August 24, 2004
POLITICS: The F-102
While we're in the pre-convention lull - and I assure you, faithful readers, that by next week I'll be back on the issues as far as political coverage goes - it's worth remembering what a fraud many of the attacks on President Bush's National Guard service have been. The Donovan pointed recently to an essay on Aerospaceweb.org (with useful, and let's face it, really cool pictures) on the F-102, Bush's aircraft, and on his service record. A few key excerpts (but make sure to go there and read the whole thing):
Even in peacetime conditions, F-102 pilots risked their lives on every flight. Only highly-qualified pilot candidates were accepted for Delta Dagger training because it was such a challenging aircraft to fly and left little room for mistakes. According to the Air Force Safety Center, the lifetime Class A accident rate for the F-102 was 13.69 mishaps per 100,000 flight hours, much higher than the average for today's combat aircraft. For example, the F-16 has an accident rate of 4.14, the F-15 is at 2.47, the F-117 at 4.07, the S-3 at 2.6, and the F-18 at 4.9. Even the Marine Corps' AV-8B, regarded as the most dangerous aircraft in US service today, has a lifetime accident rate of only 11.44 mishaps per 100,000 flight hours. The F-102 claimed the lives of many pilots, including a number stationed at Ellington during Bush's tenure. Of the 875 F-102A production models that entered service, 259 were lost in accidents that killed 70 Air Force and ANG pilots.
[P]ilots from the 147th FIG of the Texas ANG were routinely rotated to Vietnam for combat duty under a program called "Palace Alert" from 1968 to 1970. Palace Alert was an Air Force program that sent qualified F-102 pilots from the ANG to bases in Europe or southeast Asia for periods of three to six months for frontline duty. Fred Bradley, a friend of Bush's who was also serving in the Texas ANG, reported that he and Bush inquired about participating in the Palace Alert program. However, the two were told by a superior, MAJ Maurice Udell, that they were not yet qualified since they were still in training and did not have the 500 hours of flight experience required. Furthermore, ANG veteran COL William Campenni, who was a fellow pilot in the 111th FIS at the time, told the Washington Times that Palace Alert was winding down and not accepting new applicants.
After being accepted into the ANG, Airman Basic Bush was selected to attend pilot training. His six weeks of basic training was completed at Lackland AFB in Texas during July and August of 1968. Upon its completion, Bush was promoted to the officer's rank of second lieutenant. He spent the next year in flight school at Moody AFB in Georgia from November 1968 to November 1969. The aircraft Lt. Bush trained aboard were the T-41 Mescelero propeller-driven basic trainer and the T-38 Talon primary jet trainer. He also completed two weeks of survival training during this period.
Bush then returned to Ellington in Texas to complete seven months of combat crew training on the F-102 from December 1969 to June 1970. This period included five weeks of training on the T-33 Shooting Star and 16 weeks aboard the TF-102 Delta Dagger two-seat trainer and finally the single-seat F-102A. Bush graduated from the training program in June 1970.
As he was completing training and being certified as a qualified F-102 pilot, Bush's squadron was a likely candidate to be rotated to Vietnam. However, the F-102 was built for a type of air combat that wasn't seen during that conflict, and the plane was withdrawn from southeast Asia in December 1969. The F-102 was instead returned to its primary role of providing air defense for the United States. In addition, the mission of Ellington AFB, where Bush was stationed, was also changing from air defense alert to training all F-102 pilots in the US for Air National Guard duty. Lt. Bush remained in the ANG as a certified F-102 pilot who participated in frequent drills and alerts through April of 1972.
By this time, the 147th Fighter Wing was also beginning to transition from the F-102 to the F-101F, an updated version of the F-101B used primarily for air defense patrols. Furthermore, the war in Vietnam was nearing its end and the US was withdrawing its forces from the theater. Air Force personnel returning to the US created a glut of active-duty pilots, and there were not enough aircraft available to accommodate all of the qualified USAF and ANG pilots. Since USAF personnel had priority for the billets available, many of the Air National Guard pilots whose enlistments were nearly complete requested early release. The ANG was eager to fulfill these requests because there was not enough time to retrain F-102 pilots to operate new aircraft before their enlistments were up anyway. Bush was one of those forced out by the transition, and he was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant in October 1973, eight months before his six-year enlistment was complete. Bush had approximately 600 flight hours by the time he completed his military service. In the fall of 1973, Bush began coursework at the Harvard Business School where he received an MBA in 1975.
Bush's service still doesn't compare to Kerry's, even if you buy the charges against Kerry's service. But neither is the contrast as stark as Kerry supporters would have you believe. Bush took on hazardous duty, served honorably for four years in which he was frequently occupied flying a complicated aircraft on homeland defense missions, and then left the Air National Guard early at a time when his services were no longer of any use.