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Old 09-26-2019, 03:06 PM   #1
QuiGon
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Default Flying Generals/Admirals

I often wonder how common it is for military aviators to still fly when they become flag officers. When I saw this thread I wondered about that again and now decided to ask if you guys know how common that is or if you know of any specific cases where a general/admiral even flew a combat mission?

I do know of one such case from the UK. RAF Air Commodore (NATO rank: OF-6 Brigadier General = 1 star general) Iain McNicoll flew a combat sortie over Yugoslavia in 1999. At the time he was the station commander of RAF Bruggen in Germany, which hosted 4 flying squadrons. A RAF station commander usally occupies the rank of group captain (OF-5 Colonel), but not in this case, because the station commander of RAF Bruggen also was the commander of RAF Germany. RAF Germany had already been reduced quiet a lot after the Cold War ended and RAF Bruggen was the last remaining station of RAF Germany. As commander of RAF Germany he needed to be a flag officer to be on pair with his British Army counterpart in Germany and because he had to deal with the embassy and other official functions. That's why he was a one star general as a station commander.
When Operation Allied Force started Tornados of RAF Bruggen flew strike missions directly from their home base. For Air Commodore Iain McNicoll it was only natural to personally participate in the strikes and so he flew a sortie as the pilot of one of the Tornados to strike targets in Yugoslavia. When he came back the Chief of Staff of the Royal Air Force, Air Chief Marshall Sir Peter Squire, heard of that and forbid him to participate in any further sorties, because
a) he was not as current as the other pilots because of all his other duties and
b) he was too high ranking to risk getting shot down and become a POW.

So that's how a british one star general happened to fly a combat sortie in a Tornado. Do you guys know of any other stories of generals/admirals who flew combat missions or how common it is for flag officers to still keep flying in general?


Edit: Before someone complains: Yes, I know the british don't consider their 1-stars as flag officers, but NATO and everyone else does and so do I.
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Last edited by QuiGon; 09-26-2019 at 03:26 PM.
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Old 09-26-2019, 03:46 PM   #2
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Actor and USAF Reserve Brigadier General James (Jimmy) Stuart flew a B-52 combat mission in Vietnam in 1966 with a crew out of Anderson AFB, Guam. General Stuart was qualified in B-24, B-36, B-47, and B-52 bombers. That probably helped a bit when he made the movie, "Strategic Air Command" in 1955.

He was an experienced combat pilot, with 20 missions in B-24 Liberators over Germany in WWII, earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Air Medals.

So, a flag officer, and an Academy Award winner (he won best actor for his part in "Philadelphia Story" the week before he entered active duty in 1941), I guess that qualifies.


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Old 09-26-2019, 05:07 PM   #3
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Can only speak for the UK, but it’s not at all common. Some will do some flying, in terms of having the occasional flight in the back seat of fighters when they visit the operationaL units under their command, and I’ve know a couple that flew themselves in helicopters on visits (alongside their actual pilot), but that’s about it.

Once they hit that rank, and even before when they get to Group Captain, it becomes very difficult for them to maintain enough currency to be considered operational. Base commanders do still fly, but once they hit Air Commodore their flying time is pretty much done.

Operational pilots have to keep doing requalification flights, and practicing the various mission types constantly, once your main job is being a commander, that’s no longer practical.

That’s why a few pilots choose to remain “spec aircrew” and forgo moving up the ranks in favour of flying.
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Old 09-26-2019, 05:24 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TeamMaximus View Post
Actor and USAF Reserve Brigadier General James (Jimmy) Stuart flew a B-52 combat mission in Vietnam in 1966 with a crew out of Anderson AFB, Guam. General Stuart was qualified in B-24, B-36, B-47, and B-52 bombers. That probably helped a bit when he made the movie, "Strategic Air Command" in 1955.

He was an experienced combat pilot, with 20 missions in B-24 Liberators over Germany in WWII, earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Air Medals.

So, a flag officer, and an Academy Award winner (he won best actor for his part in "Philadelphia Story" the week before he entered active duty in 1941), I guess that qualifies.


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Interesting story, I've never heard about him despite his fame. He does indeed qualify for this thread, so thanks for sharing that story


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Can only speak for the UK, but it’s not at all common. Some will do some flying, in terms of having the occasional flight in the back seat of fighters when they visit the operationaL units under their command, and I’ve know a couple that flew themselves in helicopters on visits (alongside their actual pilot), but that’s about it.

Once they hit that rank, and even before when they get to Group Captain, it becomes very difficult for them to maintain enough currency to be considered operational. Base commanders do still fly, but once they hit Air Commodore their flying time is pretty much done.

Operational pilots have to keep doing requalification flights, and practicing the various mission types constantly, once your main job is being a commander, that’s no longer practical.

That’s why a few pilots choose to remain “spec aircrew” and forgo moving up the ranks in favour of flying.
Yeah, that's pretty much what I thought. I guess this is more or less the same for most (NATO) countries.
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Old 12-02-2019, 12:52 PM   #5
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Just stumbled across another US General, Robert M. Bond, who was still flying combat jets, while holding the rank of Lieutenant General. He actually died in 1984 at the age of 54, when he ejected at supersonic speed from a YF-113 that he was piloting.
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Old 12-02-2019, 02:44 PM   #6
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Basil Embry was a Vice-Air Marshal during WWII, who flew in special bombing operations on several occasions. Because his rank was too high for operational flying, he didn't lead the sorties and flew under the alias of "Wing Commander Smith".
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Old 12-03-2019, 09:01 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Seaeagle View Post
Basil Embry was a Vice-Air Marshal during WWII, who flew in special bombing operations on several occasions. Because his rank was too high for operational flying, he didn't lead the sorties and flew under the alias of "Wing Commander Smith".
Very interesting, thanks!
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Although he was now an Air Vice Marshal, Embry continued to fly on operations where possible, usually as a 'wingman' in a formation and flying under the name of "Wing Commander Smith". By piloting each type of aircraft in his service, he felt better able to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of the tools available to his aircrews. This ensured that the men under Embry's command were aware that he was willing to take the same risks they were taking, and he was well liked by them.
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Old 12-04-2019, 03:15 PM   #8
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General Tomb.

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