Edward Vernon Rickenbacker (October 8, 1890 – July 23, 1973) was an American fighter ace in World War I and a Medal of Honor recipient. With 26 aerial victories, he was the United States’ most successful fighter ace in the war and is considered to have received the most awards for valor by an American during the war. He was also a race car driver and automotive designer, a government consultant in military matters and a pioneer in air transportation, particularly as the long-time head of Eastern Air Lines.

1. He loved auto racing. In his first automobile race, Rickenbacker failed to finish after crashing through an outer fence. Nevertheless, his passion for speed was confirmed. That summer he went on to win most of the dirt track races he entered, including five of six at Omaha’s Aksarben Festival in October.

2. Rickenbacker was accident-prone. In his autobiography, he recounted numerous scrapes he had in his early years. Even before entering school, he toddled into an oncoming horse-drawn streetcar and fell twelve feet into an open cistern.

3. He almost lost his life to a fire. Early in his school career, he ran back into his burning school building to retrieve his winter coat, and nearly paid for it with his life.

4. He was a gardener and farmer. He helped in the garden (potatoes, cabbages, and turnips) and with the animals (chickens, goats, and pigs)

5. He was streetwise and tough. He also had a sensitive and artistic side, too. He enjoyed painting watercolors of “flowers and scenery and animals.”[6] Art was a passion he hoped to pursue as a career.

6. Rickenbacker made his first sortie with Reed Chambers on April 13, which almost ended in disaster when both became lost and Chambers had to make a forced landing. Flight commander David Peterson called Rickenbacker a “bloody fool for flying off in a fog.

7. On May 28, he claimed his fifth victory to become an ace. Rickenbacker was awarded the French Croix de Guerre that month for his five victories. This success did not mean the end of difficulties, however. Several times he almost fired on friendly planes. He nearly crashed when the fabric on his Nieuport’s wing tore off in a dive. He mourned the death of Lufbery. And his guns kept jamming whenever he went in for the kill.

8. Rickenbacker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross a record eight times.

9. He was also awarded the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre by France.

10. In 1919, Rickenbacker was discharged from the Army Air Service with the rank of captain, which he had obtained sometime in September.

Needs to Succeed

A look at improvements required for U.S. space warfare capability

By: Lt. Col. Michael A. Buck, USAF (Ret), Daedalian Life Member #128

     With the creation of the U.S. Space Force two years ago, many of our nation’s traditional military space activities have been consolidated under its umbrella. These missions include 1. Missile warning and tracking. 2. Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation and timing. 3. Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). 4. Global communications. 

     On Jan. 18, 2022, retired Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton participated in a Mitchell Spacepower Forum with Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force. Raymond described the activities and results of those first two years as being focused on ensuring that the traditional space missions continue to be executed while establishing a lean and responsive organizational structure comprised of 15 mission-focused “Deltas” (a Delta is the Space Force equivalent to an Air Force Wing).  

     Raymond promised a “bold budget” request in 2024 and the creation of a “capability development program” to rapidly get space-related “warfighting capability in the hands of our operators.”

Chilton characterizes these necessary activities as “organizing for success,” but he is convinced that while such improvements are important, they are not sufficient. He contends that the U.S. must move beyond the traditional space missions if the nation is to capitalize on the full potential of spacepower. 

     Achieving the new space capabilities that the country needs will require a significant shift in the U.S. leadership’s view of space –— a shift that recognizes space itself is a warfighting domain and not just a means of supporting warfighters in the traditional warfighting domains of land, sea and air.


     “As recently as 2015, policy prevented our military from even talking about warfighting in space,” Chilton said. [1] To Chilton, it is clear that space — whether we like it or not — is now a warfighting domain.  

     “Our adversaries know this, and it is why they are fielding weapons capable of destroying U.S. satellites that deliver intelligence, navigation, missile warning and global communications to our forces,” he said. [1]

     Examples abound of our adversaries’ intentions to conduct offensive warfare in space. On Nov. 15, 2021, Russia conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) test using a ground-based missile that shot down one of its own satellites, Cosmos 1408. China’s arsenal of counterspace weapons includes direct-ascent missiles, co-orbital weapons, ground-based lasers, high power microwaves, offensive cyber tools to compromise information networks and electronic warfare capabilities to jam or otherwise interfere with common satellite communication bands. These weapons are supported by a robust network of space surveillance capabilities that can locate, characterize, track and facilitate counterspace targeting of space assets
in all orbits.

     Chilton asserts that U.S. space policy must embrace these realities.  

     “The highest levels of government must recognize that space is a contested domain. This may seem obvious given Chinese and Russian behavior, but some remain uncomfortable — let alone supportive — discussing of fielding the necessary offensive and defensive capabilities required to operate and survive in space,” Chilton said. [1]


     According to Chilton, “The Space Force cannot continue to simply procure incrementally better versions of the same kinds of exquisite space systems the U.S. military has relied on in the past. They are too few in number, unresponsive to new missions and lag both the evolving threat environment and cutting-edge technologies.”[2]

     Chilton explains that it is time to invest in new, much-needed space capabilities.  

     “Our first goal should be to deter adversaries from attacking our critical space assets. To effectively deter attacks — and win, should deterrence fail — our Space Force commanders will need weapon systems that can defend our assets and hold adversaries’ space capabilities at immediate risk.” [1]


     Our current space systems are highly vulnerable to attack; their orbits are predictable, thus they can be easily tracked by adversaries. They have extremely limited maneuver capacity for defensive actions to avoid such attacks. Their propulsion systems were designed only to make small adjustments in their orbits, and so they produce little thrust and have very limited supplies of propellant.

     To greatly increase the maneuverability of our orbital systems, a new type of propulsion system must be developed. One option is to provide future spacecraft with Space Nuclear Propulsion (SNP) systems.  

     One example of SNP is a nuclear thermal rocket engine. Such engines use the heat produced by a small fission reactor to heat liquid hydrogen to a very high temperature; the hot hydrogen gas then is expelled through a rocket nozzle to create thrust that greatly exceeds that of conventional chemical rockets while using far less propellant.  Such a rocket can produce enough power to accelerate a typical automobile from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just 0.3 seconds. [3]  

     The ability to change a vehicle’s velocity is known to rocket engineers as Delta-V (pronounced “Delta Vee”).  Nuclear thermal rocket engines can create a very large Delta-V, dramatically increasing the maneuverability of our spacecraft. That maneuverability is so crucial to space operations that Chilton refers to Delta-V as “the coin of the realm.” [3]

     A nuclear rocket engine may sound like something out of science fiction, but the concept actually dates to the 1950s. NASA’s Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA) program made great strides in this area in the early 1960s, ultimately producing an engine certified for flight. However, funding for NERVA decreased in the late 1960s and the program was canceled in 1973 before any flight tests of the engine took place. Later, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) pursued a nuclear rocket program for missile and space defense weapons systems, but in the early 1990s that too was canceled.

     Spacecraft equipped with a nuclear thermal rocket engine could maneuver freely from one orbital path to another, to include moving from low Earth orbit (LEO) to geosynchronous orbit (GEO), and all the way out to orbits located between Earth and the moon, a region termed “cislunar space.” This increased maneuverability would not only improve the survivability of satellites that support traditional space missions but also enable the creation of spacecraft that can conduct offensive actions against adversary space systems.

