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The Last Fighter Pilot

Posted by Jolly on January 24, 2016


Lee Downer forwarded this article he wrote about "The Last Fighter Pilot."  It's awesome and paints a picture that we all fear, the death of the warrior culture in our military.  It describes a ceremony that takes place in the future recognizing the last living fighter pilot.  I've also included Friar Tuck’s description of what the world will miss once the last the fighter pilot is gone from this earth.  Read it and weep my friends.


The Last Fighter Pilot - A Warriors Lament

 “Guns” Treadway was standing on the platform-- a chair close just in case.  A walker, his usual support, was kept out of sight. Guns, born Alexander Colton Treadway, was now 5 years past the century mark. He had been given the nickname in his rookie year with the 11th Fighter Squadron-- he beat all the Old Pros in the strafing event to win the Air Force’s “Gunsmoke” Competition

There were a lot of flags behind him, a bunch of young Colonels and Generals on his flanks and thousands of staring faces in the audience—not much grey hair and hardly a wrinkle to be seen. Guns had a momentary thought he was looking a bit shabby, wearing his old jacket and only  tie.  Everyone else was wearing one of those slippery-looking jumpsuits.  The speaker was a pleasant Four Star general, Katia Chen.  The large plaque on the front of the podium had a familiar shield, but the words read: United States Weapons Control and Situation Awareness Force. 

Guns thought, “Now there is a mouthful.  He remembered the much more simple and catchy, United States Air Force.  But that was a long time ago.” 

Treadway was brought to this Symposium for an award presentation by the Weapons Control and Situation Awareness Association, or WCSAA.  Joining everyone else in the big auditorium, Guns was doing his best to stand up straight while the award was being read.   It was the Award of Honor, and he was getting it because he was the last living fighter pilot who had served in the United States Air Force. 

His recall skills were not as sharp as the old days when he debriefed complicated missions, but Guns remembered how he and his squadron mates relished air combat sorties against Nellis Aggressors--Vipers and Eagles.  Those were the days when Air Force fighter pilots were the best in the world.  Somewhere he had heard Nellis was now just another commercial airport.

After the citation was read, the General, Chief of the WCSAF, signaled the assembly to take their seats. She started the speech by talking about the amazing changes during Treadway’s lifetime. Reviewing milestones, like the first time the FR35 Lightning II was flown remotely and it’s first combat sorties.  The drone evolution and success story began when the primitive turn-of-the-last-century Predators and Reapers convinced Air Force leaders to convert more fighters into intelligent drones, capable of a wider range of combat missions.  The older Vipers and Eagles were modified first, some for training, some for targets. The newer, more capable, versions were assigned to operational units in each region and given combat roles to bolster force structure--slashed budgets had eliminated large numbers of combat aircraft.   Cost savings from these conversions and retirements provided funding to develop and field a new airborne control aircraft, a flying nerve center, designed to control the advanced drones in combat.

The Chief added, once R Squadrons proved their operational value, Air Force leaders became convinced much larger cost savings could be achieved by taking the next step—eliminating fighter pilots.  By completely linking an aircraft into the weapons control system networks, non-fighter qualified pilots could ride in the jets as mission monitors, taking over flight controls only for take-off, landing and aerial refueling.  The concept was initially tested on Raptors and Lightnings which had remote capability designed in during production. All other operations were directed and controlled by highly trained computer and game theory whizzes in sophisticated control centers.  Mission training was done by simulation, allowing the Air Force to dramatically reduce flying hours, scrap expensive combat training environments and close gunnery ranges. Looking to the future, Air Force Aeronautical R&D Labs began developing Six Sigma quality systems to do the remaining tasks.

Treadway, listened and remembered with sadness.  “All those decisions were made because there were so few generals with fighter experience, let alone real combat time.  There was no one left to raise the BS flag. Fighter pilots, systematically taken out of important positions, disappeared from promotion lists. He recalls his last wing commander was a communications officer and her boss, the 29th Air Force Commander, was a Logistics officer.”

