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Posted by Jolly on March 12, 2013

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The following article was forwarded to me.  It was written by David Radcliffe and appeared in Janes Defense Weekly, 6 March 2013.  It asks why would anyone want to become a Fighter Pilot?  You know things are bad when there are 50 unfilled pilot slots from the Air Force Academy.  

 

Who wouldn’t want to be a US Air Force fighter pilot?

The notion of being a fighter pilot has always been the stuff of childhood dreams, but within the USAF the appeal is fading, argues David Radcliffe

Who wants to be a fighter pilot? If you asked the question 20 years ago, almost everyone would raise their hand, but today this is no longer the case.

The state of the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) fighter force and the morale of its airmen and women have been in a steady spiral

of decline since Chief of Staff General Michael Moseley and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne resigned at the behest of then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2008.

So, who wouldn’t want to be a fighter pilot? Apparently at least 900 people as judged by the current training and retention shortage within the air force. The problem is so severe that there are currently 50 open pilot slots at the Air Force Academy and the USAF’s flying training syllabus is being cut by 18% to expedite candidates through the system. Further compounding this is the fact that just 45% of academy students are pilot qualified, down from the previous low of 70%.

While the USAF is not feeding the pipeline with enough new pilots, an even worse problem exists in that the service has fighter pilots leaving in large numbers, either exiting active- duty posts for the Air National Guard (ANG) or Reserves or just getting out completely. Many fighter pilots opt out of the cockpit role due to back-to- back operational cycles and are actually asking for a staff job to build résumés for their next career. There are currently 100 Air Mobility Command pilots in fighter staff jobs due to the shortage of qualified fighter pilots to fill these posts.

‘Pilots are getting little flying time .... This is not what they signed up for’

Indeed, more than 50% of US pilot training candidates do not want fighter assignments; they want transport or cargo assign- ments to prepare them for a career in the airlines. There is a definite shift away from anything that has long-service commit- ments, demanding training, or regular deployments. This is made even worse by the airlines facing the “most acute short-age of pilots since the 1960s”, as recently reported in the Wall Street Journal. A high-ranking friend of mine recently told me this situation is now “scary”.

That the Federal Aviation Administraion is considering a rule allowing commercial pilots at 1,500 hours flight time but military pilots at 750 hours only exacerbates the problem.

So why are trainee pilots shunning the fast jet community? The post-2008 ‘Qweep’, or career- broadening requirements, are a huge cause. This requires pilots to get their master’s degree, have community involvement, etc, on top of deployment, training, and platform-centric requirements. The USAF has even instituted the Director of Operations Screen- ing Boards and openly says that those not being promoted early are not considered for further enhancement. Thus, in the active- duty air force career broadening needs to be complete in order to compete. Those not selected are, in many cases, simply headed in the direction of the ANG or out of the active-duty air force between the 8- to 11-year mark. A friend of mine in the ANG calls active- duty career broadening the best recruiting tool he has to get pilots to join the guard, as the premium is placed on that and not how capable and proficient the pilot is.

A recent deployment had one fighter squadron augmenting another with 10 pilots. It is hard to believe that one squadron could be that many pilots short. The augmenting squadron had just returned from its own deploy- ment and one of the three pilots who spoke to me said that he is to leave as soon as possible and that the fighter community is a mess. Pilots are getting little flying time: eight to nine sorties a month, although in Europe, with poor weather and no ranges, it is down to two to three sorties with four to five simulator rides. This is not what they signed up for. This low flight time and the impacts of sequestration, which could further cut flight hours and train- ing, could put the force at risk and contribute to future incidents similar to the Aviano Air Base F-16 crash on 28 January that resulted in the death of the pilot.

So what has happened to every kid’s dream job? No matter what anyone says about the new career-broadening activities and other such ‘opportunities’, the fact is that the trend as it relates to pilot retention is headed the wrong way. Even the ‘Home Of The Fighter Pilot’ sign on the front gate at Nellis Air Force Base has been removed, damaging pilot morale even further.

