800-388-1647 info@leroywhomerjr.org P.O. Box 268, Marlton, NJ 08053

Are you really an Air Force pilot?

At eleven years into my service with the US Air Force, I’ve accumulated over 3,000 jet hours, deployed nine times, and have had some of the best experiences a pilot could have. From short-field landings in the remote islands of the Philippines to refueling fighters defending friendly troops from enemy fire, the adventures of the Air Force have been countless.

While US Air Force flight training is world-class and many of the experiences once-in-a-lifetime, one aspect that many new recruits don’t consider is the purpose for which the Air Force has commissioned them. If you ask a Marine what they do, they say “I’m a US Marine.” If you ask an Air Force flyer, they might say “I fly,” “I’m a pilot,” or even “I fly .” As budget and manning cuts take their toll on the US military, it is becoming even more apparent that Air Force pilots are first called to be officers.

The encouraged track for a US Air Force pilot involves rotating between operational flying, school, staff, and command. Early on, the focus will be on flying. Several years may be spent in one major airframe, or a rotation between a major airframe and a smaller airframe, giving the opportunity for seasoning and to develop expertise. Most pilots will achieve qualification as an Instructor Pilot or certification as an Evaluator Pilot within these first five to eight years of operational flying. Even within this operational flying period, pilots will assume duties within their flying squadron that may or may not be directly related to aviation. The higher performing officers are typically rewarded by being given more responsibility, which may include working full-time duty outside of flying. While fully employed in one of these positions, such as an Executive Officer, Plans Officer, or one of many other positions, a pilot will still maintain their minimum currencies, but their flying hours will dwindle to accommodate their increased workload in the office.

As an Air Force pilot achieves the rank of Major, their line flying days are nearing an end if they haven’t wrapped up already. The top 20% to 30% of Major’s will be selected for Intermediate Developmental Education, commonly referred to simply as “school.” The typical school tour will be a year long and involves developmental education that can range from military studies to earning a Master’s degree at a civilian university. Following school, a pilot will spend two to four years on staff at a headquarters. During staff, most pilots will not be flying. Following school and staff, the most competitive will go on to be Squadron Operations Officers or Commanders of a flying squadron. This cycle of school-staff-operations repeats again as a pilot approaches the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The next iteration consists of Senior Developmental Education and Group Command. Follow-on commands include commanding a Wing, Numbered Air Force, and Major Command (MAJCOM). Of course, a MAJCOM commander is a 4-star General, so you have an idea of the timeline that this rotation extends to.

While there are exceptions and some pilots are able to maintain flying status throughout their 20-year career, the track that most Air Force leaders will press upon a pilot is as mentioned above. Having supervised and mentored many young aviators, one common frustration I notice is that many enter the Air Force as pilots without realizing their first priority will be to serve as an Air Force officer. As officers, we are given many responsibilities outside of flying which typically involve supervising Airmen, overseeing programs, providing administrative support to commanders, and writing policy. While these duties are balanced with flying early on, eventually an Air Force pilot is shaped into a leader and manager of Airmen. Leading a unit of aircrew is desired, but many pilots go on to manage units and programs that are in a completely different field. They may lead Airmen who specialize in a logistics, transportation, or support role.

The recent ramp-up in Airline hiring in combination with Air Force manning cuts has led to a mass exodus of many Air Force pilots. The typical Air Force pilot will have a 10-year commitment upon graduating pilot training, which ends up meaning a commitment to the 12-year point in the pilot’s career. At the end of this commitment is when an Air Force pilot reaches the “crossroads” of their career… to continue to 20 years of military service to earn a life-time pension or to leave the military for flying in the civilian sector. Another option would be to leave active duty to work part-time in the National Guard or Air Force Reserve while pursuing a civilian job. If one decides to stay on active duty, they will also be challenged to decide whether they want to remain in a flying billet as long as possible or track to command and management positions, which typically coincide with promotions and increased pay.

