Attrition: How The Brass Keep Score


March 22, 2010: The U.S. Navy just lost two more fighter pilots. These were permanently grounded because, last November 7th, they flew too low over the Georgia Tech football stadium (which is in downtown Atlanta, on the Georgia Tech campus). The minimum altitude for such fly bys is 1,000 feet (323 meters), but the two came in at about a hundred meters. The two pilots reported the lower altitude when they landed, after the authorized flyby, and explained that they made a mistake. There were many videos made by people in the stadium, showing that the aircraft were lower than 300 meters. There are several buildings downtown that are taller than 100 meters (and one is 300 meters.) So there was some risk in coming in that low.

This sort of thing happens fairly frequently. Not just flybys coming in too low, but also unauthorized flybys, flying under bridges and all manner of aerial mischief. Normally, the offending pilots are chewed out, grounded for a while, or otherwise reminded that they broke the rules and should not do it again. But in this case, the two offending pilots will never fly again, unless some other (more senior) admiral changes the punishment later on. The two pilots had graduated from Georgia Tech in the 1990s, and were both lieutenant commanders (O-4).

This kind of punishment is increasingly common in the U.S. Navy. The "zero tolerance" attitude has been around since the 1990s, and only gets cut back somewhat during an emergency, or in combat zones. Senior officers do the math, and realize that losing nearly ten million dollars invested to train those two pilots is less of a problem than being nailed to the wall by the media later on if some pilot hijinks result in the loss of aircraft or lives. If you are not careful and prudent, you don't get promoted. When there's not a war going on, that's how the brass keep score.



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