Preparing For A Career As A Military Pilot
This was sent from an aspiring young man who wanted to become a pilot ... a fighter pilot;
I am D. J. Baker and I would appreciate it if you could tell me what it takes to be an F-16 fighter pilot in the USAF. What classes should I take in high school to help the career I want to take later in life? What could I do to get into the Air Force Academy?
From: Van Wickler, Kenneth, Lt Col, HQ AETC
Anybody in our outfit want to help this poor kid from Cyberspace?
A worldly and jaded C 130 pilot, Major Hunter Mills, rises to the task of answering the young man's letter:
Obviously, through no fault of your own, your young, impressionable brain has been poisoned by the superfluous, hyped-up, "Top Gun" media portrayal of fighter pilots.
Unfortunately, this portrayal could not be further from the truth. In my experience, I've found most fighter pilots pompous, backstabbing, momma's boys with inferiority complexes, as well as being extremely over-rated aeronautically. However, rather than dash your budding dreams of becoming a USAF pilot, I offer the following alternative:
What you really want to aspire to is the exciting, challenging and rewarding world of TACTICAL AIRLIFT. And this, young DJ, means one thing, the venerable workhorse, the C-130! I can guarantee no fighter pilot can brag that he has led a 12-ship formation down a valley at 300 feet above the ground, with the navigator leading the way and trying to interpret an alternate route to the drop zone, avoiding pop-up threats, and coordinating with AWACS, all while eating a box lunch with the engineer in the back relieving himself and the loadmaster puking in his trash can!
I tell you DJ, TAC Airlift is where it's at! Where else is it legal to throw tanks, HUMV's, and other crap out the back of an airplane, and not even worry about it when the chute doesn't open and it torpedoes the General's staff car! Nowhere else can you land on a 3000 foot dirt strip, kick a bunch of ammo and stuff out on the ramp without stopping, then takeoff again before range control can call to tell you that you've landed on the wrong LZ! And talk about exotic travel; when C-130s go somewhere, they GO somewhere (usually for 3 months, unfortunately). This gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture long enough to give the locals a bad taste in their mouths regarding the USAF and Americans in general, not something those C-141 Stratolifter pilots can do from their airport hotel rooms!
As far as recommendations for your course of study, I offer these:
1. Take a lot of math courses. You'll need all the advanced math skills you can muster to enable you to calculate per diem rates around the world, and when trying to split up the crew's bar tab so that the co-pilot really believes he owes 85% of the whole thing and the navigator believes he owes the other 20%.
2. Health sciences are important, too. You will need a thorough knowledge of biology to make those educated guesses of how much longer you can drink beer before the tremendous case of the G.I.'s catches up to you from that meal you ate at the place that had the really good belly dancers in some God-forsaken foreign country whose name you can't even pronounce.
3. Social studies are also beneficial. It is important for a good TAC Airlifter to have the cultural knowledge to be able to ascertain the exact location of the nearest topless bar in any country in the world, then be able to convince the local authorities to release the loadmaster after he offends every sensibility of the local religion and culture.
4. A foreign language is helpful but not required. You will never be able to pronounce the names of the NAVAIDs in France, and it's much easier to ignore them and to go where you want to anyway. As a rule of thumb: waiters and bellhops in France are always called "Pierre"; in Spain it's "Hey, Pedro"; and in Italy, of course, it's "Mario". These terms of address also serve in other countries interchangeably, depending on the level of suaveness of the addressee.
5. A study of geography is paramount. You will need to know the basic location of all the places you've been when you get back from your TDY and are ready to stick those little pins in that huge world map you've got taped to your living room wall, right next to the giant wooden giraffe statue and beer stein collection.
Well, DJ, I hope this little note inspires you. And by the way, forget about the Air Force Academy thing. All TAC Airlifters know that there are waaay too few women and too little alcohol there to provide a well-balanced education. A nice, big state college or the Naval Academy would be a much better choice.