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SHAW Viper Crash


viperdriver1313

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This is exactly the kind of "system failure" that the SIB and AIB were designed to identify.

Will the AF wake up and take responsibility for its own leadership and decisionmaking failures that set this poor kid up for failure and, ultimately, his death?

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Ruh roh. Not a flattering look for the ACES seat. No way even the most experienced driver is going to have the presence of mind and the in-the-blind dexterity to pull the manual override in a ground level ejection attempt, at night no less. Manual seat sep from a ground pull is just not a realistic expectation under any circumstances. Surprised this hasn't got more public scrutiny in the community. The TUL ANG ejection cited even allocuted to the fact that dude had the benefit of daylight and a looong freefall to gather his thoughts and remind himself of the manual seat-sep option. This kid (he was a student of mine at DLF) didn't get that chance.

The most contentious and soul-searching weeks of my AF career by far, were the weeks immediately following the 38 crash in our AD associate squadron, due to the NAF level leadership's unwillingness to speak immediately as to the SIB-relevant facts pertaining to the condition of the seats following the fatality. That soured a lot of people, and created a climate of open dissent, and led to a couple of firings. Ugly stuff all around, even for DLF (which was just coming out of Mollygate and the T-6 MX firings, and is a football bat of a place on a good day). Then there was that big boo boo in Midland with the Bone, and the eventual inspection revealing NONE of the seats would have fired. I could go on.

These are fundamentally confidence-eroding trends, and big blue better get their @ss around it or it's gonna lead to chaos. The pointy jet/non-deadstickable business doesn't have the off roading option like I used to joke about during my T-6 IP days. On this side of the street you need confidence in your seat or things get insubordinate real quick.

As to the decision not to controlled eject, I'm not gonna second guess the element lead and SOF. That's a tough one though. Even by the AIB's own stipulation, the kid would have still faced the hardship of having to have the presence of mind to manually seat-sep a faulty seat during a controlled bailout attempt... At night, not knowing he had a bad seat. Eff those odds.

I don't know the Viper's landable gear combos, but in the 38 one main up one main down is a no-go. Difficult to ascertain the weight bearing capacity of a damaged MLG on this accident, especially given the indications of brace damage as described by the chase ship. The kid did the best he could given the information presented at the time. That seat betrayed him period dot. That pull was textbook in the envelope, should have led to a canopy. I'm at a loss.

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3 hours ago, Hacker said:

Will the AF wake up and take responsibility...

Hacker, I know you well enough to know that's a rhetorical question... and you know the answer better than most.  I feel your frustration.  I wish more people like you were still in charge.  

I heard an amazing story today... albeit no life-threatening consequences... of the former CoS (Welsh) and the Commandant of Air War College arguing in front of everyone in attendance... completely unable to take responsibility for an issue they decided to push on to the Majors in attendance to solve.

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That was very hard to read.

1.  Where was the risk management and why is it only applied to the detriment of the rank and file aviators?  Seriously WTF?

2.  Was anyone in leadership fired?  Arm Chair QB but it seems his DO/CC failed him...as did the SOF.

3.  If we can "fix" OBOGS, we can fix the ACES seat.

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YGBSM.

Years of TCTO delays and lack of parts for an egress system? Producing a F-16 B-course graduate who has NEVER seen a tanker?  How in the actual fuck does this happen?

Those are huge failures on an almost systemic scale.  But, I'll focus most of my wrath on the bro-level.  What kind of decision process in the mind of a squadron IP makes it even a reasonable plan to take an MQT student to his first AAR event EVER, at night in a single seat fighter while piling on a never before seen mission event as well?  Oh, and add in the fact that he hadn't flown in more than 5 days and had only recently returned to regular flying in the last month.  We're talking basic common sense here.  Do we really need USAF directives (that were ignored!!!) that specifically prohibit attempting new events in MQT at night without a demo pro in the day first to figure out this is a really, really bad plan?  Do we really need an RM worksheet (that wasn't calculated properly anyway) to figure out this is a really, really bad plan? 

Then there's the SOF.  Another bro-level failure.  We're rolling the dice and just guessing now on a situation that's not addressed in the checklist?  The MP actually caught this and tried to get guidance on the fact that the checklist didn't completely address the situation and had steps he couldn't accomplish.  No Conference Hotel?  WTF?