All in all, there are amazing assignment options in the Air Force. Whether you’re looking for a specific location or a specific job, it most likely exists in some form. However, one thing to keep in mind is that the Air Force will call you to serve as an officer before a pilot. As you achieve rank in the Air Force, it will become more and more evident that your purpose is to lead Airmen while your flying expertise will primarily be used to better lead those Airmen.

oath maj promo

Maj Christina Lee

Strategic Policy Fellow

KC-10 Pilot

Speech Given at Cheyenne Mountain Commemoration Ceremony on September 11, 2014

Thank you General Hyton for the introduction, and thank you to General Jacoby for the invitation to attend. Prior to September 11th, I had accompanied by husband to his 10 year reunion the United States Air Force Academy . I didn’t think I would ever visit this place after he was killed. However my last time here I had the pleasure of seeing one of our scholarship recipients and one of my favorite people, Courtney Schaer, graduate from the Air Force Academy.

After September 11th, we, LeRoy’s family and friends formed the LeRoy Homer Foundation. LeRoy earned his private pilot license prior to starting here at the Academy and we wanted to provide this first step to others with the love and passion for aviation to be able take their first step with us. We currently have five men and women pilots in uniform – three Air Force, two Navy and one Marine. The past two years, our recipients have indicated that after high school, the Academy is their first choice.

I want to talk a little about September 11th, 2001. Many of you were too young to remember the details. LeRoy and I had been married for 3 and a half years, our daughter was 10 months old, 5 weeks from her first birthday. LeRoy had flown a Boston trip and bought her an outfit for the occasion. To this day it is hard for me to still believe my husband went to work and never came home. To this day I think it is hard for us all to conceptualize the loss of 2,977 lives. Using airplanes as WMDs to take innocent lives and destroy symbols of this countrys’ freedoms was unimaginable. Over the years, I have heard the many of the stories of the lives lost that day. I had never imagined scenarios where young children lost both parents in the towers, or the wives who took their own lives in the months afterward. And the first responders. Many lost their lives that day; many lost them years later when the toxic air they breathed that day finally ended their lives.
Our governments worked quickly. Homeland Security was created. NORAD began working with the Canadian government to keep the airspace safe over North America. And I say on behalf of both countries, we are grateful for your protection us safe for the past 13 years. And on occasions such as this we are reminded that we do have to continue to be vigilant. Those who wish to harm our way of life will never stop trying.

In 2011, a study co-chaired by United Airlines and Boeing was completed. The issue at hand was that there was no good way to protect the cockpit from intrusion when the door needed to be opened for the pilots to use the restroom, get their meals or take crew breaks on long haul flights. The results of this study lead to the creation of a safety device called a secondary barrier. A secondary barrier is a steel mesh door that is locked into place when the cockpit door has to been opened. Their research suggests secondary barriers are the most effective way of protecting the cockpit. Some airlines currently have them, however about a year and a half ago, we received information that they had not been installed, and in fact were being removed from the new Boeing airliners. It had been decided they were unnecessary because of all the other layers of security. I’m aware of two – the Federal Air Marshal Program and the Federal Flight Deck Officer program which unfortunately have had their budgets cut.

As I was flying out here yesterday, I thought of an analogy in my own life. My father is 81 years old and has mobility issues. He’s at my home right now as a matter of fact. As a nurse I know that hip fractures in the elderly come with high mortality rates. So when my dad comes to visit, I pull out all the devices I’ve acquired over the years to prevent him falling and I’m constantly looking for devices and aids to prevent him from having a fall. So, how many times has my father fallen? Zero. Since 9/11, there have been 33 attempted cockpit breaches globally, five being successful but fortunately not a part of any act of terrorism, and injuries to the pilots were minimal. The reason for the layers of security is this – 13 years ago we said never again, never again.

Right now there is a house bill with at least 60 bi-partisan co-sponsors with a companion bill in the senate. And as the years have gone by, it seems that we have forgotten the promise we were given. I believe one of the keys to ensuring another 9/11 doesn’t happen is to address and act on any vulnerabilities we know about while the agencies tasked with stopping potential attacks before they reach our soil continue to do their job.

The world is dealing with many difficult situations right now – ISIS, the Ebola virus, the Ukraine – situations that require difficult decisions and solutions. This is not one of those issues. As quickly as we were able to shore up our security after September 11th, 2001, I believe we can do the same with secondary barriers. A value cannot be placed on human life. We all fundamentally believe this. In this dangerous and unstable world eternal vigilance is the high price we pay for our freedoms.

