Magazine article Insight on the News

Are Air Force Cadets Flying the Wrong Stuff?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Are Air Force Cadets Flying the Wrong Stuff?

Article excerpt

Training the best fighter pilots in the world is like walking a tight rope, balancing the need to push flyers to the limit ... but not so far that they self-destruct. Accusations, however, are flying that the Pentagon and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., may have embarked on the latter course with their selection of the T-3 Firefly as their primary airplane for training cadets.

Critics say that the high-powered, acrobatic airplane is far too sophisticated for use by beginning pilots, pointing to six fatalities in three crashes since the plane became the academy's primary trainer in 1995. The planes have been grounded since the last of the crashes in July, 1997, but will soon take to the skies again, piloted by Air Force cadets, stirring up controversy. In the meantime, cadets have been learning the basics at private flying schools near the academy.

The T-3 proponents, led by retired Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak, who was Air Force chief of staff when the T-3 was selected to replace the Cessna 172 (which had served as the primary academy trainer for 31 years without a flying fatality), argue that learning on high-performance planes makes for higher performance pilots.

"We're trying to produce warrior pilots, with the emphasis on warrior," McPeak recently told a reporter with the Scripps Howard News Service. "We want people who are adventure- and warrior-oriented, and we couldn't test for that in the old plane. Anybody can fly that -- it's for grandmothers. …

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