It's truly incredible how badly the supposedly experienced leadership involved in this fighter squadron completely failed this pilot.  What an absolute clown show!

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Gents,

I've been off the board for quite a few years....still monitor but rarely post.  I'm in complete agreement with Hacker, Huggy, ClearedHot, and Jeremiah.  As a really old former pointy nose dude,  I'm absolutely livid that this young fighter pilot's life was lost.  Besides the total failure of leadership,  first time AAR at night--YGTBSM , in the best of conditions with a controlled ejection who knows if he could have recognized, and reacted to manually deploy.  This is just heartbreaking. 

 

edited trembling typing due to anger

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9 minutes ago, SocialD said:

 

This failure is above the DO, SQ/CC or even the WG/CC.  Way above!

Agree. AETC has been haphazardly cutting syllabuses for years and bad decisions are coming home to roost. Unfortunately this is indicative of an even larger problem. Leaders at all levels are spineless and loath to say no to anything. “You need to cut my training budget by half? No problem, we’ll forge ahead sir!” Unfortunately, the three and four stars ramble off into a consequence free retirement while young airmen are short changed and sometimes pay for it with their lives. Meanwhile, mid level officers and NCOs are left to pick up the pieces and try and preserve combat capability. Hell of a way to run an Air Force. 🍺 Him Him. 

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While I know the AAR first time at night was not the cause of this mishap, I can relate to this trend in my community.  Over the last couple of years there’s been a push to accomplish more and more METLs in the sim (don’t know if that’s the case in the Viper B-course).  The FTU has been graduating guys who in some cases have never seen things like, example, a tanker at night outside of a simulator.  This pushes the onus onto the line units where you have IPs who aren’t FTU instructors/aren’t in that mindset and generally have a ton of other things on their plate.  Line unit IPs generally aren’t overly familiar with some of the syllabus limits that are referred to in this AIB because it’s not their job to be.

Sims are great procedures trainers, and they’re great for replicating higher end capes we don’t want burned in the real world, but representative of how the aircraft feels/handles in the real world they are not, I don’t give a shit how good the engineers say the aero modeling is.

There was a lot to unpack out of this report, I don’t have all the facts, and I haven’t read the SIB, but it really seems like leadership at multiple levels failed this LT.  His IPs in the squadron, as much as it pains me to says this, failed him too.  I’m definitely going to take some lessons learned out of this going forward with my students and the younger CPs/ACs I fly with.  

Edited by DirkDiggler
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SocialD and Prozac, I'm going to have to disagree.  Yes, the failure of chopping syllabi, lack of parts, poor senior leadership, et al. is clearly at the root.  Coming at this from a macro level and isolating the failure well above the squadron or wing is just not an accurate assessment, IMO.  That fails to put the micro level responsibility exactly where it should be - at the feet of the flight, squadron and wing leadership.  The fighter squadron has always had to insulate itself from the general dumbfuckery of the USAF leadership and when required unfuck the results caused by the same.  There was always a final sanity filter at the operator level.

Lt Schmitz was clearly challenged by the basics on this particular night.  No senior level general officer directed this particular Lt complete this particular mission in the manner attempted.  There was a grass roots failure to consider the current limits of his capability and over-task him.  How and why he arrived at that diminished level of capability isn't relevant to that local level decision.

No one can say for sure what the outcome would have been with different choices.  We can "what-if" this all the way back to his B-course and the Mx decision process regarding the seat.  But, given his actual state of qualification when he stepped, he should have been walking out to a D-model with an IP.  If that happened, it's almost guaranteed we'd be plus one F-16 and pilot.  Failing that, having a proactive SOF that actually got the tech support necessary to make his recommendation would have at least bought this kid an extra 2000 feet to save his own life in the seat with a manual chute deployment.

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9 hours ago, JeremiahWeed said:

SocialD and Prozac, I'm going to have to disagree.  Good words...

 

Weed...5 years ago, I would have been 100% in agreement with you.  But over the last 5-6 years, there has been a conspicuous decline in skills of the studs we get back from the B-Course.  Not just one or two, but across the board. I'm don't mean tactics, I'm talking basic admin/airmanship type-shit that they should have learned in UPT/B-Course.  Frankly, unless something drastic changes soon, I expect to see more of this stuff.  

