Air Force MSgt. Mandy Mueller, 39th Medical Operations Squadron medical services flight chief, reads a holiday letter on Dec. 11, 2019, at Incirlik AB, Turkey. SSgt. Joshua Magbanua
Photo Caption & Credits


June 30, 2021

We love letters! Write to us at To be published, letters should be timely, relevant and concise. Include your name and location. Letters may be edited for space and the editors have final say on which are published.

Dishonorable Honor

I am joined by a number of my peers in disbelief after reading the Air Force Magazine March article titled “Widespread Cheating at USAFA” [p. 28]. [We are] filled with dismay. Disturbing as the news is to us that “most of the 249 (cadets) admitted to cheating,” thereby confirming Honor Code violations, we consider shameful the tap-dancing reactions of senior academy officials to the scope and seriousness of these violations. In light of their statements, we cannot avoid the conclusion that political correctness and graduation rates now carry more weight than adherence to the time-honored, bedrock foundations of the code. Cadets (not to be confused with ’students’ as they are described in this article) do not lie, do not steal, do not cheat, and do not tolerate those among them who do, the operative words being LIE, STEAL, CHEAT, TOLERATE. Regardless of what is now considered acceptable in today’s society, honor has no variations—a person is either honorable or is not—and being honorable stands above all other measures of character and should still be the most basic criteria used in accepting someone as a cadet. It is stunning that only one of those 249 cadets was expelled and only one has resigned. Rather, the others are offered months of “probation” and “remediation.” Remediation? That is defined as the act or process of remedying or overcoming learning disabilities or problems. 

Well, there sure are problems. Senior leadership appears to lay much of the blame on increased digital education and the pandemic. Really? The very existence of “do-overs” such as those mentioned above should be expunged from [the academy’s] program—there will be no “do-overs” in the life-or-death crucible of combat. Lame excuses diminishing the magnitude of this scandal do nothing but further undermine the code and cast additional doubt on the character-enhancement mission of the academy. Stating that the embarrassment is an opportunity to “overhaul the code” (just how does one overhaul perfection?) and “to effectively achieve cadet character development” is a travesty in and of itself. The truth is quite the opposite—this debacle is an unfortunate opportunity to REAFFIRM the code, exactly as it is written, with renewed emphasis on the critical role it plays in meeting the demands of a career in the military service and beyond. When senior leadership proffers the intention that cadets “are internalizing” and “understanding what it means to live honorably” they are speaking to those qualities that should be inherent in any cadet. Is it being inferred that the extremely thorough process of awarding Air Force Academy appointments no longer includes the strength of personal character block being checked off? That Doolies [USAFA freshman] now arrive with their personal character in question? And is political correctness so ingrained/feared that firm discipline can no longer be rendered? Cadets are no longer adolescents—they are adults, having volunteered for a serious profession where actions and decisions have serious consequences and must be treated as such. In addition, senior academy officers and those throughout the services need to reassess their commitment and accept the qualities of character necessary in the military and which cannot and must not be compromised or trivialized by current trends in societal license.

I am not a graduate of the academy, but I did have the privilege of serving as an AOC [air officers commanding]. I hold great pride in having been there with my fellow officers and with the cadets, especially those cadets whom I was honored to have as “my squadron.”

Col. Doyle C. Ruff,
USAF (Ret.)
Reno, Nev.

On Race, Unrest, and USAF

In publishing letters with a racist component, thinly disguised or overt, your purpose must be to either expose a subtle undercurrent of racism in the services or to decry it (and your purpose is not necessarily obvious). For example, you publish the letter of Lt. Col. Tom Currie who chastises Chief of Staff, Gen. [Charles Q.] Brown over his concern relating to the continuing low percentage of Black pilots, as though the Chief’s observation was a non-issue, or alternatively, not related to racism. The lieutenant colonel continues by conjuring an imaginary population of Black pilots “who couldn’t handle his/her aircraft”—which, to my mind, constitutes a breathtaking insult to African American pilots and pilot-aspirants, even if it was just a hypothetical!  

