Monday, May 09, 2005

Air Force SpecOps and "Accidents"

Finals week is kicking my butt right now, but just thought I would pass on a couple of stories I've come across. First is this story off the AP wire about Air Force Special Operations. FINALLY!!! I never thought I would see the day that the Air Force got its due in the media for its contributions to the GWOT. Outside of unspecified mentions of "air support," and of course, the absolutely kick-ASS AC-130, the Air Force has gotten zero coverage, as this article alludes to. So thanks, Robert Burns, for writing something on Air Force Special if we could just get them to recognize the REST of the force, we'd be sitting pretty good.

Keeping with the flying theme is this next article, about "hot-dog" pilots. First of all, I about vomited when I saw the "Top Gun" reference. If I see one more reference made to Top Gun in any way about military aviation, I'm going to hurt somebody. Any movie that features F-14s overloading their negative g limits, going into combat without their Phoenix missiles, and too many homo-erotic scenes to count doesn't deserve to be taken seriously. :-p Anyway, I can see both points of view in this issue. The fact that aircraft and crews are being lost in peacetime training due to recklessness is unacceptable. At the same time, military pilots, by nature and training, are aggressive. They're taught to be aggressive, to push the limit, but without breaking the rules. The problem comes in that grey area between the "safe" zone of flying and the "dangerous" edge of flying. Granted, some pilots are just stupid. Case in point, the Apache pilot who tried to fly between two trees. The gap was less than the width needed for the chopper to safely clear it. End result - over $1 million in damage. On the other hand, there are pilots who push the boundary, perhaps too far, get unlucky, and end up killing themselves and/or someone else. An example of this is the subject of the article. CWO3 Darrin Rogers was flying a UH-60 Blackhawk and engaged in some extreme acrobatics. A chock drifted forward into the cockpit, obstructing the controls, causing the Blackhawk to crash which resulted in the death of the crew chief, Daniel Galvan.

So, bottom line? Pilots are entrusted with multi-million dollar aircraft. They've gone through extensive, expensive training. They are expected to keep their aircraft and crew safe. The fact of the matter is that military aviation is inherently dangerous. Sometimes the line will be crossed. And regardless of what causes the accident, the pilot is ultimately responsible for what happens to the aircraft and the crew.

Unfair? Maybe. But there's no other way to have things.

Like the crew chief's widow says, someone has to be accountable. And that someone will always, ultimately, be the pilot. And if someone is seriously injured or killed because of actual or perceived negligence, that pilot can expect to face charges.

The end result is that there are no winners. Someone is seriously injured or killed. A pilot's career is ruined. He, most likely, will be convicted of a felony. More significantly (or tragically), the pilot will have to live with the guilt for the rest of his life. The rest of us live and learn.

Sometimes the only lesson to be learned is that Murphy's Law will kick in at the most inopportune time.

Such is life in military aviation.