I might have been a bit too general in my comments.  No doubt, there is blame with local leadership and I'm not completely absolving them of any responsibility.  But IMHO, you're grounding the older brother for his sibling being a hoodlum, when the parents never taught either of them how to act.  Local leadership is plugging the dam with every stick of gum they can find.  They're now running out of fingers and toes to plug the remaining holes...and another hole has just sprung.  You're going to fire the guys for not being good enough at plugging the holes, while the engineer who designed the shitty ass dam walks away unscathed.

If you're not retired, go check out the FCIF that came out after this accident.  If you're out, then have one of your bros relay it to you.  When we read it, we didn't know whether to laugh, cry or break a chair against the wall...maybe all 3 was the right answer.    

 

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First, that seat should have worked. The fact that it didn't while it was an "in" envelope ejection is the primary reason this young man lost his life.

Second, everything everyone else says about the leadership failing this poor kid from AETC (or above) all the way down through the SOF is correct. We do have major, latent problems on the grill that need immediate intervention.

Third, we all need to be able to put a shitty part of a mission behind us and be able to move forward and complete a basic flying task with an otherwise good airplane. If anyone else thinks you're flying a perfect airplane that will work 100% (even a brand new 0.0 hour one), you're high. Step one is to control what is in your power which means #1 maintain aircraft control. Sometimes this means shaking off a up (even one that is not your fault) and focusing on the task at hand and saving your feelings for the debrief. Landing at night is a basic flying task and check rides have meaning. I should be able to clear off a student and trust they can aviate, navigate, and communicate. Some major screw ups all around on this one - which is not confidence-building for our Air Force.

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On 11/10/2020 at 7:03 AM, JeremiahWeed said:

supposedly experienced leadership involved in this squadron completely failed this pilot.  What an absolute clown show!

This. 

Gone are the days of your typical 2000-2500 hr seeing-eye dog line IP in the squadron. Can't speak for the pointy nose dudes, but I know in other parts of the CAF (specifically helos) folks are upgrading to instructor with ~500 hrs. Even a 1000 hr pilot is hard to find and considered super experienced. 

As others have eluded too, this decay in experience has a multitude of secondary effects and is exposed by certain outcomes. 

 

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17 minutes ago, norskman said:

This. 

Gone are the days of your typical 2000-2500 hr seeing-eye dog line IP in the squadron. Can't speak for the pointy nose dudes, but I know in other parts of the CAF (specifically helos) folks are upgrading to instructor with ~500 hrs. Even a 1000 hr pilot is hard to find and considered super experienced. 

As others have eluded too, this decay in experience has a multitude of secondary effects and is exposed by certain outcomes. 

 

Yep.  We're seeing the same thing in the B-1 community.  No more deployments to AFCENT means new guys have very limited ability to build hours in the aircraft.  When you're only flying 3-4 times a month, 3.0-4.0 each...that means you're looking at ~5 years to get to 1000 hours.  But we can't afford to wait that long to make new instructors.  So we substitute sims, we lower the entry requirements in upgrade programs, and make the overall squadrons younger, and less experienced, even though the LOX still lists the same number of "experienced" instructors.

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11 hours ago, ViperMan said:

First, that seat should have worked. The fact that it didn't while it was an "in" envelope ejection is the primary reason this young man lost his life.

 

Exactly, and that's the part that bothers me the most about this whole thing. Ever since the OG/MX split, friction with MX has become SOP, and it's completely out of hand. The antagonism and adversarial relationships on a day to day TOP3-MOC interactions are beyond the pale. So are these deferral and tail-shuffling games. I don't know the dynamic on the Viper side, but my experience has been similar in all 3 duty stations I've been involved in.

Yeah yeah, we're all innocent in Shawshank. Spare me. 3x deferring the control module for a hot seat is so unconscionable it's criminal in my moral code, in light of a fatality.  Unreal.  I don't even know why I go through the kabuki of reading the forms these days, everything is TCTO deferred. It's f*ckin- meaningless at this point.