Lt. Col. Currie is not to be outdone by Lt. Col. Michael Wells who mischaracterizes the Chief’s observation by saying the Chief posits “barriers” to Black pilot accessions. The Chief posited no such thing; all he did was note the percentage:  you can draw your own conclusions. Lieutenant Colonel Wells then creates a strawman of supposed “barriers to entry,” only to knock it down with his challenge to General Brown to trot out his proofs of barriers.  Low Black pilot percentages does not imply barriers (so easy to knock down!) so much as it points to a lack of effective recruiting among Blacks in colleges and universities in combination with, and I advance a supportable speculation here—a probable lack of “visibility” of military-piloting opportunities in the Black community.  

Continuing with the problematic letters theme, I advert to the letter of CMSgt. Jerald Akers who spouts the incredibly insensitive epithet that low percentages of Black pilot aspirants is “the Black family’s fault.”  Where did that come from?  I’ll tell you:  It comes from a severe lack of insight into the many subtle (i.e., things you might not see if you’re White) realities that affect Blacks’ perception of the world and its opportunities.  Not necessarily true for all, this hypothesized worldview, to the extent that it exists, can be effectively attacked by making the military pilot career possibility more visible to Blacks.  It is not the Black family; it is us.  

R.D. Truitt,
Red Bank, N.J.

Our purpose is to provide our readers with an outlet to discuss the serious issues raised by the content of Air Force Magazine, including, of course, the racial unrest in USAF and the country as a whole.The Editors

Sometimes, we assume that if the members of an organization are predominantly of one race, that is automatic proof that race has been preferred over others, and members of other races have been discriminated against. That charge has been made in reference to the United States Air Force. After all, 71 percent of USAF personnel are White, and only 15 percent is Black. Yet, in the total population of the United States, 76 percent of the population is White, and less than 13 percent of the population is Black. That does not indicate discrimination in favor of Whites and against Blacks. But, when we look at the officer population, we get different figures. Eighty percent of USAF officers are white, while only 6 percent of them are African American. Only 2 percent of USAF pilots are Black. Can we assume then that the Air Force discriminates against Blacks as officers or as pilots? Not necessarily. In the National Basketball Association, 74 percent of the players today are Black, while only 17 percent are White, while in the total population, 76 percent of the people are White, while only 13 percent of the people are Black. Should we assume that the NBA discriminates in favor of Blacks and against Whites? I think not. 

Daniel Haulman,
Montgomery, Ala.

As a Caucasian (OK—white) male, I was both shocked and dismayed by retired Chief Master Sgt. Akers’ letter (in the April 2021 edition), essentially stating the USAF was not racist.  His claim is a unique position, as people are the Air Force; not weapons, IT, or support systems. In my 30-year career, I saw and experienced racism (and sexism) way too often.; and every incident damaged our Air Force in some way.  To put the blame on anyone other than “the person in the mirror” discounts the responsibility we all have to epitomize our AF core values and build an organizational culture that embraces racial (and gender) equity. 

My only hope is the Air Force Magazine editorial staff chose to publish the referenced letter with the goal of receiving tens of thousands of letters like mine expressing the same theme—while we serve or served the greatest Air Force in the world, we still have a long way to go to mitigate, and eventually eliminate, racism and sexism within our amazing organization. ‘Be the change’ to make it happen!

CMSgt. David Babcock,
USAF (Ret.)
Enon, Ohio

Learn From Your Mistakes

After reading [“Know They Enemy,” March, p. 45], I was convinced the individuals who proposed the 90s [Expeditionary Air and Space Force] concept of 10 deployable groups with only seven groups’ worth of airplanes had been recalled from retirement. 

The words and the final graph are out of sync with each other and reality in many details.

The T-7 replacement of the T-38 appears to be the Reforge “magic key.” But the Air Force is only buying 75 percent of the current T-38 numbers. The  number of T-38s is currently insufficient for the present number of student pilots. In addition, the Air Force is currently not meeting it’s need or graduates from UPT [undergraduate pilot training]. 

Currently, UPT grads have around 200 hours in a year. The Reforge UPT 2.5 offers 250 hrs in two years. Of course, the sims and AR/VR [augmented reality/virtual reality] are going to augment those “real” hrs. Remote learning—what can possibly go wrong with that concept. 