     Chilton’s team at the Mitchell Institute is making the case for SNP. Christopher Stone, Senior Fellow for Space Studies at the Institute’s Space Power Advantage Center of Excellence recently published a policy paper on the subject titled “Maneuver Warfare in Space: The Strategic Mandate for Nuclear Propulsion.” In it, Stone notes that “China’s space maneuver warfare forces will include vehicles with nuclear propulsion that are capable of rapidly transferring between Earth orbits and in cislunar space. This would give China the capability to rapidly maneuver between operational earth orbits and out to cislunar space as needed for deterrence and warfighting advantage.” Stone concludes, “The U.S. Space Force must adopt a new force design that includes satellites and with nuclear propulsion capable of decisive maneuver warfighting advantages from, to and in space. Space nuclear propulsion will expedite DOD’s transition from its dependency on vulnerable satellites locked in predictable orbits to a more dynamic, survivable force structure that is capable of winning.” [3] 

     Fortunately, such work is already underway. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is continuing the development of nuclear thermal rocket engines to power its Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program.  The program’s goal is to demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket propulsion system in orbit, thus paving the way to operational systems. Naturally, safety considerations are an integral part of the DRACO program — the flight-ready system will be built to prevent any radioactive elements from escaping even if there is a launch mishap or if the rocket were to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere.

1. Defense News, Jan. 28, 2022.

2. The Backbone of JADC2: Satellite Communications for Information Age Warfare, Mitchell Policy Paper Vol. 32, December 2021, By Gen. Kevin Chilton, USAF (Ret).

3. Maneuver Warfare in Space: The Strategic Mandate for Nuclear Propulsion, Mitchell Policy Paper Vol. 33, January 2022, By Christopher Stone .

A Warfighting Domain

How we got here and where we are going

By: Ms. Autumn Bernhard, Daedalus Flyer Editor & Order of Daedalians Communications Manager

Since the first satellite was launched into orbit in 1957, we have had a continuous fascination with the final frontier. However, the thought of space becoming a warfighting domain wasn’t in our line of sight. But, for retired Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, this idea was lightyears away from farfetched. In fact, he, along with the majority of his predecessors at Air Force Space Command, saw the writing on the wall. It was just a matter of time before we would look to the stars as our next fighting territory.

“There has never been a domain that we have not decided to fight in,” Chilton said. “Whether on land, on sea, underwater or in the air. Every time, we have been able to operate in a new domain, eventually, when war broke out, the conflict extended into that domain. So, the notion that space was somehow going to be different never crossed my mind, and I know it didn’t cross any of my predecessors. They all believed that we would end up there someday.”

That someday is today.


     Since the end of the Cold War, we have assumed we held military superiority, all the while, adversaries such as China and Russia have been looking at space warfighting as a way to gain an advantage. According to Chilton, we started recognizing this vulnerability in 2015.

     “In the last year of President Obama’s administration, we started to see intelligence indicating what the Chinese were doing,” he said. “We realized our approach of being passive and encouraging restraint was not working, and we needed to change our policies with regard to securing the space domain for national security reasons.”

     The Department of Defense’s 2020 Defense Space Strategy stated, “space is now a distinct warfighting domain, demanding enterprise-wide changes to policies, strategies, operations, investments, capabilities and expertise for a new strategic environment.” That same year, General John W. “Jay” Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, United States Space Force, said “it is clear today that space is a warfighting domain just like air, land and sea,” and that he “couldn’t have said that five or six years ago,” making it clear the necessity of a strong space strategy.

     “We didn’t want space to become a warfighting domain, and we still frankly don’t today, but adversaries have evolved,” Raymond said.

     Due to that evolution, U.S. military officials have recognized that our satellites no longer hold a sanctuary in space, and our military superiority cannot be taken for granted.

     “We forgot our adversaries get a vote, and that’s typically what happens,” Chilton said. “Someone else figures out how to build a boat, submarine or airplane, and the next thing you know, you’re either ahead or behind but you’re going in that direction. You are going to have to figure out how to dominate that domain to either deter conflict or win if deterrence fails.”

     Retired Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton is the Explorer Chair at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies Spacepower Advantage Center of Excellence (MI-SPACE).

     “I thought if I could contribute to the space domain, which I believe the Mitchell Institute does, and we can help educate folks on the important issues and get the debate out in the open, it gets people thinking and hopefully making good decisions for National Security going forward,” he said.

     Retiring in 2011, Chilton served for 34.5 years in the Air Force, most recently holding the title of Commander of U.S. Strategic Command from 2007 to 2011. He has commanded at the wing, numbered air force, major command and unified combatant command levels including serving as Commander of Air Force Space Command. 

     He flew operational assignments in both the R-4C and F-15, and as an Air Force test pilot, conducting weapons tests in various models of the F-4 and F-15. 

     His career includes serving 11 years as a NASA astronaut, where he flew as the Commander of STS-76, his third Space Shuttle mission, and served as the Deputy Program Manager for Operations for the International Space Station Program. 

     Chilton was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from Creighton University, was a Columbia University Guggenheim Fellow earning a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering and is a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force pilot training and test pilot schools, as well as a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering sciences.


     According to the United States Space Force website, the formal establishment of the United States Space Force on Dec. 20, 2019, resulted from the acceptance that space was a “national security imperative” and the acknowledgment that the growing threats by others created a “need for a military service focused solely on pursuing superiority in the space domain.”

     Chilton compares Space Force’s creation to that of the United States Air Force in September 1947. The possibility of an air component providing a strategically decisive effect on the outcome of battle was discussed in the 1920s and 30s. It was then tested in World War II, and the answer was a resounding, yes. Thus, the Air Force was created independent of the Army Air Corps.

     “We’ve already broken away the Space Force from the Air Force, now the question is can we do a similar thing,” he said. “Space has been an enabler of air, land and sea operations. Could it also provide a strategically decisive outcome to a conflict? Something tells me, in this regard, there will come a day when there are capabilities delivered from space that will directly affect the outcome of battle beyond the capabilities provided today.”

     Space continues to provide important communications, intelligence and missile-warning surveillance operations, and the main topic of conversation has focused on resiliency.

     “We are working on resilient architectures so we can continue to deliver the capabilities our air, land and sea forces have relied upon to conduct warfare in their domain,” he said. “We want to make them more survivable in the future because they are not today.”


     But that is not where the work ends. According to Chilton, we need to work to hold our adversaries’ assets at risk — build the offensive capability.

     Chilton outlines two main jobs that the United States needs to achieve in space to be successful: deterrence and superior capability.

     “You want to have a dominant force fielded, so you can deter an adversary from starting a war or crossing red lines that you have set with respect to your national interests,” Chilton said. “A mentor of mine told me a long time ago, that countries go to war because they have no other choice or because they think they can win. We certainly want to eliminate the second one. You don’t ever want someone to think they can beat you, otherwise, they just might try.”

     This level of deterrence has been achieved in the air, land and sea domains.

     “Credible deterrence requires credible capabilities and a will to use them,” he said. “We need to have great tools so when the adversary looks at them, how well trained our people are and what we are willing to do, they decide they are not going to cross that threshold and attack our assets.”

     When weaknesses are identified, patching them promptly is required to avoid uncertainty in the adversaries’ minds.

     “Unless we have an offensive capability to hold their similar assets at risk, I fear we will fail to deter them and if a conflict or war breaks out, we will have none of the capabilities that we depend on, and they will retain all of theirs,” he said.

     The space capabilities military and civilians rely on are endless. They include global communications, intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, missile warning, precision navigation and timing and accurate weather data to name a few.