When I was asked to attend this ceremony, I was told that the doors to the bunker had not been closed since the end of the cold war until September 11th, 2001. I hope and pray they will never need to be closed again.

Protective Measures

Flight Attendants are now the front line for airline security.

I recently witnessed this on a domestic flight. The pilot and first officer left the cockpit to use the bathroom on an Airbus 319. These planes have the bathroom right next to the cockpit. Maybe not such a smart spot?

As part of the pre-flight brief, they announced that “only one person at a time could be waiting in the aisle by the lavatory.” In some circles, that’s a head start.

To “protect” the pilots while they used the bathroom, a flight attendant moved to the head of the aisle placing a beverage cart there and held “post.”

For several minutes, it was the beverage cart and flight attendant that stood between the passengers and the pilots / cockpit door.

According to sources, this is an FAA approved “protective measure.”

I hope flight attendants are trained like Steven Seagal because TSA and air carrier studies have shown that a cockpit, when the door is opened, can be breached in as little as 3 seconds with the cart/flight attendant on post. Picture a 200+ pound enraged and focused guy charging the cart/flight attendant at full speed.

That’s ok, Airlines think that in this day and age, the passengers will also help. That is probably true post 9/11 and it’s nice of the airlines to consider paying passengers as supplemental security on flights. You think tickets would be less.

One year ago today, 9/11 widow Ellen Saracini whose husband Victor was the Captain of high jacked aircraft United 175 advocated to Representative Mike Fitzpatrick to introduce HR 1775, The Saracini Aviation Safety Act which would solve the “flight attendant on post” problem.

That bill would mandate proven secondary barriers on all US aircraft. Barriers which multiple studies have said are the most cost effective way to really secure a cockpit.

The airlines have balked at the alleged cost. It costs over $1 Million dollars for an aircraft’s “inflight entertainment” system and airlines have grossed over 3 Billion in baggage fees. Secondary barriers run approximately $3K-10K installed or for free on new planes, like the Boeing 747. Perhaps airlines think satellite TV and paying for luggage will deter a highjacker?

Here are some more costs the airlines seemed to forget about:

According to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security:

9/11 total losses exceed $100 Billion dollars.

If you add in the loss in stock market wealth (including airlines stocks) — the market’s own estimate arising from expectations of lower corporate profits and higher discount rates for economic volatility — the price tag approaches $2 trillion.

The loss of four civilian aircraft alone is valued at $385 million.

That’s 385 inflight entertainment systems!

These 9/11 losses were broadcast far and wide, the most infamous being the video showing a terrorist highjacked United 175 being rammed into the South Tower.

I wonder if that is available on the entertainment system?

In a Fox News interview, retiring FBI Director Mueller said that out of all the terrorist threats, “The possibility of a plane being taken down (via highjacking) … tends to keep us awake at night.”

I guess airlines sleep well knowing that flight attendants and passengers are on the front lines of securing their planes.

For more information visit the Pilot Partisan Blog or to add your voice click here.

HR 1775

Submitted by Valerie Mihalek

Director at Large

The LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation


Steady Ahead

With March upon us many residents of the Northern Hemisphere are looking forward to the spring season and some relief from the cold and snowy weather of the past few months. Moving forward toward any goal requires focus, dedication, effort and commitment. With that in mind, here are some mileposts from The Foundation.

The LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation application window for the 2014 Scholarship Award closed January 31st and we are busy evaluating over 100 individuals who are seeking to be our next Scholarship Recipient. The scholarship committee is busy processing and reading a mountain of paper to find this year’s winner. We anticipate a selection and announcement on or about May 1, 2014 and we hope you will visit the website often for updates and to learn about this year’s winner.

Also in January our current Scholarship Recipient, Nathan Sanders, received his acceptance letter to the United States Air Force Academy. Nathan is completing his senior year of high school and is within a few hours of completing his Private Pilot License. We congratulate Nathan on being accepted into the incoming class and we look forward to celebrating his certification as an FAA Certificated Pilot in the near future.

