The fighter pilot was a romantic figure with his leather jacket, goggles and silk scarf, aloft in a flimsy, inflammable and unreliable motorized kite, dueling his enemy in the air over the WWI front. Individual pilots were known and gathered fans as their exploits accumulated in the press. They had to be ‘exploits,’ calling them, as they do now, ‘sorties’ wouldn’t have sold many papers.
If today’s high-tech, computerized jets fail to resemble a WWI Spad or Fokker (Pilots were heroes in Germany, too) then today’s fighter pilots resemble their predecessors even less, even if you’ve seen “Top Gun” twice. You can’t very well run a modern air force with cowboys in silk scarves. But they are as close to a special breed as the military provides today, Top Gum is a real program and fighter pilots regard themselves as special still today, tending to sight down their noses at bomber pilots, helicopter jocks and anyone on the ground.
The mystique has persisted and as numerous Air Force generals started as fighter pilots, not found the services unsympathetic. In fact, when computerized drones flown from the ground became military tools, the Air Force insisted that they be flown by certified pilots, which slowed the Air Force drone program as pilots not only didn’t like sitting at a desk pushing buttons on the ground but were also less available than the enlisted and civilian personnel specially trained for the job by the other users.
The most romantic figures of course, are all dead now. There’s something about a real, live human being that contradicts romance, somehow. Maybe because we know that, even though always kept off camera, some guy we can actually look at poops just like the rest of us. Anyway, the romantic Fighter Jock Is Dead. His death certificate is published in the link, if you care to read it.
Seems Congress and the Air Force have just agreed to replace the 21 F16’s of the Iowa Air Force National Guard (returned from Afghanistan) with unmanned drones. The F16’s will be retired from service. And in a cold, mundane finish for anyone hoping for romance, the drones will be stationed elsewhere when not in use. This seems the first such move, the Air Force ex fighter jocks opposed it but could not hold off the accountants. Drones, besides not killing pilots, are cheaper than fighters. About half, in fact. And they can fly longer since pilots on the ground trade off while the drone flies.
So the romantic fighter pilot is going to join the American cowboy in never-never land. It was a grand turn while it lasted. But now, a bunch of drone operators on shift in Nevada or Nebraska seems pretty hard to distinguish from an equal number of accountants. Rather hard on romance, that. The fighter pilot is dead…but not forgotten.