     “So, if we want to continue to provide those capabilities to the air, land and sea forces, we must have superiority in space first,” he said. “This means we have to be able to defend our assets, and we need to be able to attack our adversaries.”

     That’s where the superior capability comes in — the same superiority we demand in every other domain. When deterrence fails, we need to be able to win on our terms. 

     “U.S. Space Command, the U.S. warfighter, should demand and receive support from air, land and sea forces to help gain superiority in the space domain,” Chilton said. “If you’re going to hold an adversary’s satellites at risk, you should develop capabilities to do this that can be projected from air, land and sea forces.  There should be a demand function on them to support the space domain, just as there is a demand function on the space domain to support.”


     While future space capabilities are undetermined, Chilton believes there is still a large hurdle discouraging this progression — policy.

     “Just listening to the way we talk about the domain, I’m concerned that we are still constraining it in a way that we don’t any other warfighting domain,” he said. “We say we recognize it as a warfighting domain but there still appears to be policies in place to constrain what we are allowed to reveal and do. 

     “You can’t imagine air, land and sea forces being told they can’t develop offensive capability — that all they can do is build more resilient architecture to hopefully survive an attack by the adversary. That’s like telling the Army we are going to buy body armor but no guns and hopefully that will deter the adversary and hopefully you will survive.”

     The lack of focus on offensive capability comes down to two things for Chilton. We are either not allowing it to happen or it’s incredibly classified and we aren’t talking about it.

     “If it’s the former, that’s a mistake, in that we are essentially setting ourselves up for a defeat,” he said. “If it’s the latter, that approach is ineffective to deter. The adversary must know at some level what the risk is to their forces if they misbehave. If you can’t show any cost or denial of benefit, then they are undeterred, and they will think they have free reign.”


     Chilton remembers getting very detailed satellite photos of an airplane being developed in the Soviet Union. Because of the precision of the photo, engineers identified the likely performance of the aircraft — how far and high it could fly, its likely speed and its purpose. 

     “We have exquisite capabilities from orbit delivered by the National Intelligence assets we have,” he said. “They are very critical to making assessments about adversaries’ capabilities, and they answer other critical strategic intelligence requests for our national leadership. That is invaluable, and we need it. But the warfighter doesn’t need that exquisite level of intelligence to conduct effective operations.”

     Instead, they need to know more basic information —  where the adversary forces are located and if they have been eliminated after a strike. Chilton refers to this as operational intelligence, as opposed to strategic intelligence.

     “That type of intelligence can be lower resolution and lower fidelity, which means the satellites that collect operational intelligence can be less expensive, so you can buy more of them,” he said. “This means you can have higher revisit rates which means that a commander has more real-time understanding of what is happening on the battlefield than he ever would have today just using the national assets.”

     According to Chilton, U.S. commercial satellite companies have already deployed imaging and signal collection satellites that show the utility of this approach.

      “I think the military and Space Force can have a role of fielding constellations of reconnaissance satellites with the sole purpose of the satellite being providing direct support to the combatant commanders,” he said. “I think there is a great opportunity for this to expand and finally attempt to address combatant commander’s insatiable desire for operational reconnaissance of the battlespace.”


     Chilton is excited about what is in store for Space Force and space as a warfighting domain. While we are at a “pivotal moment in the space domain,” he believes we need to let people start to think of the realm of possibility without constraints. 

     “From a skill perspective, I think the Space Force is focusing on a lot of the right things, and they are having great success recruiting exceptional talent,” he said. “We’ve never failed on wielding a dominant force in the other domains. We have found how to create cross-domain effects in every other domain, so I find it hard to believe that at some point, we won’t do the same for space.”

The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is an independent, nonpartisan research organization established to provide fact-based policy options that better empower our nation’s leaders by informing the national security debate, educating about the essential role of aerospace power in securing America’s global interests and cultivating aerospace-minded talent. This involves questioning established doctrine, organizational constructs and operational concepts, asking whether there are better ways to meet national security goals. The Mitchell Institute provides independent analysis based on science, history and data outlining the right solutions in the aerospace domain.

A Lens Into the Past, Preserved Today: A Look at the Award-Winning 307th Bombardment Group

By: Miss Taylor E. Watson
Order of Daedalians Operations Officer

     While much of the work done by our organization supports our members and helps inspire tomorrow’s military aviators, we also maintain an extensive collection of archival materials. We are custodians of our organizational history, records on our Founder Members and their contributions, and generous additions made from our Named Members over the years. Earlier this year, our staff rediscovered a pristine photo collection reflecting the history of the 307th Bombardment Group in Korea. 

     The 307th deployed to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, in August 1950 flying Boeing B-29s as part of the Korean Campaign while attached to Far East Air Forces (FEAF) Bomber Command. By the end of hostilities, the wing had flown 6,052 sorties against enemy targets, had 55,473 combat hours and dropped 51,757 tons of bombs. The set chronicling this period contains 76 photographs in total, including crew portraits, snapshots of on-station life, a series of strike photos and several images of unit members receiving decorations. 

     Originally activated in 1942 by the Army Air Corps Combat Command after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the 307th Bombardment Group (Heavy) began flying B-17s in the war against Japan. In the years that followed, the 307th would participate in World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Conflict, becoming one of the most renowned bombing units in American military history. The unit is known as the “Long Rangers” in honor of their first combat mission on Dec. 27, 1942, when 27 B-24s staged an attack that destroyed 90% of Japanese holdings on a Wake Island stronghold. At the time, it was considered the longest mass raid that had ever been conducted.

     They served with distinction in the Pacific throughout the remainder of the war and shot down an average of 25% of Japanese fighter interceptors. They conducted most of their missions without their own fighter escorts and played a key role in debilitating Japanese units. The 307th received two distinguished unit citations for their actions. 

     The first was “for action in the bombing of the Island of Truk, the most heavily defended and strongly fortified Japanese base in the Pacific. During withdrawal, gunners of the Group destroyed 31 of the 75 attacking aircraft, probably destroyed 12 more and damaged 10 in an air battle that lasted 43 minutes. This daring raid, made on 29 March 1944, neutralized the Islands airfields, making possible long-range flights without fighter protection.” 

     The second was “awarded for the successful strike at the Balikpapan Oil Refineries in Borneo on Oct. 3, 1944. The 307th had to fly their B-24 Liberator bombers 17 1/2 hours for a round trip of 2,610 miles, the longest mass daylight mission ever flown by this type aircraft.” This action helped assure allied victory in the South Pacific.

     The unit also carried out bombing strikes against Japanese shipping centers in the Philippines as part of the Philippine campaign, inhibiting the Japanese from gaining a further strong hold in the area. The group was awarded the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation for these activities. Following V-J Day in 1945, the 307th aircraft ferried former American prisoners of war from Okinawa to Manila. 

     The unit was deactivated in November 1945 shortly after the war. However, with the Air Force’s policy of preserving the names of the top fighting units of World War II, the 307th Bomb Group was reactivated as the 307th Bombardment Wing on Aug. 4, 1946, and began flying B-29s at MacDill Air Force Base, FL, under the auspices of Strategic Air Command. Until the Korean campaign, the unit played a leading role in developing new anti-submarine tactics and procedures and was frequently called upon to demonstrate the effectiveness of aerial bombing.

