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[Opinion] Fighter Pilots

Posted July. 15, 2005 03:02,   


Fighter pilots say they sometimes experience optical illusions when executing maneuvers over the sea. That is, in the process of rotating and spinning their planes every which way, they sometimes confuse the sky for the sea, and vice versa. Accidents where a pilot plummets into the sea instead of making a rapid ascent as he originally intended occur at just such moments of confusion. In other words, for pilots, the sky over an empty sea can be a far more dangerous space than one over complicated terrain.

On the evening of July 13, two Korean fighter jets—an F-5F and an F-4E—crashed while conducting missions over the South and West Seas. Although the reasons for the crashes are as yet undetermined, malfunctions caused by the dilapidation of the planes, visual confusion on the part of the pilots, and deteriorating weather conditions have been mentioned as possible causes. Since 2000 alone, Korea has lost six F-5F aircraft and five F-4E aircraft to crashes. It’s hard to say whether we should commend our military for still operating planes that are 22 and 35 years old, respectively, or scold them for not retiring these outdated models a long time ago.

Setting the question of dilapidation aside, who is to pay for the lives of our lost pilots? These youths gave the best years of their lives in order to don the famous “scarlet scarf” of pilots. Their loss is considerable in terms of state administration as well. According to air force data, the cost of training a single fighter pilot amounts to three billion won, and as much as 8.7 billion won is needed to develop a 10-year veteran air force pilot. Even if we purchase new planes from abroad, we can’t exactly rent experienced pilots in similar fashion.

It has recently been reported that more and more air force pilots are leaving the military. This means that pilot morale has taken a hit. One fighter pilot remarked, “The government poured a lot of money into training us, but they seem unable to maintain us properly.” Another reason fighter pilots are starting to lose heart is the changing condition of the times: just performing routine target practice on land requires careful negotiations with wary local residents.

It’s high time we boosted the morale of our pilots. And if this is to happen, we must pay our respects to the departed fighter pilots before pointing fingers for the accidents.

Song Mun-hong, Editorial writer, songmh@donga.com