During that 19-month time, the pilot will learn high-speed jet operations, advanced instrument procedures, and fighter tactics again using the T-7 and nonflying devices. 

Reforge replaces six months of “down- time,” two months of IFF [identification, friend or foe], and the first four months of FTU [formal training unit], in the current plan, with 12 months of ITT [initial tactical training], plus five months during UPT 2.5. 

While remaining at the same UPT base will save PCS funds and some time, it also mean more pressure on the same insufficient number of T-7s and devices. 

Each UPT base will have to run its own ITT squadrons for the different phases, instead of a common base for IFF. [Instructor Pilots] will be needed with fighter experience, which will drain fighter units and lead to a caste structure for IPs as either UPT or ITT. 

With ITT ending at 24 months, the T-7 qualified 1st lieutenant “fighter pilot” will now move on to a new base for FTU in a fourth-, 4.5-, or fifth-gen fighter and master it in only four months. 

In the past, the “short course” was reversed for “highly experienced/senior ranking” fighter pilots changing jets or returning to flight status. 

Following that, it’s a move to the first operational assignment for MQT [Mission Qualification Training]—two months—again in half the current time. After flight, as a MR [mission ready]wingman for a mere additional four months, the pilot begins FLUG [Flight Lead Upgrade] for two months to become a MR Flight Lead within a total of 37 months from first UPT flight.

It’s not stated whether this is a two-ship or four-ship flight lead, but for the sake of sanity let’s say two-ship. 

Bottom line: Under this Reforger plan, the newly minted MR FL, still a first lieutenant, would probably have only 400 to 450 hours total “flight” time and only one year total in the jet. This program represents a two-month reduction in total time to MR status with four less months of new jet experience. 

Someone needs to “wave the flag” from the front of the briefing room and look at the number of magic assumptions in this plan.

It sounds exactly like the mid ’70s solution when there weren’t enough “experienced” pilots based upon hours in fighters. Puff, one day the number of required hours dropped by one-third, and all the briefing charts and letters of Xs were updated and made acceptable. Problem solved. 

Charlie McCormack 
Danville, Calif.

What’s the Money, Man?

Re: John A. Tirpak’s article: “The Raider Comes Out Of The Black” in your March 2021 issue [p. 37]—his report revealed some interesting details of the B-21 stealth bomber, including a projected payload of 30,000 pounds. But the “stealthiest” aspect of this plane seems to be its price tag. The Air Force has not publicly disclosed the cost since an early estimate of $550 million per plane in 2010 (Wikipedia) to the best of my knowledge. Factoring an annual average inflation rate of 2 percent over the past 11 years brings to the cost per plane to more than $650 million, a rough calculation. The initial order of 100 planes would cost taxpayers at least $65 billion.

Why doesn’t the Air Force publicly reveal the Raider’s current cost? Is it more concerned about operational security or an angry reaction from Congress, the media, and taxpayers. It’s a safe bet that our adversaries already know or can easily learn the B-21’s cost. The Air Force may be more worried about the price tag’s PR impact. USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. can demonstrate a commitment to transparency by telling us accurately what this plane will cost.

Richard A. Reif
Flushing, N.Y.

In Colonel Gallagher’s letter (March 2021 magazine) his recommendation to remove the life raft in the C-17 reminds me that the B-52Ds I flew in the 1970s—a high-wing design somewhat similar to the C-17—had a life raft compartment in the upper fuselage just forward of the wing carry through structure. The compartment was empty! In fact, the compartment was removed in subsequent models of the aircraft. Our tech order stated: “Ditching is not recommended in this aircraft.” 

Capt. Francis H. Marlow,
USAF (Ret.)
Riverside, Calif.

Conformal Confirmation

In April’s [“Letters: Fighter Fight,” p. 8] MSgt. Chris Dierkes asked why USAF never fit conformal tanks to C and D models of the F-15 as on the F-15E and EX models and as the Israelis had done for all their air-to-air F-15s. The answer is, they did. 