     In August 1950, the 307th deployed to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan and had a successful campaign staging attacks against advancing communist forces in South Korea until the enemy was contained in 1953. They received another Distinguished Unit Citation for “their extraordinary heroism in action against an enemy of the United Nations during the period of 11 to 27 July, 1953. At this time, they flew 93 sorties and dropped 860 tons of bombs on targets at the Simanju Air Field, where despite severe icing, intense enemy anti-craft fire and coordinated search light fighter opposition they rendered the airfield unserviceable.” The 307th was also awarded the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation for its air strikes against enemy forces in Korea and several campaign streamers.

     Following the conflict, the 307th was assigned to Lincoln Air Force Base, NE, in 1954. A year later, the wing was equipped with B-47 Stratojets to replace the B-29s, becoming the first jet-propelled aircraft it had been assigned in its history. The unit was then designated as the 307th Bombardment Wing (Medium) and trained for strategic bombardment missions and air refueling operations until deactivated in 1965. Reactivated during the Vietnam conflict, the unit flew KC-135s and conducted air refueling operations in support of tactical units from 1970-1975 while operating at U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, Thailand.

     On Jan. 8, 2011, the 307th Bomb Wing was reactivated at Barksdale Air Force Base as a new Air Force Reserve Wing and reports to the Tenth Air Force, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth, TX, and is a component of Air Force Global Strike Command. When reactivated, dozens of alumni of the 307th Bomb Wing from the Korean, Vietnam and Cold War eras attended and were able to tour the displays and artifacts featured in the current headquarters, providing testimony to the unit’s heritage and great accomplishments.

     The 307th’s current mission focuses on B-52 aircrew training and nuclear deterrence and global strike. The current flying components of the wing consist of the 93rd and 343rd Bomb Squadrons, which fly the B-52H Stratofortress aircraft, and the 489th Bomb Group, which flies the B-1 Lancer from Dyess Air Force Base, TX. Since its reactivation, it has been awarded the General Curtis LeMay Trophy for best bomber operations wing in the Air Force in 2011. The 307th has deployed multiple times in intervening years and remains the only bomber wing in the Air Force Reserve. 

     This storied bomber wing’s effort to preserve their heritage across generations reflects our own Daedalian mission. Just as the current Long Rangers of the 307th carry forward the tradition of excellence set by their predecessors in executing the mission today, the Daedalian fellowship charges its members with carrying the legacy of aviators past into the present. We work to inspire the future by reflecting our Founders’ values of patriotism, personal integrity and character in word and action and sharing and learning from each other’s stories. It is our honor to be stewards of a valuable piece of this history.

Airlift – The Wings of Mercy

In the recent activities commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift much has been said, published and screened about it. My personal story about a small part of that operation is nothing more than what GIs have done since our country had a military establishment. Men in uniform have always shared special parts of their rations with children of friendly countries and with the children of conquered countries. It is nothing new.

My story began when I met about 30 children in July 1948 at the beginning of the Soviet siege of West Berlin. The scene was a barbed wire fence surrounding Tempelhof Central Airport in the American Sector. Pilots assigned to fly food and fuel over heavily fortified Soviet East Germany wanted to see the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag and Hitler’s bunker, not just from the sky but up close and on the ground. I was no different. General Tunner wisely required all pilots to stay by their aircraft while it was being unloaded. The engines were to be started the moment the last sack of flour or coal was taken from the aircraft. We were to go back to West Germany for another load, fly two or three round trips to Berlin from Rhein-Main, sleep and do it again. No sightseeing.

My only chance to see Berlin on the ground was to finish my round trips and instead of going to bed return to Berlin from Rhein-Main as a non-crew member, a hitchhiker. That is what I did early in the afternoon one day in mid-July. This would allow me to look around Tempelhof and visit the points of interest then catch a ride back to Rhein-Main on a returning aircraft. That was no problem. C-54s were leaving Berlin empty for Rhein-Main every few minutes. No reservation needed. The only problem was the loss of sleep for 24 hours and getting back to West Germany before I was scheduled to start my next trips to Berlin.

It was at this time I met those 30 children at the barbed wire fence on the approach end of the runway at Tempelhof. It was these children who first taught me about the Berliner’s desire for American style freedom.

Before proceeding by jeep to the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag and Hitler’s Bunker I wanted to get movies of our aircraft coming over the bomb-damaged apartment houses just off the approach to Tempelhof on the end of runway 27 right (west landing). Runway 27 left, over the graveyard (cemetery) would not be constructed for some time.

Soon about 30 children came up on the opposite side of the barbed wire fence and began talking with me in broken English. They were watching the planes land with special interest. The discussion began about the increased number of planes landing each day, their cargo and our commitment to keep the airlift going. There were no complaints about the dried eggs, potatoes or milk. Their questions began to center on how firmly we were committed keep up the airlift in the face of the Soviet threats. I was just a pilot not a politician but I told them not to worry.

They cautioned me that the good summer weather would be replaced with fog, freezing rain and snow. Could we do it then? I assured them we could but they still showed some concern. They said, “During bad weather times you don’t have to give us enough to eat. Just give us a little. Some day we will have enough to eat but if we lose our freedom, we may never get it back.” It was the children encouraging me rather than me encouraging the children. They said that whatever we could do would be good enough. They taught me a lesson about the importance of being able to choose one’s own destiny, another definition of freedom. They were aware of what Hitler had done to their lives. Their relatives across the border in East Berlin and East Germany told them about the system Stalin was imposing on the people there. These children knew what they wanted, the right to choose!

The hour I was with them at the fence went quickly. I turned to leave them for the jeep waiting at the Tempelhof terminal building. I marveled at how mature these children were. How concerned they were for the truly important things of life. Not one begged for gum or candy although they hadn’t had any for months and knew that being an American, I might have some. They would not lower themselves to be beggars. They were too grateful for the flour each day to keep them free. I was astonished because in other countries during and after the war, groups of children like this would chase Americans down the street begging for gum or candy. I knew it must be on their minds but not one would be so ungrateful to ask for something more than food.

I knew that it was not just the children that valued freedom, but they also learned it from older family members. Gratitude for their freedom was the great motivation in this city under siege. On September 9, 1948 the West Berliner’s exceptional Mayor Ernst Reuter, echoed this spirit in the Plazt der Republik, “There is only one possibility for all of us: to stand jointly together until this fight has been won.” This was the Berliners “Spirit of Freedom” completely supported by Mayor Reuter’s great American counterpart, General Lucius Clay.

Because of the children’s gratitude, I wanted to give them some sweets but all I had was two sticks of gum. Thirty children and two sticks – there could be a fight. I broke the sticks in two and passed the four pieces through the fence. No fight, but those who didn’t get any wanted a piece of the wrappers. They smelled the small pieces of wrapper and their eyes got big as they remembered what it was like to have gum. I was astonished at their response. Just then a C-54 flew over our heads and landed behind me. I decided that the next day I could drop gum and even some chocolate out of my aircraft as I flew over their heads to land. There would be enough for all. That way I could respond quickly, and I wouldn’t lose any more sleep.

The children were more than excited when I explained my plan. Because there were so many airplanes landing, they immediately wanted to know how they could recognize mine. I told them that when I came over Tempelhof from West Germany I would wiggle (rock back and forth) the wings of that big C-54. They said let’s get this thing started.

The next day I came back over Tempelhof. The children were down below waving! When I wiggled the wings, they went wild. They caught the three parachutes loaded with goodies and they shared. We wanted to keep it a secret because we had no time to get approval from the authorities.