The General continued.  The success and validation of drone warfare was demonstrated in the Middle East Operations in 2040 when the only squadrons deploying were those completely converted for networked employment.  During those fierce battles, the Air Force exceeded all expectations--meeting every task directed by the Joint Force Commander. Airmen convincingly proved remotely controlled airpower was an indispensable part of the defense team.  Success in combat set the plan in motion for the next level, a generation of combat fighters without any provision for pilots.  “Thus, our pride and joy, the FR75 “Cyberstriker”—now in early stages of testing.”

“Cyberstriker???  Holy crap!  The naming nerds have gone nuts.  Give me Eagles, Vipers or even Warthogs.”

General Chen got into her expertise—Organizational Efficiency. The next big advance occurred during the Corona conference in 2070, when the limiting concept of an Air Force was discussed by the assembled leaders.  All concluded Air Force was a historical artifact no longer reflecting the work and character of the women and men of that great service.  Since then, we have provided our joint partners and allies with the best support ever, under the flag of the United States Weapons Control and Situation Awareness Force. 

Guns remembered something he had read many years ago. Hap Arnold, the general who led the Army Air Force during World War II, fought to make the Air Force a separate service an independent, wrote a line which stuck in his mind.  "We should not be striving for an Air Service that supports the Army and Navy, but an Air Force that supports the Nation.”  He probably got it from Billy Mitchell, another long forgotten airman.

The Chief went on.  "Our honoree, Lt Colonel Treadway was one of the pioneers of this transformation.”  She summarized his bio: Entered pilot training at the now closed Vance Air Base in Oklahoma in 2035. Distinguished grad who went on to fly the F35.  Joining the top fighter squadron in the Air Force, he was elected to test the prototype networking modifications to the Lightning II.  Deployed to Turkey in 2039 when the Mid-East got hot, his squadron flew almost 1000 missions, dropping the most accurate bombs this nation had every developed while destroying 30 enemy aircraft.  “Amazingly, the pilots only had to override the remote systems on a handful of those missions.”

Once again Guns had a flashback.  “Overriding the system was a court martial offense.  Watchdogs kept close eyes on all of us--it was awful.  Spending hours and hours at 35,000 feet watching as bombs and missiles were launched by some computer gamer 500 miles away or somewhere in the basement of the Pentagon.”

Going through her talking points, "When the after action reviews were analyzed, it was clear the R fleet could meet any scenario...  The programming staff confidently recommended the AF could meet the nation's military strategy with far fewer squadrons. Over the next decade dozens of manned fighter squadrons were eliminated each year until the final squadron, the 88th, was retired in 2055.  Lt Colonel Treadway served commendably as the commander of that last squadron--a dinosaur in the Information and Data Age.  On June 4, 2055 he led the final training mission for the remaining fighter pilots. Eight planes against eight other planes

Getting a bit grumpy, he thought, “how little these people understood what we did way back when.  It was called 8v8 Ma’am.”  Smiling to himself, “Our last hurrah took the skill of every technician in the squadron, every pilot, and a ton of duct tape—but we did it, and did it and did it again, until last call was sounded.”

The Chief droned on. "His generation was defined by the courageous men and women who flew fighters—ready to meet any enemy who threatened the United States and our allies.  Their valor will never be questioned.  However, now, and in the future, we have our combat drone force.  Instead of putting our airmen in harm’s way, we will engage the enemy with our overwhelming technology.  Air warfare, once considered a gentleman’s game in the early days of aviation, quickly evolved into a kill quickly, or be killed profession.  From those romantic beginnings, it took many decades to get past the heroic combat image, and turn it into the lethal business of today.  Yes, I said business-- Air Warfare must be prosecuted in a totally business-like manner.   As your Chief, I’ve said in many forums--our USWCSAF values brain power over gut power.  Eliminating manned fighters has saved citizen taxpayers the high cost of keeping an expensive, high maintenance vestige of the past and freed our present force from the corrupting influences of a warrior culture—swagger and bravado reminiscent of the wild west. The "warrior culture” had become a headache many of my predecessors had to deal with.” 