The job of the fighter pilot is to defend the country, and it is not clear how that mission is being served by the current situation. As long as we have a volunteer force, the feelings of those volunteers matter. The USAF’s greatest strength is its people. Many nations have the same or newer variants of the aircraft flown by the United States, but none can come close to employing them in the same integrated manner. It is time to take care of our greatest resource and to address its con- cerns and needs.

David Radcliffe is an Air Power Advocate with the Air Force Association and a member of the Nellis Support Team: a non-profit organisation formed and organised to support Nellis and Creech Air Force Base personnel, activities and operations.

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Comments:

Posted by Jolly on
From Hawk:


Altho this article is all about the USAF, my sense is that our TACAIR Navy either has now, or will soon have, a similar problem with retention. Looks & sounds like the 1970's, all over again.

Hawk
Posted by DuckPerry on
OK Jolly, whether we want to admit it..you and I have been around 'a while' now. We've seen it before, will probably see it again, But just couldn't let this article go without my quips. (My comments in parentheses)

"Who wants to be a fighter pilot? If you asked the question 20 years ago, almost everyone would raise their hand, but today this is no longer the case". (Not the case when I ask Jr. high / high school students)

"The state of the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) fighter force and the morale of its airmen and women have been in a steady spiral". (The pendulum swings again, the same situation occurred during the Carter administration years….sounds like an echo from the 78-82 time-frame)

"The problem is so severe that there are currently 50 open pilot slots at the Air Force Academy" (I specifically ask LTG Mike Gould-USAFA Superintendent) this question during our Academy class 30 year reunion Sep 12 and he said that is a false rumor)

"..the USAF’s flying training syllabus is being cut by 18% to expedite candidates through the system" (No, to cut costs and trim the budget, which IS a problem).

"Many fighter pilots opt out of the cockpit role due to back-to-back operational cycles" (what? We used to fight for back to back ops tours..this guy doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about)

"and are actually asking for a staff job to build résumés for their next career." (Oh bullshit…if they are only getting 8 sorties a month-what are they doing with all their NON-planning, briefing, flying time?--use that for your 'so important' resume')

"There are currently 100 Air Mobility Command pilots in fighter staff jobs due to the shortage of qualified fighter pilots to fill these posts". (TRUE)

"Indeed, more than 50% of US pilot training candidates do not want fighter assignments;" (That is not that different than my pilot training class in 1983..about half wanted TTB, half wanted FAR)

"There is a definite shift away from anything that has long-service commitments," (I think they are IDIOTS if they don’t want that 20 yr+ pension!!..trust me)

"So why are trainee pilots shunning the fast jet community? The post-2008 ‘Qweep’, or career- broadening requirements, are a huge cause. This requires pilots to get their master’s degree",(this has been the case since the mid 80s-back when we were busy flying 4 times a week!!)

"The USAF has even instituted the Director of Operations Screening Boards and openly says that those not being promoted early are not considered for further enhancement". (No it doesn’t, it does mean that those not making the DO board will most likely not be advanced to a Sq. CC billet, and that narrows the chance for O-6 of course. But hey, the pyramid narrows at the top folks, always has. However, that situation does not mean you can’t make 0-5 and retire at 20 years which equals a successful AF career)

"Thus, in the active- duty air force career broadening needs to be complete in order to compete". (Always has, always will, that is how the AF views the need to have it's officers developed for its senior leaders)

"A friend of mine in the ANG calls active-duty career broadening the best recruiting tool he has to get pilots to join the guard, as the premium is placed on that and not how capable and proficient the pilot is." (Hey..you telling me the guard does not require PME and advanced degrees? Bullshit x 2. Try making O-5 and especially O-6 in guard now without ACSC and/or a master’s degree---always exceptions, but not the norm...good luck!)

