Entries in Fighter Pilot (5)


Female Fighter Pilot Breaks Gender Barriers

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Col. Jeannie Flynn Leavitt is not only a decorated fighter pilot; she has broken through gender barriers few thought possible.  She was recently named the Air Force’s first female wing commander, commanding 5,000 airmen at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.

Twenty years ago, when she had completed part of her training, she was told that if she wanted to be fighter pilot, she would be the first and would draw attention.

“I said, ‘Well, I don’t want the attention, but I want to fly fighters more than anything,’” she responded.

She knew she was entering a world dominated by male swagger.  Think Top Gun -- “The plaque for the alternates is down in the ladies room.”

And that attitude was not just in the movies.  Even the Pentagon brass once argued that male bonding was critical.

“If you want to make a combat unit ineffective, add some women to it,” retired Gen. Robert Barrow, the former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, had said at a 1991 hearing before Congress.

Like it or not, though, they were ordered to change by the Secretary of Defense.  And now, Leavitt and others have inspired a new generation.  There are currently 700 female pilots in the Air Force and 60 female combat pilots.

“Regardless of your gender,” Capt. Patricia Nadeau said, “I think everyone’s going to look up to her.”

Leavitt, 46, has logged more than 2,700 hours -- 300 in combat over Iraq and Afghanistan -- and dropped bombs on enemy targets and avoided enemy fire.

Along the way, she married a fellow fighter pilot -- who’s now stationed “only” three hours away -- and had two children, Shannon and Michael.

She now trains others for combat, commanding a 5,000-member fighter wing.  On one particular day, she led a mock bombing raid in the skies over North Carolina.

“You know gender, race, religion, none of that matters, what matters is how you perform,” Leavitt said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


More F-22 Fighter Pilots Concerned About Their Safety: Congressmen

U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Kasey Close(WASHINGTON) -- Several more pilots have come forward to say they too are concerned about the oxygen problems plaguing America’s most expensive fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor, according to lawmakers.

On the same day that the Pentagon announced the Air Force had been directed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to add new safety measures to F-22 missions, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D.-Va.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R.-Ill.) told reporters that a total of nine people involved in the F-22 program -- a majority of them pilots -- have now contacted them directly about the troubled plane.

Kinzinger was on hand when two F-22 pilots, Josh Wilson and Jeremy Gordon, spoke out about their fears flying the F-22 in a CBS News’ 60 Minutes interview earlier this month.

As a recent ABC News investigation found, for more than four years pilots in the F-22 Raptors, which cost more than an estimated $420 million each, have reported at least 25 instances of experiencing “hypoxia-like symptoms” in mid-air.  In one instance, a pilot became so disoriented by an apparent lack of oxygen that his plane dipped down and skimmed treetops before he managed to save himself, an Air Force spokesperson told ABC News.

Despite investigating the source of the problem for years -- and even grounding the full fleet for nearly five months last year -- the Air Force still does not know what is wrong with the planes.  The service also does not know what caused the malfunction that contributed to the death of F-22 pilot Capt. Jeff Haney in November 2010.

The Air Force has said that any pilots that request not to fly the plane will not be punished, and the Virginia Air National Guard, for whom Wilson and Gordon fly, told ABC News the command would “not consider using disciplinary action as a means of reprisal” against them. 

However, the congressmen and an attorney for the pilots said that Wilson still has a letter of reprimand from the Guard and could face a flying evaluation board.

“If a pilot feels uncomfortable flying this aircraft, they shouldn’t be forced to,” said Kinzinger, a veteran fighter pilot himself.

Both Kinzinger and Warner said they wanted to create a space where concerned pilots and others in the program could come forward without fear of professional reprisal.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Air Force Contradicts Itself in Blame for F-22 Fighter Crash

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson(WASHINGTON) -- Three months after the Air Force placed blame squarely on an F-22 fighter pilot who died when he crashed in the service's most expensive plane after his oxygen system failed in mid-air, a top Air Force official is apparently backtracking, saying that the pilot was not blamed and that he did the best he could in the situation he was in.

"We did not assign blame to the pilot," U.S. Air Force chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said before a House subcommittee on Tuesday when asked about the crash and the troubled F-22 program by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., according to multiple reports.  "… This was a complex contingency that he did his best to manage and, in the end, we lost aircraft control."

Schwartz's comments seem to contradict the conclusions an Air Force board reached after an intense, months-long investigation into the November 2010 crash that claimed the life of Capt. Jeff Haney, who the Air Force called an exceptional aviator.  Haney crashed in the Alaskan wilderness after a malfunction caused his oxygen system to shut down completely, meaning he suffered "a sense similar to suffocation" in mid-flight, according to the Air Force report.

"The board president found, by clear and convincing evidence, the cause of the mishap was the [pilot's] failure to recognize and initiate a timely dive recovery due to channelized attention, breakdown of visual scan, and unrecognized spatial disorientation," the report said, essentially saying Haney was too distracted by not being able to breathe to fly the plane properly.  The report also noted other contributing factors in the crash but said it was still a mystery as to what caused the original malfunction.

Moran noted in Tuesday's hearing that the investigation board blamed Haney and said, "There's been a suggestion... saying that the service is trying to protect its fifth-generation fighter and those involved in the program," according to a report by The Air Force Times.

In January, the Pentagon's Inspector General's office informed the Air Force it would be conducting its own review of the Air Force investigation -- the first major review of a military accident investigation in nearly 20 years.

