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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

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Civilian Versus Military

In aviation there are no absolutes except that you will have a landing for every takeoff ("Question of the Month" April 2009, page 7 and "Editor’s Notebook" May 2009, page 4). Every pilot is different. As a military-trained pilot you are given a better tool box from which to hone your skills, but it’s up to the individual to use the tools. You can own a million-dollar hammer but, if you can’t drive a nail you’re not going to build any houses. As a former U.S. Army aviator, airline captain, and current law enforcement pilot, I have flown with folks with very diverse backgrounds. The attributes that remain constant for success are attitude, aptitude and experience. Someone that has a positive value in all three is unstoppable. The military has a fairly rigid screening system for flight school applicants to hedge the chance for success. However, nothing is perfect. I have seen people get through that couldn’t fly a kite at the beach and others that would make exceptional pilots be denied. Some of those folks followed the civilian route because all they wanted to do was fly. In closing, some of the best and worst pilots I have flown with have been military and civilian trained.

Ronald L. Nelson Jr. Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Ernie, yes, I believe that I got it this time, so there is no need for a fourth time. My point, as I stated before, is that the military pilot has made a greater sacrifice in terms of lifestyle than the civilian-trained pilot. And yes, generally, the military pilot is better trained. There are exceptions to both groups, as you stated in your editorial. I too fly for a law enforcement unit, one that is located in southern California. Our missions require us to fly not only basic law enforcement patrol, but high altitude mountain rescue missions and fire suppression in mediums. I too have flown with and trained both civil and military pilots in these missions. With very few exceptions, I will take a military pilot over an R-22 pilot. The Silver State model pilot does not have the experience or training to perform our missions. Now, I’m done. You can continue to yell at me.

Craig McConnell Southern, Calif.

Since I am a helicopter pilot in the Army my examples only apply to the rotary-wing community. The quick and easy answer is yes and no. Putting aside the argument of defining "as good as" I will just focus on general aviation knowledge. Military pilots rarely become pilots in charge (PIC) by the time they have 400 hours in their logbook. Especially with today’s op-tempo, it is not uncommon for a military pilot to reach 700 hours before taking on the challenges and gaining the knowledge necessary to become a PIC. Civilian pilots can become PIC’s by their 40th or 50th hour, often spending many hours in the air solo. The learning curve goes up and most pilots are capable of adapting and learning faster. In the military, pilots generally do not fly with anybody other than an instructor pilot until they reach their 250th hour. By the time a military pilot is approaching a PIC check ride, they have spent most of their time trying to master aircraft systems, tactics, techniques and procedures. At the same time level, civilian pilots have mastered navigation, airspace and FAR/AIM policies.

So, to answer the question, or not, I would say there are too many scenarios to determine who is a better pilot as the criteria is much different. To complicate the answer more, civilian pilots could be categorized further by general aviation versus commercial aviation.

John Bost Puyallup, Wash.

Military Spin

Spot on article by Mr. Wentworth. After numerous combat tours of OSW/ONW/OIF/OEF I can affirm that we have recovered personnel of every flavor, blue and red in all kinds of hostile environments and we are always well armed. I can also tell you that when EMS helos could not get smokejumpers off mountains in the deep dark canyons of California my crew and I went, and when local police department and fire rescue could not get hikers and rescuers from a ravine in the city I went again, just like when we rescue people off submarines and cruise ships hundreds of miles from shore. Sure our hurricane rescues might have been done by any available helo but when the winds hit 70 knots sustained in Texas last summer we were still out there air refueling because we could not land and shut down. Beyond our combat role we provide a lot of capability to NorthCom for GWOT and to local authorities when things go really wrong. It’s not exactly the kind of work you can just send any old helo and crew to do. Yet I’m astounded when general officers in the Air Force aren’t aware of who we are and what we do. Perhaps it’s because we work sunset to sunrise while these staffers are deep asleep. Perhaps their only run in with us (CSAR) is on those days we are dog tired at 6 a.m. and some fresh desk clerk wants to correct our uniform while in line for chow. These are the politics and the leadership that has me hanging up my helmet after 26 years (22 piloting both USA + USAF helos).

Andrew Butte Hermosa Beach, Calif.

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