"A recent deployment had one fighter squadron augmenting another with 10 pilots. It is hard to believe that one squadron could be that many pilots short". (In 1994-96 when I was at Hill AFB, guys from my wing augmented for other wings during Northern Watch/Southern Watch to spread out the deployment ‘buckets’ and avoid quick turns on rotations for some guys)

"Pilots are getting little flying time: eight to nine sorties a month", (Ya..that sucks. We got 3-4 sorties a week even when on WING STAFF for crying out loud@!...of course, I was invaluable right?)

"So what has happened to every kid’s dream job? No matter what anyone says about the new career-broadening activities and other such ‘opportunities’, the fact is that the trend as it relates to pilot retention is headed the wrong way". (Pilot retention problems have swung back and forth for 4 decades-is the AF still offering the ‘bonus’? Are pilots taking it? Airlines are not in a hiring ‘frenzy’ right now..that’s for sure.)
Posted by checksix13 on
There actually are about 50 open pilot slots at USAFA right now. Each class gets roughly 500 slots, and only 456 were taken this year (as of Feb).
Posted by DuckPerry on
Checksix13:
Interesting, LTG Mike Gould feed ME a line then!

Thx

Duck
Posted by aaaa on
OK Duck, I'll admit it..I have been around long enough. My father had seen it before (78-82 timeframe you mentioned) and I've heard it all my life. (My comments in parentheses)

Not the case when I ask Jr. high / high school students. (I can't comment. I don't have time to spend to volunteer while I work 12 hour days each week and PME during the weekend).

The pendulum swings again, the same situation occurred during the Carter administration years….sounds like an echo from the 78-82 time-frame. (Uhh... except that was a clear drawdown from the Vietnam War. The current shortfall is occurring while we still have a large presence in Afghanistan and the Middle East, permanent presence in Japan, Korea, Italy, German, and England, national interest in North Korea, Iran, China, and Syria. All of which are considerably more demanding on the fighter pilot than the SAC days of 78).

I specifically ask LTG Mike Gould-USAFA Superintendent this question during our Academy class 30 year reunion Sep 12 and he said that is a false rumor. (Ok)

No, to cut costs and trim the budget, which IS a problem. (No. This is actually a solution to the pilot shortage. Additionally, it is putting a larger strain on CAF units to provide the additional training with reduced flying hours.)

what? We used to fight for back to back ops tours..this guy doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about (With the current tempo, a standard Ops tour is 2-3 yrs. This results in 2 deployments of 6 months away from your family, in addition to short TDYs. After that, in some communities, you end up with a 1 year remote tour in Korea. It turns out, a lot of people are not willing to make that sacrifice in a time of “peace”.)

Oh bullshit…if they are only getting 8 sorties a month-what are they doing with all their NON-planning, briefing, flying time?--use that for your 'so important' resume'. (You only get those reduced flying hours while you are at home station. Units tagged for deployment generally fly at a higher rate. I have not met a single fighter pilot that said anything about his “resume”. Also, fighters are more complex than they were in the 80s and require more time to study the systems and the missions.)

TRUE (yep)

That is not that different than my pilot training class in 1983..about half wanted TTB, half wanted FAR (Airlines were a lot more interesting back then...)

I think they are IDIOTS if they don’t want that 20 yr+ pension!!..trust me. (High Ops tempo, 60+ hr weeks, constant deployments, no real guidance on what to expect... it takes huge sacrifice and dedication to make it that 20 years. Those that are smart enough, capable enough, and dedicated enough to succeed in the fighter community feel that they could also be successful elsewhere. Maybe they are idiots...)

this has been the case since the mid 80s-back when we were busy flying 4 times a week!! (The technical requirement to execute the mission in today's fighters is a lot more demanding than it was in the 80's. Trust me, I've seen your 3-1.)

No it doesn’t, it does mean that those not making the DO board will most likely not be advanced to a Sq. CC billet, and that narrows the chance for O-6 of course. But hey, the pyramid narrows at the top folks, always has. However, that situation does not mean you can’t make 0-5 and retire at 20 years which equals a successful AF career (Don't know. Don't care. Too busy. Won't make it. Fighter pilot.)

Always has, always will, that is how the AF views the need to have it's officers developed for its senior leaders (True. The air force has failed in this regard for years, but true.)

