GRAPEVINE, Texas — As the U.S. Air Force grapples with an ongoing shortage of pilots, Gen. Mike Holmes, the commander of Air Combat Command, is considering a possible remedy: transitioning pilots from mobility aircraft to fighter or bomber aircraft.
“If you’re interested out there — and I know some are — if you want to send me a note and what you think about that, I’m considering that,” Holmes said in response to an audience question at the Airlift Tanker Association’s annual symposium outside Dallas, Texas. "I’m open to the idea, I just have to make the math work. "
But the ACC commander is skeptical since the training time it would take to transition a pilot from flying mobility aircraft to fighters or bombers is about the same for newly trained pilots to learn how to fly them in the first place.
“To go through [an] introduction to fighter fundamentals course, and then to go to a long course — either a long transition course or a course that initial students go through — it’s about the same amount of training it takes to train a lieutenant,” he said. “That lieutenant’s going to give me 10 years of return on that investment. And the older people are that I bring over, the less return I’m going to get on that investment.”
Holmes said pilots at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma showed interest in adding to their service commitments if it meant they could fly combat aircraft. But, he added, he was unsure about that approach.
“It’s counter to the way we’re going. You saw in the past week the Air Force has eliminated most of the active-duty service commitments for cross-training,” he said. “We don’t want you to say no to that training, to feel like it’s trapping you."
His remarks come as the Air Force is looking to increase the number of pilots it trains per year from about 1,300 in fiscal 2019 to 1,500 in fiscal 2022. The service is also working on a “flying-only” technical track for pilots that cuts non-flying duties.
While Holmes seemed skeptical of the idea during his answer at A/TA, he did say he wanted motivated pilots, regardless of where they come from.
“Ultimately, though, I’m of the mindset that I want people that are dying to be someplace and they’re really eager and determined to do something," he said.
Jeff Martin is the Associate Editor for Multimedia and the host & producer of Defense News Weekly, airing online and on American Forces Network worldwide. In his role as Associate Editor, he reports worldwide on the military and defense industry and leads a market-leading multimedia team.