For each of the next three weeks we dropped more. The crowd grew. One day I returned to Rhein-Main from Berlin. There was an officer there to meet me. He took me to my colonel who demanded to know what I had been doing. Because I didn’t get permission first I could have been court-martialed, but General Turner thought it was a good thing so I was given permission to continue. My squadron members gave me their candy and gum rations and handkerchiefs for parachutes. Then the candy companies in America sent tons of candy and gum through Chicopee, Massachusetts where children from 22 schools loaded little parachutes and sent large boxes full and ready to drop. They were flown to Rhein-Main through Westover AFB. By the end of the blockade our squadrons had dropped 23 tons of candy and chewing gum. Fifteen tons had come through Chicopee.

The children wrote thousands of letters. I had no time to answer them so two German secretaries answered the mail. One sample follows:

Dear Uncle Wiggly Wings,
August 29, 1948

When yesterday I came from school, I had the happiness to get one of your sweet gifts. First I didn’t know what to do; I couldn’t come home quickly enough, to look at your wonderful things. You cannot think how big that joy was, they all, my brother and parents stood about me when I opened the strings and fetched out all the chocolate. The delight was very large.

Lieselotte Muller
Berlin-Tempelhof, Conturstr 75



Wheelus – The Legend Lives On

by Col. Stephen A. Mosier, USAF (Ret.), Daedalian Life Member #375


I arrived at Bitburg AB, Germany in October 1969, joining the 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, one of the original NATO Tigers.   The 53rd was a Phantom F-4D squadron with a long history of service in Germany.  It was a spirited group, proud of its tradition, including a tiger emblem that had originated out of the Walt Disney studios during World War II.   

Other squadrons in the 36Th Tactical Wing included the 22nd TFS, the Buzzy Bees, called by their guys the last of the “Red Hot Fighter Squadrons”, the 23rd TFS, the Fighting Hawks, “Once a hawk, always a hawk, once a hawk is enough.”  (They said it, I didn’t.)  Finally, there were the 525th TFS, Bulldogs, “Is there a bulldog in the house, you bet your sweet ass there is!”  All good fighter squadrons.  A wing full of spirit, camaraderie, and competition.   

One of the first things I learned was the 22nd, 23rd and 53rd sat the “Q”, nuclear alert against targets in the Warsaw Pact.  The 525th did air defense, five-minute alert against Warsaw Pact intruders coming out of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.  The good news: the Bulldogs flew off alert. The bad news: the rest of the guys spent their days in the alert area, or sometimes “expanded” in the squadrons, at the gym, or perhaps having a meal in the Officers’ Club, but always ready to answer the claxon and make the fifteen-minute scramble if a nuclear release message was sent from the European command authority.  Serious business in all cases, catastrophic in the event of a nuke release! 

Along with this tasking was the job of being prepared to fly ground attack missions in support of NATO ground forces defending against Warsaw Pact forces coming through the Fulda Gap, hoping to drive through West Germany to the Atlantic Coast.  Both the nuclear and conventional tasks demanded proficiency in putting bombs on airfields, tanks, bridges, artillery and ground armies moving against U.S. and NATO allies.  Dumb bombs were all we had in the first several years I was at Bitburg.  Smart bombs were being employed in SEA, but we didn’t have them yet.  Putting a five-hundred-pound bomb precisely on a bridge abutment or a T-62 tank was a tough job. Practice—routine practice—was essential. 

That practice was hard to come by on “the continent, or the UK”.  By my count there were six ranges–Vliehors, Nordhorn, Helecturn, Siegenburg, Suippes, and Mantiago  for all of the NATO forces on the continent.  Those places were small, and the acreage required for the most simplistic range was hard to come by.  No one liked noisy, oil burning jets overhead, especially if they were diving at the ground, dropping and shooting things that sometimes came off and fell close to, or on, private property.  Not only were range space and time precious, but European weather could also be a challenge—lots of clouds, low and high, rain and low visibility.  Ranges were hard to schedule and difficult to use in the aforementioned conditions.  Consequently, the leadership of the Air Force looked for an alternative “off continent”.    

The answer for years, starting in 1948, was “property” on the southern edge of the Mediterranean Sea near the Libyan city of Tripoli, known as Wheelus Air Base.   For a little history, the site had been an Italian airfield during the days of Italian colonies in Africa, then used by Rommel’s Afrika Corps, until the British 8th Army (finally) roared out of Egypt, and with the help of the Americans during Operation Torch ran the Fox back to the continent.  Shortly after the end of hostilities, the Americans moved into North Africa, specifically, Morocco and Libya, as a means of containing the Soviet influence in the area.  

Wheelus was a Strategic Air Command base, housing bombers and tankers aimed at the Soviet areas on the edge of the Black Sea. There were interceptors to protect the bombers along with some Mace missiles, and a sizeable U.S. presence.  There were Brits and Italians in the area because of Libyan oil reserves; they brought their own infrastructure needed to tap and process oil for the continent.  The American bombers took off from nearby, striking the Axis main oil source in Ploesti.  If the Fox had beat Monty, Malta had fallen to the Luftwaffe, and the Italians had neutralized the British fleet, well, things could have been different, at least for a while.   

It became a very large, populated American base with fighter units from the UK, France, Germany and Spain brought their Sabres, Thunderjets, Voodoos, Huns, Thuds and Phantoms for air to ground rockets, dive, skip and strafe, laydowns lofts and tosses, and air to air firings at towed targets, rags or darts. There was a facility known as El Uotia less than ten minutes flying time from Wheelus, with two complete ranges for conventional gunnery and long run-ins for simulated nuclear deliveries. It also had tactical targets, representing likely Warsaw Pact vehicles and military buildings. 

Numbers seem to vary, but there were sometimes over ten thousand Americans on the base.  Local arrangements allowed children of the oil industry to attend American schools. Standard infrastructure such as police, fire, a personnel office, officer, NCO and airmen clubs, medical facilities, a commissary and base exchange, and billets for military and families, as well as for the rotating aircrew and maintenance personnel from wings at Bentwaters, Wethersfield, Woodbridge, Hahn. Spangdalhem and Bitburg.   

Temporaries were known as “Rotes” because they rotated in from home stations for two weeks several times a year.  There were also schoolteachers for the dependent children and a significant number of staff working for the British and Oil companies in the area.  It was a lot like “home” as the New York Times said when we pulled out, the Libyans even got the “bowling alley.” 

    F-105D from the 36th TFW, Bitburg, Germany, (with red tail, probably the 22nd TFS) 

The terrain and climate were Mediterranean desert – arid, hot, and with strong winds in the afternoons. They could get intense enough to cancel flying ops and have everyone seek shelter after securing loose items on the ramp, around the aircraft and in the base housing areas. The city of Tripoli was close and accessible, but the relations with the locals were not especially cordial, not bad, but not cordial, due to the difference in culture, colonial legacy, and impact of the transit of German, British and Italian armies over the area.  Off base, significant antiquities from Roman, Greek, Carthaginians, and Moorish cultures were close by and left their particular mark. There were also long stretches of beach with warm water, a treat for everyone, especially the Rotes who enjoyed a break from the damp, dismal weather on the continent. 

When fighter squadrons get together there is always competition—within squadrons, flyers were competing to see who was Top Gun, decades before Maverick and Goose.  Bets were small, typically a quarter a bomb, and a nickel for each hole in the strafe rag.  Not big bucks, but bragging rights, and with the price of drinks in those days, worth a few beers or martinis.  Martinis were a favorite of the Thud drivers—”no water, no ice and no Tripoli two-step” was a motto.  On occasion there would be turkey shoot competitions between two squadrons.  Losers paid for the party; maintenance guys included.   

