, 1.06 = 2.21 (Standard: 2.70 seconds or less)
Stage 3. Rapid Fire: 2.75 (Standard: 3.30 seconds or less)
Stage 4. Speedload: 3.04, 3.41 = 6.45 – barely squeaked by on this string due to issues with the concealment garment during the reloads (Standard: 6.50 seconds or less)
Stage 5. Transition: 1.37, 1.48 = 2.83 (Standard: 3.30 seconds or less)
Stage 6. Turn & Draw, 3 Targets: 3.22, 3.01 = 6.23 (Standard: 7.00 seconds or less)
Stage 7. Slidelock Reload: 3.80, 3.77 = 7.57 (Standard: 8.00 seconds or less)
Times = Pass for all strings
Points = Passed with 145 points (the shot touching the line on the middle target is a miss).
The FAM Qualification course tests several major tasks you must perform in the course of shooting a match or using a pistol for self-defense. They are:
-- Safely draw the pistol (clear concealment garment)
-- Extend to fire
-- Transition between targets
-- Reload the pistol (clear concealment garment)
-- Execute precise shots (sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control)
-- Turning then drawing the pistol
-- Moving from standing to kneeling
In my series of articles on deliberate practice I discuss the value of structured drills with specific goals designed to improve performance. Each of the major tasks listed above is composed of sub tasks that also must be performed correctly. Once we break each major task down into sub tasks we can then apply the deliberate practice methodology to improve our shooting.
For example: I have been practicing coming on target from a low ready position and firing an accurate shot. My practice has resulted in a .20 to .30 second improvement. When you do this five times during a qualification that time savings adds up.
The Federal Air Marshall course of fire is an extremely challenging pistol qualification and is a good tool for concealed carriers to use to benchmark their skills. If you can stay within the time limits and score a perfect 150, I will tip my hat to you.
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