Matthew J. LaCourse logged more than 2,000 flight-hours in the F-4, and another 1,500 hours in various other aircraft, including the F-16C Falcon, which is the type of plane that crashed Nov. 6. LaCourse and other civilian pilots flew 64 percent of sorties this year.
AIR FORCE PHOTO
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE — Civilians like Matthew LaCourse, who was killed last month when the F-16 he was flying was lost in the Gulf of Mexico, have flown more sorties for the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron this year than active duty military pilots.
After initially declining to answer questions about the use of civilians in military airborne missions, Tyndall officials responded to emailed questions.
The News Herald sent a list of questions to Tyndall public affairs officer Lt. Christopher Bowyer-Meeder, who responded with information from Lena Lopez, a spokesperson for the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, which includes the (82nd ATRS).
According to the email, civilians like LaCourse fly more military missions than you might expect, and the use of civilian pilots creates no additional risk to the Air Force while providing experienced pilots who can fill in where they're needed.
From Jan. 1 to Dec. 12, the 82nd ATRS, which is one of several squadrons within the 53 WEG, flew 526 sorties with the QF-16 and the QF-4 (the former is phasing out the later as a "target" in training operations). Civilians flew 64 percent of those sorties, 337, and civilians make up 60 percent of the aviators in the group while 40 percent are active duty military.
LaCourse retired in 2000 as a lieutenant colonel after 22 years in the Air Force. He'd logged more than 2,000 flight-hours in the F-4, and another 1,500 hours in various other aircraft, including the F-16C Falcon, which is the type of plane that crashed Nov. 6. He was a previous 82nd ATRS commander, Lopez said.
"As for Mr. LaCourse being a civilian pilot, I think it's important to note that he wasn't just a crop duster looking for another job," Bowyer-Meeder said in an email. "He, along with all of our other pilots, was very qualified to be in that plane."
Using civilians as opposed to active duty military pilots provides benefits to the military without increasing risk, Lopez said.
"From an operations perspective, they require no extra training, precautions or supervision; they maintain the same qualifications and training requirements as active duty military pilots," Lopez said. "The benefits are numerous but experience and availability are the highlights."
A civilian qualified to pilot a fighter jet allows the military to keep active duty pilots in deployable combat squadrons. Meanwhile, a local, qualified civilian pilot might develop expertise by staying years in one place.
Investigators continue to search for the cause of the crash, and officials won't discuss the investigation until it's complete, so for now it's not clear if human error, mechanical failure, an act of god or some combination of those caused the $18 million plane to fall out of the sky. When the investigation is complete the findings will be made public.