On March 1st the US Navy held the commissioning ceremony for the USS Somerset (LPD-25) in Philadelphia, PA. The USS Somerset is the third ship commissioned and named in honor of those whose lives were lost in the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. The ship can deliver two amphibious units of motivated marines and their equipment to answer our nations call around the world. The names of the crew members and passengers of United Flight 93 adorn the railings and emblazoned on the Flight Deck wall are the often quoted words “Lets Roll.” There is also a museum within the ship with memorabilia from United Flight 93.

USS Somerset flag USS Somerset name railing

With the longer days approaching and the temperature slowly rising, there is much to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead. Much work remains as well. Further work in Washington promoting Secondary Barriers to protect the cockpits of our aircraft. More focus on the threats to our US Aviation Industry and the goals of foreign interests to gain more access to it via Open Skies agreements and offshore Customs and Border Patrol facilities. You can be sure we are doing our part to stay focused, show our determination and demonstrate our commitment to encourage and support young adults who wish to pursue aviation careers.

Lest We Forget

Memorials, anniversary ceremonies, days of public service are all ways people remember Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Yet, in some ways, especially recently, lessons from that day seem to be forgotten.
Take for example the airlines. After the attacks, Congress mandated reinforced cockpit doors. When procedural experience showed there were still concerns about a cockpit breach when it was necessary for the door to be opened, United and Northwest went ahead installing a secondary barrier. A secondary barrier is a lightweight wire door that blocks access to the cockpit. When the cockpit door needs to be opened for crew meals, restroom breaks etc. the secondary barrier prevents anyone from gaining access. United currently has secondary barriers installed on their 757/767, 747 and 777.
With the recent merger of United and Continental airlines, United Airlines is now under Continental management. Several months ago I became aware that United had paid Boeing to remove this safety feature from their recent delivery of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. When asked for a reason by Ellen Saracini, widow of Captain Saracini United #175, no clear cut reason was given.
Instead, you may have noticed a flight attendant standing in front of the cockpit door with their arms crossed or standing behind a beverage cart. So, it would appear by the airlines’ own procedures that they do acknowledge there is a need for a secondary barrier.
Why the pushback from other airlines to install these devices? Cost? Research conducted this year estimated these barriers to cost 5000 – 12,000 each. If that number seems high, compare it to the reported one million dollars United invests per airplane on their in-flight entertainment. If given a choice, I believe most of the flying public would opt for safety.
Last week I flew to Washington, DC to meet with congressional reps and encourage them to sign on to HR 1775 which would mandate airlines to install these barriers. I learned even more about this issue. An article in Politico magazine suggested that passengers were one of the many layers of security which negates the need for secondary barriers. I’m not sure how that would work – first, we would have to know this as an expectation, much like when we agree to sit in an exit aisle. I’m assuming this would only apply to the adult able bodied, then I suppose who would have to agree to sleep/eat/read in shifts. As I found out in my meetings in DC, for this cockamamie scenario to work, given a generous minimum reaction time of a 30-45 seconds of passengers to notice a breach and then react, they would still not be able to intervene as it takes as little as 3-6 seconds to breach the cockpit.
And also realize that if the cockpit is breached, no one will ever be able to get through the reinforced door. Which means the aircraft can be used as a WMD, and the only way to stop it would be for the government to order an American aircraft to be shot down.
This all boils down to the almighty dollar. The airlines just are not concerned enough to want to spend a relatively small amount of money to keep their passengers and crews safe. There are people, bad people, terrorists, mentally unstable individuals, who are seeing this weakness right now, figuring out how to use it to their advantage.
I would ask everyone who reads this to remember September 11, 2001, how helpless you felt, how we didn’t know what was happening, what more was going to happen. If we ALL contact our congressional representatives, and ask them to support HR 1775, and then pass this information on to your friends and families, especially the ones who have to travel for work. Because if this bill doesn’t get passed, and a plane is hijacked again, the blame will fall on the these representatives, many of whom were present for the dedication of the plaque which hangs in the US Capitol, as a thank you to crew and passengers from United #93 who lost their lives while thwarting the attack on this intended target.

To contact your congressional rep, go to:
www.house.gov/representatives/find/ OR http://www.alpa.org/ALPADeptInfoPages/Departments/GovernmentAffairsDepartment/PopvoxSecondaryBarriers/tabid/7906/Default.aspx