Hey..you telling me the guard does not require PME and advanced degrees? Bullshit x 2. Try making O-5 and especially O-6 in guard now without ACSC and/or a master’s degree---always exceptions, but not the norm...good luck! (Don't know, but worth looking into.)

In 1994-96 when I was at Hill AFB, guys from my wing augmented for other wings during Northern Watch/Southern Watch to spread out the deployment ‘buckets’ and avoid quick turns on rotations for some guys (How long were those deployments. How often? Quick turns and long deployments are standard.)

Ya..that sucks. We got 3-4 sorties a week even when on WING STAFF for crying out loud@!...of course, I was invaluable right? (Currently we are limited to 5 sorties per month and then we sit.)

Pilot retention problems have swung back and forth for 4 decades-is the AF still offering the ‘bonus’? Are pilots taking it? Airlines are not in a hiring ‘frenzy’ right now..that’s for sure. (I am curious what will happen with the bonus. We are in the void between the 7 year commitment guys and the 10 year commitment guys. In my opinion, the s*@t is about to hit the fan.)
Posted by aaaa on
OK Duck, I'll admit it..I have been around long enough. My father had seen it before (78-82 timeframe you mentioned) and I've heard it all my life. (My comments in parentheses)

Not the case when I ask Jr. high / high school students. (I can't comment. I don't have time to spend to volunteer while I work 12 hour days each week and PME during the weekend).

The pendulum swings again, the same situation occurred during the Carter administration years….sounds like an echo from the 78-82 time-frame. (Uhh... except that was a clear drawdown from the Vietnam War. The current shortfall is occurring while we still have a large presence in Afghanistan and the Middle East, permanent presence in Japan, Korea, Italy, German, and England, national interest in North Korea, Iran, China, and Syria. All of which are considerably more demanding on the fighter pilot than the SAC days of 78).

I specifically ask LTG Mike Gould-USAFA Superintendent this question during our Academy class 30 year reunion Sep 12 and he said that is a false rumor. (Ok)

No, to cut costs and trim the budget, which IS a problem. (No. This is actually a solution to the pilot shortage. Additionally, it is putting a larger strain on CAF units to provide the additional training with reduced flying hours.)

what? We used to fight for back to back ops tours..this guy doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about (With the current tempo, a standard Ops tour is 2-3 yrs. This results in 2 deployments of 6 months away from your family, in addition to short TDYs. After that, in some communities, you end up with a 1 year remote tour in Korea. It turns out, a lot of people are not willing to make that sacrifice in a time of “peace”.)

Oh bullshit…if they are only getting 8 sorties a month-what are they doing with all their NON-planning, briefing, flying time?--use that for your 'so important' resume'. (You only get those reduced flying hours while you are at home station. Units tagged for deployment generally fly at a higher rate. I have not met a single fighter pilot that said anything about his “resume”. Also, fighters are more complex than they were in the 80s and require more time to study the systems and the missions.)

TRUE (yep)

That is not that different than my pilot training class in 1983..about half wanted TTB, half wanted FAR (Airlines were a lot more interesting back then...)

I think they are IDIOTS if they don’t want that 20 yr+ pension!!..trust me. (High Ops tempo, 60+ hr weeks, constant deployments, no real guidance on what to expect... it takes huge sacrifice and dedication to make it that 20 years. Those that are smart enough, capable enough, and dedicated enough to succeed in the fighter community feel that they could also be successful elsewhere. Maybe they are idiots...)

this has been the case since the mid 80s-back when we were busy flying 4 times a week!! (The technical requirement to execute the mission in today's fighters is a lot more demanding than it was in the 80's. Trust me, I've seen your 3-1.)

No it doesn’t, it does mean that those not making the DO board will most likely not be advanced to a Sq. CC billet, and that narrows the chance for O-6 of course. But hey, the pyramid narrows at the top folks, always has. However, that situation does not mean you can’t make 0-5 and retire at 20 years which equals a successful AF career (Don't know. Don't care. Too busy. Won't make it. Fighter pilot.)