I flew F-15Cs with conformal tanks in the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Keflavik, Iceland, in 1987-88. From my experience, conformal tanks are a mixed bag of more good than bad effects on F-15 performance.

Having first flown the much lighter and more nimble F-15A with 49th Tactical Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., I dreaded converting to the heavier F-15C with conformal tanks—not to mention the move from the warm desert to the Arctic Circle! Installation of conformal tanks added over a ton of empty weight to the F-15 before a drop of fuel was added. Full fuel added another 12,000 pounds to the C model’s internal tankage of about 16,000 pounds and shifted the center of gravity forward, which noticeably reduced pitch authority. For that reason, the stabilators were given an extra couple of degrees of movement and some of the nose weights were removed. The extra weight also limited the F-15 to 6.33 Gs when full and 7.5 Gs when half full, near as I recall. With the conformals empty, 

the center of gravity moved further aft and full 9-G maneuvering was permitted. Aerodynamically, conformal tanks actually lowered the F-15’s drag index very slightly, contrary to most comments I’ve read.

For our primary mission of intercepting Soviet aircraft transiting the GIUK gap or stalking NATO submarines, conformal tanks were a real asset. In 1987, the last year of extensive Soviet air activity in the North Atlantic, 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron logged 283 intercepts of Bear D, F, G, and H models. With a couple of air refuelings from Iceland-based KC-135s, we sometimes flew “escort” missions of eight hours or more to let the Russians know we’d always be there for them.

Our training missions consisted of practice intercepts on each other until we burned the fuel out of the conformals. Then we could do full-up air combat maneuvering. With weather at Kef notoriously unpredictable, we often planned to arrive at the instrument approach high fix with 10,000 pounds of fuel remaining, in case we couldn’t get in. I once had to divert to RAF Leuchars in Scotland on Major “Ant” Hill’s wing when Keflavik closed due to ice fog. By the time we landed, the weather back in Iceland had cleared and we were instructed to return ASAP, provided we could land before sunset. We took off from Scotland with the sun already well below 

the horizon, kept the afterburners lit and cruised at Mach 1.4 all the way back to Keflavik, making the sunrise in the West!

One final illustration of the benefits of conformal tanks: My squadron deployed to Zaragossa, Spain, for dissimilar air-to-air training. Our opponents were F-16s deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, I believe. Since the missions would be relatively short, just over an hour, we put only a thousand pounds of fuel in each of our conformal tanks so we’d be full-up to dogfight at the “Fight’s on!” call. The F-16s had no radar missiles, so we agreed to fight “guns and knives” only, meaning kills could only be made by short-range AIM-9s from the rear quarter or a valid tracking gun shot. Following a highly successful first day of engagements for my guys, we were “debriefing” with the Spang boys at the Zaragossa club over cold beers when one of my opponents remarked, “Man, I thought the F-15 with conformal tanks was supposed to be a real dog in a turning fight.” I looked at him squarely and replied, “It is.” So I had a full dance card for the next two weeks!

Lt. Col. Gary “Waldo” Peppers, 
USAF (Ret.)
Cape Coral, Fla.

Air Base Defense Revolution

Who should defend air bases, and how [“Defending Forward Bases,” April, p. 39]? It’s a classic roles and missions struggle, with associated money at stake. The question has been alive since the Cold War, and before, but the nature of the threat has evolved. At the Tactical Air Command HQs in the mid-1980s we perused a doctrinal agreement with the Army’s nearby Training and Doctrine Command (at Fort MacPherson, Ga.). Back then, the tactical missile threat against air bases was not as advanced as today, but the Soviet Spetsnaz (special forces) posed a ground threat. The Army agreed in principal to defend the areas outside bases, while the USAF manned the perimeters. How the Army would have provided that while they battled the Soviet onslaught further east was another matter, thankfully never tested.

Lt. Col. David Skilling, 
USAF (Ret.)
Marietta, Ga.

