Warplanes: Where Have All The Aces Gone?

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September 18, 2007: Australia just buried its last fighter pilot to have shot down an enemy aircraft. George Hale was 22 years old when he was sent to Korea, to serve with an Australian fighter squadron. In March, 1953, while flying a British built Meteor jet, he shot down a MiG-15.

Australia isn't alone in finding itself with a shortage of combat experienced pilots. Fighter pilots who have shot down an enemy aircraft are a rapidly shrinking community. There are two reasons for this. First, nuclear weapons have made wars between large nations (that can afford to maintain large numbers of jet fighters) rare. That's one aspect of nuclear weapons that is rarely discussed, but is sort of a silver lining for an otherwise radioactive and cloudy subject.

The second reason is the dominance of U.S. combat aviation over the last six decades. That gets taken for granted as well. Since the middle of World War II, the U.S. Air Force and Navy have dominated any aerial battlefield they have entered. That domination has resulted in fewer air battles. The enemy is either destroyed on the ground, or refuses to fight. Thus there are no more aces (those who have shot down five or more aircraft) on active duty in the United States, or anywhere else. That's been a trend for decades, and in a few more decades, there will be no more living aces at all. Well, maybe not, but eventually that will be the case. That's because pilotless combat aircraft are becoming more and more common, and capable. The first of these, the cruise missile, is already over half a century old. But recent developments in electronics (cheaper and more powerful) and software (able to do more, and do it more quickly) has made it likely that future fighter aces will be robots.

 


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