Gun's started feeling nauseous.  “Headache my ass, it was an honor to be part of the force trained to fight and win. “No guts-no glory” was a culture which got us through a bunch of combat—keeping our country safe and a lot of soldiers and marines alive. Sure we had some fun doing it. His mind drifted to memories of days and nights carousing and joking with the men, and yes, the women, who had real guts--ready to fight for their country at a moment’s notice.  That was what the real Air Force had been about.  Fly, Fight and Win.  Oh yeah, we did it in spite of those early purges—inappropriate emblems and patches, off color songs and happy hour bars were all targets of behavior control.  But Guns remembered, in good squadrons social and cultural restrictions were quickly replaced by inventing some new crazy activity.  He chuckled to himself thinking how little things, like food fights and grossly inappropriate toasts during dining-in nights, seemed to build character and camaraderie in new Lieutenants—got a few commanders fired, but we were all in it together, and we had each other's backs when it counted.”

General Chen closed:  "Colonel Treadway, a national treasure, is the living symbol of a long gone generation.  His jet age warriors had to integrate primitive systems in their heads, make complex decisions on instinct and train many hours to acquire situation awareness skills.  Fighter pilots had their days in the sun, but time and history has left them behind.  Thankfully, we are privileged to be  in a world where our brilliant PhD’s skillfully control and employ the superb products of America’s magnificent technology—keeping our great nation and billion plus Americans safe.  Please, rise and give Lt Colonel Guns Treadway a heartfelt USWCSAF salute.  Sir, Thank you for your service.  The podium is now yours"

Guns, hearing the polite applause of an audience with no clue, was now painfully aware of his situation. A.C. Treadway was the epitome of everything the WCSAF was not. Shuffling to the dais, his brain was busily trying to sort and ID all the players.  He wanted a plan for the “1 v many” engagement he was about to enter. “With no wingmen—they are all gone--all I can do is tell it straight—like a Red Flag debrief.  No problem. Fights on--Cameras on.”

Starting with a soft but confident voice, "Thank you General, and thank all of you who came to hear about the glorious United States Air Force that kept America safe for so many decades.”

Startled, Guns suddenly heard strains of music in his head--soft as a whisper. It sounded like a chorus of mostly men’s voices singing an old familiar song accompanied by a tinny, out of tune piano.  He could barely make out the words.

Itazuke Tower this is Air Force 801, I’m turning on the downwind leg, my prop has overrun………..”

The music faded.  Guns made a quick adjustment to his hearing aid and continued, “You are giving me an interesting honor, something I never wanted, nor would have ever volunteered for, but Mother Nature just handed it to me. By the turn of the century, most of us were in some sort of managed care—dropping like flies. Last month, the only other survivor, my operations officer in the 88th, Buckshot Turner, had his final "fine-flight".  Looking at the Chief, "Ma'am, do they do those anymore?" Expecting to get a chuckle, but instead, only a sea of deadpan faces. "Guess not. The way I feel right now, I wish I could have beat Buckshot to the punch--this has to be the worst day of my entire life.”  The audience gasped.  “You all must excuse me, I 'm a bit stiff in my joints and can't run a mile anymore, but my brain is still working pretty good, so I'll explain, and give you some of the wisdom of my years.”

Guns was now getting into it. "When I was 17, I went to Langley Air Force Base, for an air show.  I watched pilots doing things with airplanes I could only dream about. From that day on I was badly bitten by the flying bug, so I signed up for the Air Force Academy.  Again, expecting a laugh. “What do they call it now??”  Sure, I was patriotic, but I really joined up to fly, and if I was good enough, to fight. I wanted to be associated with the bravest and most skillful pilots in the world.  I even thought of myself sitting in the cockpit of an F22 Raptor one day.  I would be the coolest hombre in anyone's airspace.  At the Academy, I did what was necessary to graduate. Somehow I had a premonition I would never use advanced calculus, thermodynamics, constitutional law, microbiology, astro or French.  But I got through it. The best course in the entire four years was an Air Force History course, a first year elective, taught by an old fighter pilot. At school, I loved the way we all pulled together, not to cheat, but to beat the system--earn the respect of your classmates, cooperate to succeed and graduate. Most importantly, I absorbed and retained the value of personal integrity and professional ethics the Academy taught and drilled into us.  These, not the laundry list of crazy courses, kept me true to myself and the Air Force I loved for my entire career. Through those four years, my goal was only to fly a fighter--I thought every cadet wanted the same.  In my final year, I was shocked to find I was in the minority.   There were as many applications for acquisition positions and cyber jobs as there were for pilot training slots.  The idea of a WCSAF had already taken hold in the Blue Zoo.”