The sophisticated F-22 Raptors, which cost the U.S. government an estimated $77.4 billion, are meant to be among the most advanced fighter planes on the planet.  But they have yet to see any combat -- going unused in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya despite becoming combat operational in late 2005 -- and have been plagued with a rare, mysterious oxygen problem.

Last year, the Air Force grounded the entire fleet of planes for nearly five months while the service investigated why, on a dozen separate occasions, pilots experienced "hypoxia-like symptoms" mid-flight.  Hypoxia occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen and is characterized by dizziness, confusion, poor judgment and inattentiveness.

But after scouring the planes for the source of the problem, the Air Force was unable to pinpoint any "smoking gun," as Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle put it last week, and cautiously allowed pilots back in the cockpit in September 2011.  Since the planes went back in the air, the Air Force has reported another nine incidents of pilots experiencing the "hypoxia-like" symptoms -- leading to a handful of one-day "pauses" in operations at various bases.

An Air Force spokesperson previously told ABC News the Air Force is watching its pilots very closely as they allow the planes to continue flying.

"The bottom line is this airplane is important to the national security and we've got the best minds we can find … we're working hard to both manage the risk and identify the exact cause," Schwartz said Tuesday. 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Air Force Asks for New Search of F-16 Pilot Troy Gilbert’s Remains in Iraq

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Air Force has agreed to a family’s plea that the Pentagon renew the search for the body of Major Troy Gilbert, whose F-16 fighter jet crashed in Iraq in 2006 as he came to the rescue of troops pinned down by enemy fire. His full remains were never recovered.

Gilbert’s remains were shown on an insurgent video taken at the crash site, but when American troops arrived at the wreckage they did not find his body.

A small amount of tissue found on the plane’s canopy was positively identified through DNA testing as belonging to Gilbert and was enough to classify him as “killed in action.”

It was that small set of remains that was interred at Arlington National Cemetery, and in the years since Gilbert’s family has held out hope that the search would continue for the rest of his remains.

When the last of the American troops left Iraq last December, the family was shocked to learn that no searches were being conducted for the rest of Gilbert’s remains because he is listed as killed in action, “body accounted for.”

Frustrated with that news, Gilbert’s family went public last week, requesting that the Air Force change Gilbert’s status to “unaccounted for” so that the Pentagon could reopen the search for his remains.

Gilbert’s mother, Kaye, told WFAA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Dallas, Texas, “My son is partially in the ground in Arlington, one or two inches maybe, but 99 percent is still in the ground over there, please, please help us get him home.”

An Air Force official said Thursday that Air Force Secretary Michael Donley agreed with the family that the search for the rest of Gilbert’s remains should resume.

According to the official, Donley sent a letter to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy requesting an “exception to policy” so that the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) could “assume a proactive pursuit of Major Gilbert’s remains and to bring the fullest possible accounting of his remains.”

Donley’s request must still be approved by the Under Secretary.

In a statement, Donley said the Air Force will work with the Defense Department and DPMO “to keep his case active and pursue information leading to the recovery of his subsequent remains.”

Donley added, “We honor the ultimate sacrifice Major Gilbert made for our nation. His family deserves nothing less than our best effort to recover his remains and return them to his loved ones.”

Gilbert’s family was notified of Donley’s action on Thursday and was overjoyed at the development.

“Our family is ecstatic!” Rhonda Jimmerson, Gilbert’s sister, told ABC News. “Mountains have moved and we’re very very happy that the military has agreed to continue the search for Troy.”

When his plane crashed in November 2006, Gilbert was coming to the rescue of American special operations forces down by Iraqi insurgents.

During his strafing runs, he flew his aircraft extremely low to the ground in an effort to avoid injuring civilians who were nearby. On his second pass the plane crashed after the tail end of his plane hit the ground.

For his heroic act, Gilbert was  posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Navy Fighter Pilot Implicated in Coronado Murder-Suicide

David De Lossy/Thinkstock(CORONADO, Calif.) -- A Navy fighter pilot is implicated in the shooting deaths of three others and himself in Coronado, Calif., according to new information released by authorities Wednesday.

Police say that John Robert Reeves, 25, is the only one of the four to have died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and his death is ruled a suicide, while the three others are classified as homicides.

Reeves, an F-18 Navy pilot who was sharing a home with fellow pilot David Reis in Coronado, died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, police said. Reis, 25, along with his sister Karen Reis, 24, and a third man, Matthew Christopher Saturley, 31, all died of shots to their heads, chests, and torsos, police said.

The shooting took place around 2:30 a.m. on New Year's Day after the foursome had been out celebrating the holiday in San Diego bars, sources told ABC affiliate KGTV. Neighbors called police after hearing shots ring out, and police arrived to find the four bodies, police said.

A next-door neighbor, Don Hubbard, said that police told him it was a murder-suicide and that a weapon had been recovered. Police would not confirm that it was a murder-suicide, but said that there was no outstanding suspect.

Police said they are continuing their investigation.

Tom Reis, the father of the two siblings killed, said David Reis was an F-18 pilot who had just taken his first official flight in December, while his sister was a recent graduate of the University of California-San Diego and a volleyball coach.

"We don't know the circumstances," Reis said. "We don't know what happened. We only know that they're no longer with us."

Reeves' family was not able to be reached for comment.

The shooting is the second mysterious incident to happen in the typically quiet beach community in six months. The condo home where the four victims were found is not far from the Coronado mansion of Jonah Shacknai, whose girlfriend Rebecca Zahau was found hanging, nude, in July, two days after his 6-year-old son suffered a fatal fall while under her care.

Authorities ruled her death a suicide, but a pathologist hired by Zahau's family said later that he had doubts she killed herself.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio