Eugene Taylor still thinks back to the days when he was first enlisting, remembering them fondly as other enlisted airmen like himself were eager to touch the sky.
Enlisting in 1968 and deploying to Vietnam, Taylor served as a mechanic on an avionics team. Almost 10 years later, a veteran mechanic and tech sergeant, he became a T-37 and T-38 simulation instructor with the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
He was so skilled that he was sometimes given permission to fly the T-38.
It’s been decades since anything like that was allowed. However, as the Air Force now faces one of its largest shortages in years, they are considering a return to the old era.
This would likely be done with a warrant officer corps. Current research is being conducted into the feasibility of such an option, as well as if new high-tech artificial intelligence can be utilized during training.
This would be a major shift, returning regulations to how they were during World War II. Chief Master Sergeant Kalth O. Wright, the current Chief Master Sgt. Of the Air Force, provided comment on the possible changes.
“We have enlisted airmen in our Guard and reserve component who have private pilot’s licenses and fly for the airlines. So it’s not a matter of can they do it, or hav[ing] the smarts or the capability, it’s just a matter of us, as an Air Force, deciding that that’s a route that we want to take.
It’s something we walked away from years ago, and I won’t say that we haven’t been willing to relook at [it],” Wright said, of having enlisted pilots. “It’s nothing that we can’t overcome.”
Wright wasn’t hesitant to point out that there are likely obstacles ahead. One of which is making sure such a change would also accommodate for an appropriate and successful career path for any enlisted airmen who pursue the option. How they would promote and rotate through units are just two questions requiring a thorough answer.
Additionally, enlisted pilots may not have the same ability to engage with the enemy using weapons on board—which presents a confusing situation. To put this in perspective, enlisted airmen are currently only allowed to pilot surveillance drones.