The music and singing drifted back, a bit louder in his head—it wasn’t his hearing aid.  “There are no fighter pilots in the states…….”  The words were getting more distinct and more voices were joining in.

“I went to pilot training, not just to fly, but to fly a combat jet, so at the end when we picked our first assignment weapon system, I was once again amazed, discovering other than a few of us zealots, the majority of my training class wanted fly transports, tankers, AWACS..or whatever.  So be it, but how could I know it was just an early sign of trouble. Who could have predicted the days of the fighter pilot were numbered?”

Guns was now standing pretty tall on the podium—even with a hint of stoop. “I didn't get the F22, but the next four years were the best of my life.  The Double One Squadron was from top to bottom, a fighter squadron believing in excellence above all.  We had a great commander who tolerated shenanigans and horseplay, but demanded absolute flying discipline in the air and on the ground. We all worked hard, spent months on the road, and when we had the chance, played as hard as the law allowed.  We had non-PC nicknames and we wore vanity patches to the officers club--before they all closed. We had an illegal squadron bar and we kept a log of all the screw ups and humorous gaffs occurring both up and down the chain of command--no one was spared. That camaraderie was what I lived for.  But then it all ended. Our jets were modified, connected to the networks and as we used to say, wired for sound. We all became mission monitors." 

Now with a grin on his face, "Patches, the squadron computer whiz, figured out how to bypass the control and monitoring system.  Every once in a while we would kick the computer off and have at it, like the old days. None of the perfect SA, no beyond visual range missiles, no smart bombs.  It was a guns from a neutral set up visual engagement.  Check six” 

The chorus in his cranium got more robust, adding some four part harmony.There are no fighter pilots in the states. They’re all on foreign shores………”  Guns instinctively wanted to join in.

“I wandered up the career ladder, from one unit to another, each allowing the pilots less and less control over the jets we flew.  I did a headquarters tour in requirements, where we were starting to write specs for the FR75.  Fighting for more override switches quickly became moot when the real fight became the effort to keep a cockpit in the jet—just in case.  Kicked off the team, I was sent back to the field--to what was considered a backwater assignment.  No one of the new breed wanted to fly the old unmodified jets.  Good jobs and promotion were in the new R squadrons.  Our Lightnings were obsolete and going to mod lines or the bone yard soon.  It was a bittersweet experience.  We were the last Air Force fighter pilots, old fashioned warriors—not ready to hang the G-suits up, but realizing we were headed to the last No Fly Zone. As the final manned fighter squadron we didn't even have another unit to train with.  We were it, but the 88th wanted to go out with our heads held high—to honor all those who went before us.”

Now rising to full strength and gusto,Just give me operations, way out on some lonely Atoll. For I am too young to die, I just want to grow old”………………

“The 88th Squadron, even though a bit old and gritty, was the most professional group of people I had ever been associated with.  The pilots, and every other airman in the squadron understood the mission of the Air Force, and knew exactly how they contributed to the delivery of airpower—fight and win was a warrior’s code, not just a slogan.  Any one of them could analyze and plan a complex fighter mission in their sleep.  Any one of them could lead, maintain SA in their head, excuse me, brain, and make instantaneous life or death decisions--finding a way to do any job they were given, no matter what an enemy could throw at them.  The best part came when those drone squadrons started asking us to be their training opposition.  They couldn't beat us.  We pulled every unpredictable dirty trick our devious minds could think of and those rocket scientists couldn't keep up.  Unlike the drones, we could all ad lib to plan B, C or D whenever things started going south.  We went out kicking.”

 Alleluia, Alleluia.  Throw a nickel on the grass, save a fighter pilot’s ass  Guns smiled.  He now understood.  He knew he had a whole host of wingmen at his back, watching out for his six.

“To finish, I want to say no one should be honored for just being the last thread in the fabric of manned air combat or last drop of blood in heart of the American Fighter Pilot, but I accept the honor for all those intensely brave and dedicated fighter pilots who served this nation in peace and war for over 100 years, particularly those who lost their lives while doing it.  I will soon pass away with the knowledge my comrades in arms (now softly patting his breast, over his heart) are up there training to fight for freedom on Heaven’s Air Combat Range and I know I will soon be there to join them.” Giving a snappy salute, “Thank you.”

