Back in the Vietnam era, an RAF fighter pilot named Flight Lieutenant Ron Lloyd served on exchange with the USAF at Perrin Air Force Base in Texas, flying F-102s and T-33s, and in his book Fast Jets to Spitfires: A Cold War Fighter Pilot’s Story he described just how peculiar and micromanaged the USAF was in his British eyes. On the plus side, he said he really enjoyed flying the F-102 “Deuce” and T-33 “T-bird”. He announced that: “The Deuce, the USAF’s first delta-wing fighter, was easy to fly after 700 hours flying the [RAF] Javelin. The delta design brought structural strength, good manoeuvrability and strong vortices at higher angles of attack producing extra lift accompanied by high drag. With no tail plane that would normally include elevators it had ‘elevons’ at the wing trailing edges to provide both aileron and elevator control in response to normal stick movements, which solved the Javelin’s problem of elevator function when the delta wing blanked off airflow over the tail at high angles of attack. Other innovations were speed brakes just above the jet efflux that stored a brake parachute for reduced landing roll, which was deployed on every landing. It was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J-57 engine delivering 11,700lb of thrust, increasing to 17,200lb in afterburner, which gave a rate of climb of 13,000 feet per minute. It was supersonic, achieving Mach 1.2 at 40,000 feet but only after a major redesign, to become the first aircraft to employ ‘area ruling’, adopting a coke-bottle-shaped fuselage to solve aerodynamic drag problems at transonic speeds. It could operate to 53,000 feet, with a range of 1,173 nautical miles.” (p.152)
In other words, it was a real hot rod. On the negative side, he said, as Canadian exchange pilots did in a previous article, that the USAF was simply anal and run like a proverbial nanny state in several ways. First he noted “Alerts and scrambles were practised from a hangar or ‘barn’ similar to the RAF’s hardened shelter where I could revert to the RAF practice of completing pre-take-off checks from memory instead of the standard USAF ‘read the checklist’ procedure. I was always quickest, although it seemed to make little impression on pilots trained to do things ‘by the book’.” (p. 155) He also thought the USAF’s policy of having the Instructor Pilot (IP) accompany a student pilot on his first solo flight (in a second aircraft, obviously) was too much hand-holding. He quipped “The RAF instructor would simply brief him on the ground and say ‘off you go’, possibly sitting in the control tower with a cup of coffee, hoping to see him return. The USAF shepherding approach was more of a challenge to the IP than the student coping with a first solo but it was fun to fly.” (p. 157) In other words, the USAF student was under less stress than his IP flying alongside him, and that is not good for developing an independent and confident pilot.
Speaking of unexpected behavior, Lloyd found it “astonishing” to learn that USAF T-33 IPs were allowed to fly the aircraft anywhere in the continental US on weekends, ostensibly to get the opportunity to get accustomed to civilian air traffic controllers, and possibly learn how to fly through bad weather. (p.158) So, when he was in Rome, he did as the Romans did, and “So every six weeks or so, with clearance from an understanding wife, I accepted requests from students to fly them home in exchange for fly fishing, golf, sightseeing or just that warm American family hospitality, seeing life in the States from an ‘insider’ perspective. This meant flying long distances with two or even three flights to reach the northern border or either coast from Texas, allowing for ultra-safe fuel margins and a whim to land at as many bases as was reasonable.” (p. Ibid.) On the other hand, although this was not apparently done in the RAF, it was possible that USAF T-33 pilots needed to get additional flying hours on weekends to meet unit standards.
Finally there was the USAF’s notorious abundance of petty rules and regulations. Lloyd thought: “… the USAF to be comprehensively regulated with a manual and a procedure for pretty much everything, whether it was for flying, engineering, administering or just walking along.” (p. 157) But to be fair, he pointed out the Americans would probably be just as shocked by the RAF way of doing things. “At work the USAF pilots appeared to take rules and regulations seriously but privately expressed humorous scepticism regarding their efficacy since their quality seemed to be judged by their length not their content. It left little doubt as to what was required of you and how to stay on the right side of the authorities but could be regarded by lackadaisical Brits as a bit rigid. It would prove a shock to some USAF exchange officers flying with the RAF or RN in the UK during the Cold War period when they were left to make their own decisions in an operational environment that relied on self-sufficiency more than guidance.” (p. 167)
Once again, the RAF treated its pilots like mature self-sufficient and self-disciplined professionals, the USAF, like undisciplined teenagers that need constant supervision. The same is true today, sadly, and reflects the need for true reform in the USAF and the rest of the US armed forces.
Ron Lloyd. Fast Jets to Spitfires: A Cold War Fighter Pilot’s Story (p. 167). Pen & Sword Books. Kindle Edition.
Roger Thompson “Foreign Exchange Pilots (Including Americans!) Don’t Always Think the USAF is the Greatest” CounterPunch, March 15, 2023.