Failure to Remember

I read the two articles in the January/February 2021 magazine, “Mishaps Rise Due to Lack of Training, Shortage of Maintainers, Report Says,” p. 25, and “Repairing Broken Bones,” p. 32. I was more than amused, frustrated, and outright angered by both articles. I have been a maintainer my whole career until I retired in 2003. I filled in many positions from knuckle dragger on the flight line to mid-level and senior-management positions, culminating as a maintenance superintendent of a B-1B Squadron in South Dakota and then retiring as a command maintenance functional manager in Air Force Materiel Command. During my career I have been able to see the many times that the Air Force has had to deal with a shortage of qualified maintenance personnel. Many of these times were created by politically driven, self-inflicted gunshot wounds created by politicos whose focus was on their own agenda instead of maintaining a highly qualified combat-ready fleet of aircraft and qualified pilots and maintainers.

Personnel management is a constant battle between competing priorities, but maintaining a qualified and combat- ready fighting force should always be the priority. Decisions that have impacted these goals are:

Involuntary retraining of skilled personnel from one career field to another when recruiting cannot keep them filled. This directly impacts the available technical 

skill and system knowledge required to maintain constantly changing and involving weapons platforms and the morale of personnel who made a conscious decision to pick a field they love and enjoy doing every day.

The wholesale outsourcing of career fields that are critical to combat operations around the world, i.e. powered and non-powered Aerospace Ground Support Equipment, multiple career fields in Civil Engineers, Security Forces, just to name a few.

The senseless movement of personnel and equipment from one location to another only to be reversed later, requiring the relocation of these same personnel and aircraft back to their original locations or dispersed to other bases. The example being the relocation of a squadron of B-1B aircraft and personnel from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and then back again. The disruption to the lives of those involved and the millions of dollars wasted on personnel movements, construction costs, and the impact to pilot/maintainer training was cost-prohibitive.

Maintaining legacy aircraft without sufficient funding/staffing to support additional flying hours, training, parts, depot maintenance while not providing the resources to allow the fielding of new technologies and weapons systems required.

The newest impact to these goals is purchasing aircraft that cannot be considered operational and combat-capable but still must be maintained and flown for training, but not in fully operational condition.

For our flying officers and enlisted personnel reduced flying hours and an increased reliance on simulators-based training does not put them in a realistic combat environment. This will not make them ready for the real flying environment they will be exposed to when we have a real-world war with a peer adversary in the future.

These types of situations have occurred so many times over the past decades, and the results are always the same. We end up with a shortage of qualified maintainers, funding shortages, flying hour reductions, increased deployment times, training impacts, negative impact to morale, and an exodus of pilots and enlisted personnel.  When will we start learning from mistakes, we have already made so we do not make them again? 

Now, with regards to the broken bones. We have taken an aircraft that was converted from a nuclear to conventional aircraft, changed its flying profile, increased its missions but have not completed the structural fatigue testing to ensure that the remaining aircraft will be viable until the replacement B-21 aircraft will be successfully introduced into the inventory. We made that mistake with the KC-47 already and have had to retain additional KC-135 aircraft to compensate for the lack of KC-47 operational capability, resulting in an increased workload for the maintainers and operators. 

  All these decisions were made at the highest levels and while the aircraft was more than capable to accomplish them, I do not believe the Air Force was prepared for the fallout the wear and tear of these new missions had on the airframe, systems, and those that must maintain them. The B-1 is an awesome platform, I spent eight years with them at Ellsworth AFB, and while it has its issues, we have found that when it is properly staffed, logistically supported and flown on a regular basis, it can do the job while maintaining an impressive fully mission capable rate. This was a direct tribute to the maintainers who kept them flying and aircrews who executed the mission each day. We proved this during the congressionally mandated B-1B operational testing conducted at Ellsworth in the mid-90s. The number of assigned missions flown at home station and while deployed to Roswell, New Mexico exceeded what was expected, while maintaining mission capable rates exceeding 80-plus percent. 

Until the B-21 is fielded, fully operational existing platforms, B-52, B-1, and B-2 should all be maintained and supported as if they were ready to go to war tomorrow. We owe this level of support to the operators/warfighters and maintainers who work their butts off every day to ensure our aircrews have the safest and most capable platforms to execute the mission and bring them safely home to their families at the end of the day or conflict. To do anything less would be a disservice and injustice to our Airmen, their families, and our nation. 