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On 11/10/2020 at 9:30 AM, SocialD said:

 

This failure is above the DO, SQ/CC or even the WG/CC.  Way above!

I hear you but still...Where was the DO? 

Perhaps another needless soapbox rant but honestly I have thought about this incident 100 times over the past few days and how many different people failed this young man.

Yes we can blame the institution...the writing has been on the wall for some time and others have alluded to it in this thread but in a haste to plug the holes in the damn the system made a conscious decision to push as many people as possible through the system.  At a very senior level he was failed when the decision was made to start pushing basic skills training from the RTU to the ops unit.  When I read the Viper bros were pushing defensive BFM to the unit I thought it was a joke...how can this be?  As much as people celebrated Fingers (I did not for personal reasons), he let it happen.  He and Mobile bought that risk and risk is never pushed right at a 1:1 ratio, it has a modifier when it comes to basic skills.  Should he have been able to land at night without incident...of course but I think everyone who has read the report and knows his flying history can feel the weight of crap that was on his shoulders that night.  Senior USAF leadership failed this kid in an epic fashion.

The problem is systemic...and the disconnect at senior levels is STAGGERING from my point of view.  Probably reason #69 why I didn't make GO but I remember being in the room when a training and conversion plan was being briefed to the MAJCOM commander.  The A3 and A1 folks were tag-teaming a brief on how they were going to convert AC-130W and AC-130U crew members into the AC-130J.  The training folks were doing their best and their plan had every AC-130 pilot in the command by name and how they would flow through the system....come off the battlefield and start conversion training, PCS to new base, then immediately deploy in new airplane.  I knew it was a house of cards and I couldn't hold my tongue, I blurted out "what retention rate did you use in your plan."  Well sir we used the historic rate of 64%.  "What was the Gunship retention rate last year?"  (I already knew the answer)  Well uh sirrrr....it was 34%...but we have mitigation strategies form the USAF that we think will help retention.  I looked directly at the A1 and asked him if he knew about the 14 gunship pilots who were up for the bonus this year and what had just happened?  He just stared at me...so I turned to the MAJCOM Commander and said sir there are currently 14 AC-130U pilots up for the bonus, only one has taken it.  The MAJCOM commander was very celebrated in our community, honestly until his reply I worshiped the guy and would have done anything for him...that all ended when he opened his mouth and said in front of everyone....and I quote "They will stay because they are patriots, and if they don't I WILL JUST MAKE MORE."  I knew at that moment...every bullshit comment he made about people and families was a lie...and that was it, his mitigation strategy was to let decades of combat experience just walk out there door and he would fix it by making more.  I didn't even invite this dude to my retirement.

I can point fingers at all the senior folks but for me I want to know...where the fuck was the DO.  He/She was supposed to be the last line of common sense in the storm.  I had a lot of interesting jobs in my career and made it to a fairly senior level as a Wing/CC down range in combat.  Of all those jobs the toughest far and away was being a DO.  Yes commanders work hard to take care of people but DOs are supposed to protect people and the mission.  As a DO in the WIC it was a struggle...you think going through WIC is hard...trying being an IP there for 6 years.  Sprinting a marathon becomes the norm.  In fact, as a DO and CC I would remind each new graduate that they had to regulate expectations when they got back to the unit...as much as they wanted to change the world they would have to do so with some finesse or risk alienating the rank and file.  You would think being a DO of a WIC squadron would be easy....all graduates, all top tier, all type A...but that presented a different problem in that they would run until they fell over dead.  In order to protect them I often had to make tough calls to protect them from the system and from themselves.  I didn't always get it right, but damn I tried.  I remember one hellish period when we were flying multiple stages of the syllabus do to support asset availability.   We typically ran a CAS phase then an Interdiction phase but for two weeks we were running both phases simultaneously.  As most know WIC debreifs are purposely painful and on Thursday of the second week it was 0330 and we were doing data collect on the 6th sortie in 10 days.  My ADO was leading the sortie and he said "Ok, we will see the WUGs back at 0700 for the formal brief."  I looked around the room and all I saw was serious fatigue in both the WUGs but more importantly my instructors.  I jumped up and said STOP!  "WUGs and Instructors come back at noon for the formal debrief, everyone GO HOME."  The ADO was pissed and he followed me back to my office...we had a very heated conversation in my office and he certainly spoke his mind as I always encouraged them to do.  I listened then said, "messaged received,  go home, I will see you at noon."   For two weeks most of the WUGs had been grabbing a few hours of sleep in the squadron, not wanting to waste the time it took to drive home and then back in the morning.  That week I noticed about half of my instructors had done the same thing and I knew I had to step in and protect them...from themselves.  I might not have been the best DO but that is how I saw my job...PROTECT my people while accomplishing the mission.  Where was his DO and how in the world the DO let this kid step that night is beyond me...simply beyond me. 

