Military Wants Pilots to be Aggressive and Disciplined
The U.S. military is confronting a problem as old as aviation: finding the fine line between bold and reckless.
Military wants pilots to be aggressive and disciplined (USA Today, p. 11)
Skimming low over hills in eastern Afghanistan, the 11 Marines packed into an Army Black Hawk helicopter asked for an exciting flight on an otherwise dull mission, demonstrating for visiting dignitaries how troops are sped into battle. Ã¢€œFly hard,Ã¢€ the Marines said. The cockpit responded, Ã¢€œYou asked for it.Ã¢€ Climbing and swooping, the Black Hawk pilot crested a 400-foot hill then deliberately nosed into a dive so steep and abrupt that everyone inside felt weightless. A wheel chock rose off the floor like a magician’s prop and flew forward into the cockpit, jamming the controls. In the horrific, tumbling crash that followed, crew chief Daniel Galvan, 30, died. Everyone else was injured. The $6 million helicopter was destroyed. The accident last summer was among the latest in a series of crashes in the military that were blamed on recklessness, not enemy gunfire or faulty equipment, the Associated Press found.
Top Gun-style flying, personified by Tom Cruise as a brash Navy pilot in the 1986 film, presents the Pentagon with a dilemma: How to breed aggressive aviators in high-performance jets and helicopters capable of extraordinary maneuvers without endangering crews, passengers and aircraft.
The pilot in Afghanistan, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Darrin Raymond Rogers, 37, of Mililani, Hawaii, pleaded guilty last week at his court-martial to charges of negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, property destruction and failure to obey orders. Ã¢€œI’m not a bad person,Ã¢€ Rogers told the judge. He acknowledged that he was Ã¢€œtrying to impress the guys in the back.Ã¢€ Rogers was sentenced to 120 days without pay at Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas. He also must retire from the Army but will retain his pension.
Ã¢€œThere’s a difference between aggressiveness and recklessness,Ã¢€ said Richard Cody, a four-star general who holds the Army’s No. 2 job, vice chief of staff. Ã¢€œWe want them to be aggressive but also disciplined, so they don’t get themselves in an envelope they can’t get out of.Ã¢€
Some pilots bristle over challenges to how they fly, a retired Marine Corps judge says. Ã¢€œHot-dogging is not necessarily negligent,Ã¢€ said Patrick McLain of Dallas, who presided at courts-martial. Ã¢€œYou need a person who’s bold and daring and courageous. It rubs against the grain to have this sort of nitpicking oversight.Ã¢€ A retired Marine fighter pilot, Kris Elliott of New Orleans, said, Ã¢€œAnybody who says they haven’t hot-dogged as a pilot probably isn’t being truthful.
Flying a military jet or helicopter is inherently dangerous, much less when engaging in air-to-air combat or nap of the earth flight to avoid radar detection. The type of person who is going to be any good at it is going to also be very difficult to rein in. Distinguishing “bold” from “reckless” is nigh unto impossible.
Unfortunately, trying to adjudicate it after the fact holds pilots to the “I know if when I see it” standard that Justice Potter Stewart infamously applied to obscenity, which is not only unfair but potentially dangerous.