There were a few legends in the squadrons: Lt. Dick from the 81st wing in his Phantom and Maj. Bill in his Hun from Hahn took the range as singles on El Uotia’s dual ranges, one on the left, one on the right for four events, mano-a -mano.  So, the story goes, the pot, jacked up late the night before was winner take all, one thousand bucks.  There was lots of drama watching the two knights off for a joust.   So, the story goes, Lt. Dick won rockets, Maj. Bill won strafe and they each fouled in the bombing events.  A tie. No money changed hands. but at least a thousand was spent on the celebration that afternoon.  Que sera, sera. 

While on the subject of weapons delivery it is necessary to spend some words on the technique used to deliver nuclear weapons, the loft or toss delivery.   In Wheelus days the nuclear weapon was big and heavy, fifteen feet long, and weighing in at just under seventeen hundred pounds.  To deliver it you also had to work out the escape procedure—how to get away from a blast much bigger than Hiroshima or Nagasaki.   

Bombers came in high, so they achieved some displacement from altitude differential. If you’ve ever seen the movie Dr Strangelove and Slim Pickens riding one in you get the picture. Fighters came in low for survivability and had to get displacement in a different way.  Using visual and radar cues, fighters started a pull up several miles from the target, from around three hundred feet above the ground, or lower. Some rudimentary instruments were used to measure time and angle so the bomb was automatically released at the right point in space. It would then travel toward the target and arrived within about a thousand feet from it before detonation.   

In the meantime, the fighter would be performing an Immelmann, or part of a Cuban Eight maneuver to get going in the opposite direction and avoid the shock wave and thermal blast of a many kiloton weapon.  There was a note in the F-4 tech manual saying something like, ‘failing to achieve necessary safe escape distance can cause parts of the flight control surfaces to melt, and loss of aircraft stability. The bomb flies toward the target on an arc or in some cases, goes straight up, runs out of airspeed, then tumbles and falls nearly straight down.   

A lofting or tossing pilot had to be precise on airspeed, pitch and bank angle to achieve proper release parameters.  You needed some place like Wheelus or the Nellis range complex in Nevada to practice these deliveries. Small deviations could create gross errors in final impact of a two-thousand-pound object on an errant delivery.  There is a reason they say “close only counts in horseshoes and nuclear war”.   

F-4D from one of the German Bases in the Eifel over the dunes 

There are many stories: Gen. Merrill McPeak was in a flight of Huns in 1961, including Gen. Spike Dugan, when they were captains, having an emergency recall in the midst of a range mission.  Cecil LeFevers was leading because the Soviets had just started the shutdown of Berlin.  Imagine, two future CSAFs on the same sortie! A lot of good men made the Rote to Wheelus.   

For the 53rd Tigers, then Captain Dugan was a member of the 79th TFS Tigers, and instrumental in getting the NATO Tigers off the ground. As the squadron intel officer, I had a “filmsy” in the safe from USAFE authorizing a meeting of RAF, FAF and USAFE Tiger units to “further relationships, tactical knowledge and readiness among NATO fighter squadrons”.  Yep, that’s definitely what it did on a joint trip to the Crazy Horse Saloon from Cambrai, France in 1972. 

Another story recounts a fight in the bar involving a future air force general and a future dictator named Gaddafi.   The Libyan Air Force shared the officers club bar with the Americans.  Mostly it was parallel play, but there are legends of friction like this one. It seems like many of the bartenders, all Libyans, were one eyed. The legend says their mothers put their eye out to keep them out of the Italian Army back in the day.  

There is another story about an ejection on the range with both crewmembers surviving but being beat up badly due to the high winds on landing. During the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, training sorties stood down and some units went home early to avoid any perceived or actual alignment with either side, changing the balance of power in the Middle East forever.  Another unintended consequence of the ‘67 war was the introduction of hardened shelters for both NATO and Warsaw Pact aircraft. These elevated the need for precision weapons to a key priority for every air force. 

I noted the beaches earlier.  They were great refreshers from the continental weather.  One guy noted he spent more time on the beach at Wheelus than he did anywhere else in his Air Force career, including a later tour at MacDill. A feature of a Wheelus beach experience was the squadron blab jug.  This was a plastic water container routinely use to take potable water from the base to quarters on the local economy.  It became a blab jug when filled with a mixture of mostly alcohol and a smidge of fruit juices that varied by squadron.  It was said it took only a few swigs of blab in the bright Med sunshine, and “Blab” was all most could say.  The blab parties were weekend events to allow for recovery.  Twelve hours between bottle and throttle, as the hardcore said.   

There was one notable blab-driven event of special notoriety.  The USAFE Safety staff published a magazine, Air Scoop, distributed mainly on the bases in the command. It did find its way in small quantities throughout the Air Force.  One summer, they decided to visit Wheelus and do a feature on the hazards of summer.  What better backdrop than a hot, dry exotic location with a beach?  

The feature shows the hazards of hot work on a flight line (like at Nellis, Luke or George back in the CONUS), what wind and sand can do to jet engines and electronic systems (we were reminded of this in Desert Storm—apparently our lessons learns logged got buried in the Air University Library), and of course the danger of sunburn and sunstroke on a beach.  The team of safety specialists, journalists and photographers hit Wheelus running and captured narrative and candid photos for the next edition.   

Photographers were blind to the beach scene that included fighter pilots as well as some of the schoolies and secretaries of the European oil companies sharing the seaside experience.  Later, some wise editor in Wiesbaden decided the picture had a little more emphasis on beach blanket bingo than was prudent.  That edition, referred to by some, as “Sun, Sand and Sex on the Med”, never made circulation.  Wise men do wise things.  

I have included a recipe for blab below.  Most Rotes I know say this is way too complex and most batches were made using less formal apportionments. Nevertheless, the 53rd tried it in a jug surviving the forced departure for Wheelus at another Rote location, Incirlik, AKA the “Lick” that we used to sub for Wheelus. Yes, it was potent, but the environment was not even close.  In 1970 Adana, the Turkish town just outside the gate of Incirlik, was known as the only city of a quarter million without a radar return.  The beach was not close, it was rocky and there were no schoolies—or oilies. 

Like many things of the past, Wheelus ended for American air forces in fall of 1969, just before I got to Bitburg.  If you know any history, you know the King was overthrown by Major Gaddafi of the Libyan Air Force, and he demanded our departure.  There is a story of the face-off between the then commander of Wheelus, Colonel Chappie James, where he and the new sheriff in town faced each other up close with holstered guns and what could really have been a spot of history ended with a withdrawal of the U.S. Air Force from a base used by the Italian, German, British, and American military over some sixty years.   

If you remember Operation Eldorado Canyon, you’ll know President Regan sent some F-111s out of the UK to strike the base in retribution for the bombing of a nightclub in Berlin which killed several American servicemen.  A last rote for the 20th TFW out of the UK.  Today Wheelus is Mitiga International Airport.  Along with some airliners, you’ll probably find a potpourri of Soviet, French and American aircraft on the tarmac where USAFE pilots roted in for training, sun and sand.   

Note: I have taken information and stories from a variety of sources, New York Times articles, AFCS academic papers, General McPeak’s trilogy, Wikipedia, Facebook, and the memories of several nameless Rotes in assembling this story. Also, Jeff Platte, a high school student at the “Heath” and later an A-10 guy in the UK, and thanks to Mark Bass, the son of a career Air Force officer for his sharing of Wheelus artifacts, including some classic 8mm movies of his dad and comrades on Rotes to North Africa. 