CMSgt. John P. Fedarko, 
Xenia, Ohio

In the January/February issue of Air Force Magazine, Brian Everstine’s article “Mishaps Rise Due to Lack of Training, Shortage of Maintainers, Report Says” [p. 25] is a summary of the National Commission on Military Aviation Safety report. Everstine provided a good summary of the report. In the report, the commission met with service members from the various military branches, reviewed data, conducted interviews, visited numerous military installations, assessed operational tempos, and wrote their findings to include recommendations. 

The commission analyzed aviation Class A through C mishaps during the 2013 to 2018 years in which 157 aircraft were destroyed and  service members and civilians died. The commission identified a number of factors, such as training (for aircrew and maintenance personnel), the logistical supply chain deficiencies, reduced force structure, and proficiency levels in aircrew and maintenance. The report did “briefly” mention inconsistent budget appropriations and continual resolutions as factors. However, the commission didn’t particularly focus on the main factor into these Class A through C mishaps, which is the lack of congressional support to appropriate the requested DOD fiscal year (FY) budget submissions. 

The 2011 Budget Control Act was a factor into DOD’s next 10 FYs in which DOD had to reduce it’s budget request by a total of nearly 1 trillion dollars. Congress authorized the Budget Control Act and it became law after President [Barack] Obama signed it. As a result of nearly 1 trillion dollars in reduced DOD budget planning, there are definite direct impacts to military readiness, reduced flight hours, reduced training and joint exercises; it impacted the logistical supply chain and depot maintenance, decreased our force structure, drastically increased DOD’s ops tempo (a surge in Afghanistan, involvement in Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen), and reduced training opportunities, which led to less proficient skills levels for our service members. 

The bottom line is, whenever Congress supports defunding our DOD, it directly impacts our military readiness and the nation’s security. During my Air Force career as an aviator and logistics readiness officer, I saw first hand that when Congress supported DOD’s FY budget requests as military readiness, training, logistical support, proficiency levels were bolstered. Every congressional member who supported the 2011 Budget Control Act defunding DOD by 1 trillion dollars is at fault with the 157 aircraft destroyed and 198 patriotic service members and civilians who passed. All veterans, no matter one’s political par-ty, should voice 

their advocacy to their respective congressional representatives to fully fund our DOD FY budget requests. If the cycle of defunding DOD’s budget requests and reprogramming the funding to social programs continues, it will continue to erode our military readiness and increase vulnerability to our national security. With a new administration in-place the signs are clear, the DOD budget will be reduced, resulting in military readiness deficiencies and once again our national security at risk. 

Our superb Airmen have demonstrated great dedication, have overcome significant challengers, and are extremely patriotic. In order to correct the findings from the National Commission on Military Aviation Safety’s report DOD needs a fully funded budget and not for one FY. Fellow veterans be sure to advocate sustaining the required DOD FY budget requests to your respective congressional representatives, just remember when it wasn’t when you wore the uniform!  

Col. Steven L. Amato,
USAF (Ret.)
Woodbridge, Va.

Get Them Flying

There has been a lot of mention in both your magazine and the popular press about the pilot shortage facing the Air Force. I believe an aspect of this issue has not been mentioned or investigated. And that is the pilot training pipeline (Undergraduate Pilot Training or UPT) and how the Air Force is managing the training of new pilots. I suggest that this is a source of part of the problem based on the personal interaction with someone who currently is in the UPT program. This individual has been assigned to his UPT base for over one year and has only had five (5!) training flights. 

Part of the problem is obviously the restrictions based on the COVID virus. But that aside, my information is that the base does not have enough or qualified training staff. Apparently, while a training sortie may be scheduled, whether if goes or not is based on whether there is an Instructor to take the sortie. Even in the simulation part of the curriculum, a scheduled training period depends on if an instructor can be scheduled, and some of the instructors are retired pilots and not Active-duty cadre. I recommend the Air Force review its approach to UPT and see if it is not part of the pilot shortage problem, and what might be done to improve the output of new, qualified pilots from the UPT program. 

Col. Duane H. Zieg,
USAF (Ret.)
Springfield, Va.