 

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I no longer have a dog in this fight but I hope all the young guys/gals read carefully what ClearedHot is saying above and internalize it. Seek out and listen to the leaders that are saying similar things and internalize that too. You’ll be in decision making positions sooner than you ever thought. When you become Flight Commanders, ADOs, DOs and NCOs remember that sentiment and strive to pay it forward. CH is absolutely spot on about the DO having the hardest job. I think they also have the most overall influence. When I look back at my career, with very few exceptions, the people I admired most were the good DOs. 

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2 hours ago, ClearedHot said:

At a very senior level he was failed when the decision was made to start pushing basic skills training from the RTU to the ops unit.

 

Everything you're saying is spot on - he was let down by everybody. There was a very similar incident at Spang a decade ago. They did the right things, determined it wasn't safe to attempt a landing, and did a controlled ejection.

I only take issue with the statement above - the Viper RTU has assumed such an insane amount of tasks from the CAF that they can't possibly teach it to a safe level. Then AETC came down a year ago and told them to do it all in 180 days. The amount of tasks the Viper RTU teaches now compared to ten years ago is staggering. I've heard that airmanship ultimately suffers. The pilot in this mishap graduated without refueling due to tanker availability. It was alibi'd, documented, and sent to the CAF. Not a common business practice but when you open the production firehose this wide, quality suffers.

Fast, Quality, Cheap - pick two. HHQ has mandated "fast". The RTU is operating with "cheap" in terms of maintenance, sims, and IP manning. Can't have all three, and we're proving that regularly. 