Speaker Bio – Captain Jamal Campbell, USMC

Captain Campbell graduated from the Criminal Justice program from Rochester Institute of Technology and commissioned as a Marine Corps officer in May 2015. He then completed basic rifle platoon commander training at The Basic School in Quantico, VA. Upon MOS selection, he headed to Fort Sill, OK for field artillery officer training where he earned the 0802 MOS in June 2016.

For his first duty station, Captain Campbell reported to 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment in July 2016 where he assumed the duties of Fire Direction Officer of Battery A. He later served as a Company Fire Support Officer in the Liaison Section and Executive Officer of Battery C. During his time with 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, Captain Campbell completed two Unit Deployment Programs to Okinawa, Japan.

In July 2019, Captain Campbell enrolled at the Naval Postgraduate School. He graduated with a Master of Science in Information Technology Management in June 2021. In his thesis topic, he researched the psychological effects of operating drones and ways to mitigate PTSD in drone pilots.

Captain Campbell will be reporting to the Marine Corps University in Quantico, VA as their Emerging Technology Officer in July 2021.

Book Review: “On the Wings of Geezers”

Edited by:  Don Shepperd 

Reviewer:  Col. Francis L. Kapp, USAF (Ret.) 

This rather unusual book, loaned to me by our National Commander, Maj. Gen. Jerry Allen, that’s well worth your time to read.  The book is subtitled “Life Lessons from Old Pilots”, and is a compilation of stories from twenty-nine of the thirty-plus members of the Friday Pilots of Tucson, a group of former military pilots, who meet for lunch every Friday to eat laugh and lie (according to the fact sheet that accompanied the book).  Editor Don Shepperd has done a great job of putting the stories together.  The authors have a very wide range of flying backgrounds and experiences, and all of their tales are worth reading.   The only thing they have in common is flying.  Their lessons learned are worth remembering, particularly if you are young enough to still be flying.  This is a good book for your library, or for a gift for someone interested in a flying career.  I noted that this is the second book written by the Friday Pilots.  Their first is “The Friday Pilots”.  Both are available through Amazon Books.  I think I will try to get a copy of “The Friday Pilots”.  Incidentally, what made Maj. Gen. Allen’s copy so cool is that all the authors signed it.   

Pilot Training Program Changes

By: LCDR George Sigler, USNF (Ret)

F-35 Simulator. (Photo by: Viper Wing)

Recently the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Brown, made a comment that the Air Force needed to get back to basics, i.e., landing and takeoffs. He noted that accident rates in the landing and takeoff regimes were unacceptable and I might add very costly in machines and lives. Depending on the direction of the political “winds” the F-35 costs in the neighborhood of $80 million per aircraft and about $36,000 per flight hour. 

That might seem an extremely high price for a single fighting machine, but if the machine is instrumental in winning a battle or a war, it is a bargain. There is no doubt the F-35 has unique capabilities in and of itself, and it can utilize its features to aid and assist other less capable combat aircraft on the battlefield to maximize their capabilities.  

So, how does this all relate to flight training? Years ago, my son played a video game in which he was a duck hunter. The game was very realistic as he had to be able to lead the duck so that the shot and the duck arrived at the same position in space at the same time. Shortly thereafter, we had occasion to go skeet shooting with a friend as it was a family tradition on Thanksgivings. My son had never been skeet shooting but turned out he was the best shot in the group — all because of a video game.  

That really opened my eyes to the value of simulation. Now as a former naval aviator, airline pilot, recreational pilot, and one who has owned a flight school for 14 years, and used simulators for years primarily for instruments, emergency procedure, or transitioning training to other aircraft, I certainly understood the value of simulators.  

Let’s for a moment discuss flight simulation. First the advantages of simulation:  

It saves wear and tear on expensive aircraft.

No one has ever crashed a simulator and killed themselves

An experienced pilot can transition from one type of aircraft to another, i.e, even a type rating.

Instrument training can be accomplished far more efficiently, i.e., if one misses an approach fix, just stop the simulator and back up. 

As a follow on to the above the simulator can be frozen so instructor and student can discuss a procedure.

It is the most effective way to teach cockpit procedures; checklist, emergency procedures, etc.

Now the disadvantage of overutilizing simulators: 

There is no inherent fear of death in a simulator. As a carrier pilot I can say with all certainty that no simulator can mimic the sheer terror of coming aboard a carrier on a dark stormy night under IFR conditions.  

Even the best full-flight simulators cannot replicate the emotions and physical stress inherent in flying a real aircraft knowing that any failure on the part of the pilot could end in tragedy. And it is those emotions that translate to a learning experience.  

It has been said that every flight is a learning experience. But that experience comes primarily in flying an actual aircraft. I believe that folks pushing for initial training in simulators have not taken into account the human psyche. Simulators do exactly that: simulate the same thing time and again; they are predictable. An aircraft is not.  

So how does all of this translate to pilot training? A few years ago, the Air Force came out with a Request for Information related to Contractor Undergraduate Pilot Training (CUPT). My company was deeply involved with this project and we gathered a team of highly experienced pilots to analyze how best to approach the training which involved both the T-6 and the T-38. At that time and even today, the Air Force emphasized the importance of proposing the use of virtual reality, augmented reality, and simulators. In conjunction to the electronic simulations, the Air Force was also looking at reducing the syllabus flight hours. The intent was to try and make up the nagging pilot shortage the Air Force has suffered for years. If the training process could be shortened, more pilots could be trained, and the pilot shortage would be solved.  

One of our team members had been a squadron commander of an F-16 training group. His take on shortening the training was based on his experience years before. He shared the fact that when the Air Force experimented with shortening the time spent in the “white” aircraft it resulted in redundant training in the very expensive “grey” aircraft. What may have sounded good on paper did not prove out in reality.  

Now back to General Brown’s statement that, “we don’t know how to take off and land.” Translate the fact that if an operational squadron lost an F-35 at $80 million in a pilot-induced landing or takeoff error, how many flight hours would that have paid for in even an old T-38? The answer: 8,000 hours and 34,800 hours in a T-6.   

When our team analyzed the CUPT project it became obvious why the Air Force needed to contract out flight training: they had run out of production facilities largely due to BRAC. The existing training bases were maxed out. Even with more instructors and more aircraft the existing AETC training bases and air space could not handle more traffic. So, the only solutions boiled down to changing the syllabus, substituting VR, AR and simulators for flight training or finding more training bases. Using contractor instructors for Air Force flight training was not a revolutionary idea. Civilian instructors trained a significant number of Air Force pilots during the Korean conflict.  

After some heated discussions, our group of very experienced pilots spanning both the military and commercial spectrum came to a consensus on how best to accomplish military pilot training, ideas of which translate to the civilian community as well.  

We were well aware of the fact that the Air Force was pushing for more simulator training primarily because it saved time and money. However, our group believed there was no substitute for flying an aircraft. We analyzed the Air Force flight syllabus and came up with some ideas that we believed would reduce the training time while at the same time reduce cost and increase “stick time.”   

Again, our shared experience came from pilots with thousands of hours of flight time both military and civilian. The consensus was that simulators indeed had an important place in training, but not in initial pilot training. We felt that the flight training background of some supervisors led them to believe the use of simulators by commercial airlines equated to pilot training in general. The airlines are not using simulators for initial pilot training, they are using simulators for flight checks, recurrent training, and transition training for pilots that have thousands of flight hours.  