The resounding chorus echoing in his ears drowned out the tepid clapping.   “Alleluia, Alleluia.  Throw a nickel on the grass and you’ll be saved.”

The response did not bother Guns. The voices were so loud he couldn’t hear the audience--the tears on his cheeks said it all.


Lee Downer, Major General, USAF (ret)

Eliot Maine





Say what you will about him: arrogant, cocky, boisterous, and a fun loving fool to boot. He has earned his place in the sun. Across the span of 95 years he has given his country some of its proudest moments and most cherished military traditions. But fame is short-lived and little the world remembers. 


USAF F-15C Eagle
Photo by Jonathan Derden

Almost forgotten are the 1400 fighter pilots who stood alone against the might of Hitler's Germany during the dark summer of 1940 and gave, in the words of Winston Churchill, England "It's finest hour." Gone from the hardstands at Duxford are the 51's with their checkerboard noses that terrorized the finest fighters the Luftwaffe had. Dimly remembered, the Fourth Fighter Group that gave Americans some of their few proud moments in the skies over Korea. How fresh in recall are the Air Commandos who valiantly struck the VC with their aging "Skyraiders" in the rain and blood soaked valley called A-Shau? And how long will be remembered the "Phantoms" and "Thuds" over "Route Pack Six" and the flack-filled skies over Hanoi? 

Barrel Roll, Steel Tiger, Tally Ho. So here's a "Nickel on the Grass" to you, my friend and your spirit, enthusiasm, sacrifice, and courage--but most of all, to your friendship. Yours is a dying breed and when you are gone, the world will be a lesser place!
                                                                                              Friar Tuck

Save a Fighter Pilot's Ass


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Had this forwarded by Clint Moses:

About mid way down this story and if you choose to take the time to read, you'll come to a "high lighted" few words that is worded: "There are no moses3.jpgfighter pilots in the states." Then proceed to the following paragraph that starts outs with, "I went to pilot training, not just to fly, but to fly combat jets...etc" I am second from the left, and was the
only Aviation Cadet pictured with our instructor. The other three were all ROTC grads; and did not want jets!!!!

This is exactly what I found happening in my graduating class of 83, in October of 1954...Emoji...My first overseas tour was at Osan, Korea in 1955-56, flying the F-86F Mig Killers...I had just turned 23!

        Check Six -- 


Posted by messkit on
Coincidently,today i saw the new Popular Science Magazine with the cover story being
'The Last Fighter Pilot"...F35 introduction at Luke. The end is a whole lot closer than we know. I was in the 558TFS when we opened up Cam Rahn in ' the 558th is a drone outfit. Lee Downer brought tears to my eyes.
Posted by Seagull on
Good words, we knew it was coming, in the 80s when squadron commanders were staff weenies with no combat experience and they tried to teach us about "management" instead of leadership. WTF. Seagull
Posted by ViperPilot on
Hell...even the Sq. CC of the new F-35 training squadron at Luke is on board. Check out this article...talking points for Lee's article??

Posted by Jolly on
I'VE HAD MANY EMAILS THANKING LEE FOR THE ARTICLE, HERE ARE SOME OF THEM (OBTW -- Sign in and post a comment so I don't have to cut and paste, I'm trying to watch some football!):

From Greg:

I love Lee Downer. Used to fly with him when I was a young capt and he was our wing king at upper Heyford

From Eugenia:

Thanks for sending this - what an interesting perspective. And sad commentary...

Eugenia C. Robbins, LEED AP ID+C | GA-C
President | R E R Solutions
Founder | World War Art, LLC


From Robert:

Jolly and Lee,

That was an awesome read, Thanks!

R.A. Miley
GySgt USMC Ret


From Bob:

Thank you Jolly and Lee Downer for fortifying my remaining days on this earth......

GOD BLESS THE USA AND THE USAF...................

Bob Diaz,
319th FIS
4750th Test Sqdn
388th Fighter Wing


Good article.
Thanks for sharing.
Sadly, too true.
I just returned home to Houston from Nellis where I spent the last few days. A Red Flag is to begin tomorrow. Friday night not one Red Flag pilot was to be seen in the club........, I am old OV-10 FAC who flew 4B have to admit I was a tad amazed.