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I hear you but still...Where was the DO? 
Perhaps another needless soapbox rant but honestly I have thought about this incident 100 times over the past few days and how many different people failed this young man.
Yes we can blame the institution...the writing has been on the wall for some time and others have alluded to it in this thread but in a haste to plug the holes in the damn the system made a conscious decision to push as many people as possible through the system.  At a very senior level he was failed when the decision was made to start pushing basic skills training from the RTU to the ops unit.  When I read the Viper bros were pushing defensive BFM to the unit I thought it was a joke...how can this be?  As much as people celebrated Fingers (I did not for personal reasons), he let it happen.  He and Mobile bought that risk and risk is never pushed right at a 1:1 ratio, it has a modifier when it comes to basic skills.  Should he have been able to land at night without incident...of course but I think everyone who has read the report and knows his flying history can feel the weight of crap that was on his shoulders that night.  Senior USAF leadership failed this kid in an epic fashion.
The problem is systemic...and the disconnect at senior levels is STAGGERING from my point of view.  Probably reason #69 why I didn't make GO but I remember being in the room when a training and conversion plan was being briefed to the MAJCOM commander.  The A3 and A1 folks were tag-teaming a brief on how they were going to convert AC-130W and AC-130U crew members into the AC-130J.  The training folks were doing their best and their plan had every AC-130 pilot in the command by name and how they would flow through the system....come off the battlefield and start conversion training, PCS to new base, then immediately deploy in new airplane.  I knew it was a house of cards and I couldn't hold my tongue, I blurted out "what retention rate did you use in your plan."  Well sir we used the historic rate of 64%.  "What was the Gunship retention rate last year?"  (I already knew the answer)  Well uh sirrrr....it was 34%...but we have mitigation strategies form the USAF that we think will help retention.  I looked directly at the A1 and asked him if he knew about the 14 gunship pilots who were up for the bonus this year and what had just happened?  He just stared at me...so I turned to the MAJCOM Commander and said sir there are currently 14 AC-130U pilots up for the bonus, only one has taken it.  The MAJCOM commander was very celebrated in our community, honestly until his reply I worshiped the guy and would have done anything for him...that all ended when he opened his mouth and said in front of everyone....and I quote "They will stay because they are patriots, and if they don't I WILL JUST MAKE MORE."  I knew at that moment...every bullshit comment he made about people and families was a lie...and that was it, his mitigation strategy was to let decades of combat experience just walk out there door and he would fix it by making more.  I didn't even invite this dude to my retirement.
I can point fingers at all the senior folks but for me I want to know...where the was the DO.  He/She was supposed to be the last line of common sense in the storm.  I had a lot of interesting jobs in my career and made it to a fairly senior level as a Wing/CC down range in combat.  Of all those jobs the toughest far and away was being a DO.  Yes commanders work hard to take care of people but DOs are supposed to protect people and the mission.  As a DO in the WIC it was a struggle...you think going through WIC is hard...trying being an IP there for 6 years.  Sprinting a marathon becomes the norm.  In fact, as a DO and CC I would remind each new graduate that they had to regulate expectations when they got back to the unit...as much as they wanted to change the world they would have to do so with some finesse or risk alienating the rank and file.  You would think being a DO of a WIC squadron would be easy....all graduates, all top tier, all type A...but that presented a different problem in that they would run until they fell over dead.  In order to protect them I often had to make tough calls to protect them from the system and from themselves.  I didn't always get it right, but damn I tried.  I remember one hellish period when we were flying multiple stages of the syllabus do to support asset availability.   We typically ran a CAS phase then an Interdiction phase but for two weeks we were running both phases simultaneously.  As most know WIC debreifs are purposely painful and on Thursday of the second week it was 0330 and we were doing data collect on the 6th sortie in 10 days.  My ADO was leading the sortie and he said "Ok, we will see the WUGs back at 0700 for the formal brief."  I looked around the room and all I saw was serious fatigue in both the WUGs but more importantly my instructors.  I jumped up and said STOP!  "WUGs and Instructors come back at noon for the formal debrief, everyone GO HOME."  The ADO was pissed and he followed me back to my office...we had a very heated conversation in my office and he certainly spoke his mind as I always encouraged them to do.  I listened then said, "messaged received,  go home, I will see you at noon."   For two weeks most of the WUGs had been grabbing a few hours of sleep in the squadron, not wanting to waste the time it took to drive home and then back in the morning.  That week I noticed about half of my instructors had done the same thing and I knew I had to step in and protect them...from themselves.  I might not have been the best DO but that is how I saw my job...PROTECT my people while accomplishing the mission.  Where was his DO and how in the world the DO let this kid step that night is beyond me...simply beyond me. 
 


Amen and amen. I’ve had the opportunity to be a DO in garrison and deployed. Day to day ops was do it smart and right. Every once in a while there was something that required pushing the envelope...but those days were the days to double-down on top cover to make sure the right people were on the missions and the risk was mitigated or accepted with full knowledge at the AC-level.

CCs are supposed to manage careers and DOs are supposed to lead the mission and protect the people from themselves and the leadership above.
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2 hours ago, Waingro said:

Everything you're saying is spot on - he was let down by everybody. There was a very similar incident at Spang a decade ago. They did the right things, determined it wasn't safe to attempt a landing, and did a controlled ejection.

I only take issue with the statement above - the Viper RTU has assumed such an insane amount of tasks from the CAF that they can't possibly teach it to a safe level. Then AETC came down a year ago and told them to do it all in 180 days. The amount of tasks the Viper RTU teaches now compared to ten years ago is staggering. I've heard that airmanship ultimately suffers. The pilot in this mishap graduated without refueling due to tanker availability. It was alibi'd, documented, and sent to the CAF. Not a common business practice but when you open the production firehose this wide, quality suffers.

Fast, Quality, Cheap - pick two. HHQ has mandated "fast". The RTU is operating with "cheap" in terms of maintenance, sims, and IP manning. Can't have all three, and we're proving that regularly. 

When I was a -135 FTU instructor, we’d go to Luke once a month, for a week, and refuel all the B-Course studs day and night. This was easier to schedule due to being in AETC (and not having to deal with TACC). Is this not a thing anymore?

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