In the CUPT offering, we came to some conclusions that we knew were valid and could save time and money. Most of us who had been military pilots realized that a good deal of the training could be accomplished in far less expensive aircraft while at the same time giving a bigger bang for the buck. Air Force pilots start their careers for the most part flying a simple single-engine propeller aircraft. During our planning it was discovered that the cost of actually flying a real aircraft was far less than the very expensive flight simulators that were being used. Our supposition was based on purchasing the identical aircraft the pilot candidates had already flown and soloed, using those same planes for many of the flight training evolutions that were currently being performed in the T-6. Our plan was to bid on the Air Force IFT program using the Cirrus TRAC which besides having state-of-the-art avionics was equipped with a full plane parachute.  

If the pilot candidates used a plane they had already qualified in there would be a considerable savings in time and money in the next flight evolution. And as a competitive contractor, saving time and money while at the same time producing a better product was the name of the game. So, we proposed using a like aircraft for instrument training. Again, capitalizing on the fact the pilots were already familiar with the flight characteristics of the plane so the transition would be remarkably simple and very cost-effective. It was generally agreed that flying an instrument pattern at 120kt vice 160kt was a non-factor. In fact, I might argue that a flight in a TRAC aircraft would cost less per hour than a flight in a T-6 simulator.  

Our group believed that the pilot candidate could start his UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training) by first gaining an instrument rating in the TRAC or the Diamond. This training would be augmented with an instrument simulator. Next the student would be exposed to formation flying as relative speed information does not change whether going forward at 400 knots or 100 knots. Next, we would transition to low-level navigation. All of this training could be accomplished with a platform that cost about $170 an hour opposed to the T-6 at $2300 an hour or the T-38 at $10,000 an hour. The only thing we could not accomplish in the TRAC would be formation aerobatics. The T-6 would be used for that training. Utilizing the above scenario would save the T-6’s for what could not be done on a less-expensive aircraft. This would also significantly extend the service live of the T-6. Additionally, those pilots selected for transports would gain little from formation aerobatics.  

I have flown many airframes and it has always been my contention that most fly just about the same. I mean by this that if the airfoil stalls the plane stops flying. They all land about the same. Landing speeds and configurations might change, but all fixed-wing aircraft basically share the same lift over drag formula. In the Navy NIFE (Naval Introductory Flight Evaluation) program we give the students approximately 35 landings and takeoffs in the span of 9 hours. These students gain a lot of experience in this most dangerous realm of flight. When those students transition to the T-6 they will be very comfortable in the landing pattern.  

I don’t think I’ll ever forget one student who was on their first solo flight screaming over the radio that they could not land the aircraft. I stepped outside to observe the pilot as the Chief Instructor calmly got on the radio to talk the pilot down. It was obvious the pilot was flying the Cessna at far too high an airspeed. Once the pilot got the airspeed under control, the landing was perfect. If that pilot had been in a simulator that experience would have been lost.  

Although this discussion is aimed at ways to increase military pilot training in actual aircraft while at the same time-saving time and money in the training evolution the crux of the conversation is the same: nothing can replace actually flying the aircraft in initial flight training. 

Fighter Aircraft: To Have or Have Not?

By: Col. Ross L. Meyer, USAF (Ret)

An F-16C Fighting Falcon from the 64th Aggressors Squadron, Nellis AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jake Carter)

Fighter aircraft are obsolete! Drones, AI, directed energy weapons, guided missiles, perhaps even robot-controlled machines will render these massively expensive and soon-to-be impotent relics distant memories, candidates for Arizona’s massive boneyard. Or then again, maybe not! 

Here are a few thoughts to ponder. But first, two definitions of fighter aircraft: 

“Military aircraft such as the F-16 and Joint Strike Fighter, which are designed to perform air-to-air combat operations, are the primary means by which armed forces gain air superiority over their opponents in battle.” 

“Fighter aircraft are fixed-wing military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat. In military conflict, the role of fighter aircraft is to establish air superiority of the battlespace. Domination of the airspace above a battlefield permits bombers and attack aircraft to engage in tactical and strategic bombing of enemy targets.”

The second definition is the one that mostly guided my thinking as I wrote this paper. 

From a practical standpoint, difficult to imagine the disappearance of future air-to-air combat between human pilots flying advanced aircraft.  Might it begin at ranges even more distant than seen today using current weapons and technology? Probably. But what about enemy aircraft that are so stealthy they evade our sensors or ones that appear from unexpected directions? Maybe our adversaries will develop and employ multiple high-speed decoys that computer software will not be able to distinguish from real aircraft. Will fighter aircraft be needed to escort aircraft that do not have an offensive capability to defend themselves, e.g., AWACS, tankers, and gunships? Air Force One? And not to be left out of the discussion, the Navy and Marine Corps envision a continuing need for fighters. Both Services are currently designing futuristic fighters that will enhance the capabilities of their continuing and future missions. The U.S. Navy quietly has stood up a program office to begin figuring out what the sailing branch needs in a new manned fighter jet. The Navy wants the new Next-Generation Air-Dominance plane, or F/A-XX, to be ready in time to replenish the remaining Super Hornet squadrons once the newer F/A-18E/Fs start wearing out in the 2030s. 

The previous definitions of fighter properly omit ground attack aircraft such as the A-10, the AT-6E, and attack helicopters. Yet, these aircraft types are virtually certain to remain a vital segment of our fighting forces for years, if not decades hence.  As such, won’t they need protection from enemy aircraft and unmanned threats?  What better way to provide that protection than fighter aircraft with sophisticated equipment and flown by highly trained pilots able to respond quickly and effectively? 

If the US continues to have bases and other facilities worldwide, they will need protection from enemy attacks. As stated in a report by the Rand Corporation, “The growing cruise and ballistic missile threat to U.S. Air Force bases in Europe has led Headquarters U.S. Air Forces Europe to reassess defensive options, including active ground-based systems that are currently assigned to the Army. The gap between the cruise missile threat and the U.S. joint force’s capacity and capability to counter the threat is particularly worrisome.” The weapons noted in my first paragraph will likely be vital in protecting these sites from ground and missile attacks, but will they be enough?  Relying on computer and AI systems exclusively would seem lacking, perhaps even derelict. As “smart” as software has become, it’s yet to be superior to well-trained pilots who have the use of sophisticated equipment, who can make immediate decisions. While these decisions will be aided by ever-increasing technology, the pilot’s eyes and brain will remain one of the best ways to counter enemy airborne threats.  

Then there’s the matter of protecting our homeland. Other than foreign and domestic terrorists, our country’s greatest threat comes from technologically advanced countries employing ICBMs or other forms of unmanned airborne weapons. That, however, does not negate the possibility of advanced, ultra-stealth bombers attacking in multiples of aircraft, perhaps even after a first strike. At least in the foreseeable future, we will always need to identify, perhaps engage, unidentified aircraft approaching our borders. In the aftermath of the 9/11 catastrophe, fighter aircraft were essential. They flew CAP missions; they intercepted and followed a hijacked airliner; they were ready to engage additional aircraft that might have materialized, intent on further destruction and loss of life. 

So, are fighter aircraft necessary for the missions of the United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps? Or will our nation develop technologically advanced systems and weapons that will preclude their need? I am not privy to the ideas of those working on futuristic programs and equipment being developed. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that our best and brightest military and civilian experts do know, and they are ardently studying and weighing options. In the interim, advanced fighter aircraft armed with state-of-the-art weapons and flown by highly trained pilots are not only necessary, they are essential.