John Stipetich



Thanks for this. It's a visionary conceit (for now) but embodies a lot of truth.

I'm a multi-engine pilot but I have a son and his many friends who are all present and former Fighter pilots and who display fine cheek by reminding me, often, of my inferior (to them) flying status. And this despite their relatively much inferior position in the food chain. They are, by nature, cheerful risk takers and I enjoy their company; as I did at an RCAF anniversary dinner last May at which an old colleague (F-86s and CF-104s guy) and I swilled beer and swapped lies with some young men who would make you and your buddies proud.

The Fighter Pilot we all cherish may be a dying breed but he's not gone yet. And the spirit along with the BS flag are still in evidence. Why, they might even want to take you on over the assertion that the USAF had the best fighter pilots in the world … if indeed that was the implication.

I do enjoy the FU mail and hope you keep at it. I trust you have a wide following, well beyond the reach of the 'new age' types who are eating away at the morale of the warriors upon whom we all depend.

Scott Eichel

From Peter:

As an ex "RO" (F89D's & J's) (Commisioned at the age of 20 in 1957) I look forward to your e'mails.
The closest I came to be a Fighter Pilot came after a Pilot Training tour in 1964....Then off to RF-4C's for 10
Years and 2500 hours...170 Cbt Msn's over N & S Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. Many fond memories of nights in various O-Clubs when the cry "Who Owns this Fxxxxxx Club
led to many interesting confrontations...
I was interested in the Johnny Cash background music for the W.T.F.O. segment of 11-11-11. Got a Pilot Tng (65-D Vance) reunion next year, for those who are left.. and I'd love to play the song for them.. Any info on the song/album Name or whereabouts..?
Lift a glass for me next week As I certainly will, I'll be 79 on the 28th.
Bite 'em in the ass & Check 6..
Posted by neilcosentino on
There will always be fighter pilots ...

...what would STAR WARS be without them ?

Fighter Pilot
Posted by Thunder01 on
Good memories of 'better times' and fighter pilot adventures that I won't forget (even if some of 'the particulars' have grown a bit hazy). Whether it was a 36TFS 'food fight' up at the Hill 180 Club, scrambling out of Galena on Christmas Eve at -40 degrees, a 'straight up and straight down' "Fur Ball" with 8 'aggressors' at RF, a '72 ship flyby' at Eglin...... I can write my own 'citation' for those and the few 'not so fun' memories. As that old song goes......"they can't take that away from me" and I still smile when I look up. Hope today's fighter pilots are building a few as well and have learned what 'master of the calculated risk' means.
Posted by ThomasACurtis on
I have to believe the "Fighter Pilots" will always be present here and wherever they are needed. (have to get politicians out of way)
I am new here, not a pilot, but my Dad flew the Spad in WW1 in the 94th Aero Squadron and with the French before that.
I came along late in my Dad's life in his 40's. It was hard for me to believe Dad had volunteered to be a pilot in that pioneer life of a pilot. But he did.
In France, and cracked up twice, walked away. After the war, Dad returned to
the farm with his father, Aaron Curtis. My dad was Thomas A. Curtis or just

I believe we will always have fighter pilots in one form or another as long as we have breath to defend.
Son of a Spad pilot
Tom Curtis
Posted by MikeWalker on
My uncle, Charles Robert Walker, Few P-38 in Army Air Corp in early 40's. Killed in crash in "43. He also flew P-47 in the Battle of Darwin where seven US pilots took on 27 Zeros. A fair fight. He received an Australian medal. I am an F-8 Crusader pilot from mid to late 60's. We were pretty good fighter pilots as well.

Mike Walker
Posted by Dukester on
I'm an old fighter pilot. Once a fighter pilot always a fighter pilot.
Pilot school 60G. Best life a man can have.

As for the current
Posted by Dukester on
Continued: As for the current cyber force, someday they will think they are just as good. Let them bask in their ignorance.
Posted by ftrpilot on
Air Force’s “Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan, is exactly what Hands Treadway was speaking of. We're done, toast soon to be the thing of lore. "Yep, those fighter pilots pilots were something!", theyll say in 2035.
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