Always has, always will, that is how the AF views the need to have it's officers developed for its senior leaders (True. The air force has failed in this regard for years, but true.)

Hey..you telling me the guard does not require PME and advanced degrees? Bullshit x 2. Try making O-5 and especially O-6 in guard now without ACSC and/or a master’s degree---always exceptions, but not the norm...good luck! (Don't know, but worth looking into.)

In 1994-96 when I was at Hill AFB, guys from my wing augmented for other wings during Northern Watch/Southern Watch to spread out the deployment ‘buckets’ and avoid quick turns on rotations for some guys (How long were those deployments. How often? Quick turns and long deployments are standard.)

Ya..that sucks. We got 3-4 sorties a week even when on WING STAFF for crying out loud@!...of course, I was invaluable right? (Currently we are limited to 5 sorties per month and then we sit.)

Pilot retention problems have swung back and forth for 4 decades-is the AF still offering the ‘bonus’? Are pilots taking it? Airlines are not in a hiring ‘frenzy’ right now..that’s for sure. (I am curious what will happen with the bonus. We are in the void between the 7 year commitment guys and the 10 year commitment guys. In my opinion, the s*@t is about to hit the fan.)
Posted by Torch55 on
The fundamental issue regarding this is found in a song in which the chorus of the ditty goes like this: "No balls at all, no balls at all, these pussies have no balls at all!" It's not like the bone-usses and all the other compensation aren't "enough." It's a matter of testosterone and dedication to actual, enduring values found in the Constitution.

Torch55
Posted by GMCP on
It's a sad thing to think that being a fighter pilot - or evenmore correctly, being a patriotic warrior - has deveolved to a sense of being a mercenary. The problem does seem to be a shift of values: I flew fighters to fly fighters, to defend my country. I left the active Air Force for family assignment reasons, but fulfilled my service in the ANG, retiring after 23 years total service. It IS cyclical; I enjoyed the banter with aaaa and Duck above, and I have seen both sides. The airlines have ALWAYS been a challenge [how many of you out there remember Ron Keyes' "Kiss My Ass" article about joining the airlines? - yes, the same one that stayed in and become Lt Gen Keyes]... not much different now. The airlines "look attractive" [something about green grass and other yards] but not so much. It DOES all boil down to values - and we have raised a very selfish generation that would rather enjoy what has been handed them than fight to protect it, which DOES involve sacrifice, but I signed up for the Academy and for flying fighters because I felt that supporting and defending the Constitution [and the Republic for which it was built] was important - these days, it seems... meh, not so much.
Posted by Pinball on
GMCP,

As a fighter pilot who has recently decided to stay in, I will say that your response is idiotic and extremely misguided. To call into question someone's patriotism is ridiculous and has nothing to do with the issue. Not a single person I know got out becuase they were selfish, they got out because the Air Force chose to abuse them (2+ years TDY on a 3 year assigment and then question why they haven't completed their master's), or they had family reasons, or they just wanted something different after fulfilling the commitment they signed up for. If your going to come out of left field with your values and patriotism remarks, then start with yourself. I guess your family reasons for getting out were a one time exception, so we shouldn't call your values and patriotism into question? I'm guessing you're one of those guys that's never gone blind either. Thank you for your out of touch view point.

Good day to you sir,

Pinball
Posted by undaero15 on
Hello Gentleman,

I am currently a student at the University of North Dakota's Aerospace School where I am working on finishing up my commercial rating. I have always dreamed of becoming either a Navy or USAF fighter pilot, but as I get older that dream as changed into just a military pilot. I really would just like for someone on hear that knows how the USAF officer recruiting works, and how the whole pilot slot thing works for the USAF, to explain that to me. Im a Civil Air Patrol c/Lt Col and Eagle Scout as well. When it boils down to it, I would love to fly something fast, but ultimately I just want to serve my country as a military pilot, get my full retirment and enjoy a career out of the military flying for FedEx or Delta or Corporate.

Thanks Guys!
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