Piloting the new F-15 made me a technophile, and I’ve never looked back

Forty years ago this month, I climbed into the cockpit of an F-15 fighter aircraft for the very first time.

 

The year was 1977 and the place was Bitburg Air Base in Germany.

I had been a fighter pilot for 20 years, and had flown a number of aircraft, including the F-84F, the F-100, and the F-4.

After an hour in the air in the F-15, I landed the airplane and made an announcement to those who greeted me. “This new airplane is the greatest flying machine ever invented in the history of mankind.”

I had had high expectations before I climbed into the cockpit. However, this airplane was much better than I had expected.

Installed in each F-15 were 99 “line replacement units” (computers). Many of these computers were self-correcting. In the cockpit there was a panel of buttons just outside my left elbow. By pushing a button, the errant computer would reroute the data. In most cases this simple step would solve the problem.

One of the fighter pilots in the 36th Fighter Wing at Bitburg was Maj. John Madden. He had shot down three Migs in the Vietnam War a few years earlier.

Madden had credibility as a fighter pilot of great skill. One day in 1978, he came into my office with a draft copy of the F-15 tactics manual that he had written. He suggested that the title of the manual should be “Twenty to One.” He felt that the F-15 was clearly better than any Soviet, French, British, or Swedish fighter. Hence, in combat engagements, the ratio of victories would be: F-15s 20, enemy aircraft 1.

I was skeptical of this high ratio in favor of the F-15, but Major Madden soon convinced me. Forty years later, the record is clear. With Israeli, Saudi and American F-15s in air-to-air combat, the ratio is 104 to zero.

^

On that magic day in 1977, I became a committed technophile. The next time I was dazzled by a piece of technology was in 1981. In Burbank, Calif., I visited with Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich. Rich had recently replaced the legendary Johnson as director of the Lockheed Skunk Works.

I got a chance to look over the production line of the highly secret Stealth Fighter (F-117A). I was also briefed on the performance data of this revolutionary aircraft. The next day, I was flown to a secret base in Nevada where I observed a stealth fighter in flight.

I climbed in and out of a number of radar sites: American, Russian, Israeli. As the stealth fighter flew over these sites, it could not be observed on radar. The brilliant technologists at Lockheed had designed and built an invisible airplane. Since the operational concept was to fly the aircraft only at night, invisibility had been achieved. I was amazed.

Soon I was impressed again. I was briefed on the new the Global Positioning System. I was unable to fully understand the potential of this system. The military implications were pretty clear; the civilian ones less so.

As personal computers, spell checkers, the Internet, smart phones, tablets and watches were developed, I gave most of them a try. In the past few years, I have been bedazzled by the iPhone, the Kindle and our brand new Echo. My life as an author, teacher, leader and supporter of good causes has changed significantly. These devices have greatly enhanced my life.

In my leadership, ethics and planning workshops, I stress the value of these technologies. I also point out how technology can be both your friend and your enemy.

^

Here are a few examples of the dangers of these technologies.

1. Anyone who publishes articles, blogs or books has to be very careful about plagiarism. It is easy to grab a phrase or a sentence from someone else. The next step is pasting a phrase into something you are composing. It so easy to forget to give the author credit. Plagiarism is the result. Famous authors such as Doris Kearns Goodwin and the late Stephen Ambrose have both fallen into this trap.

2. Spell checkers are marvelous, but on occasion they can lead you to words that do not work within the context of your text.

3. Email can get you in big trouble especially when you are angry at someone. Firing off a nasty email is a good example of technology going astray.

4. A serious problem with high technology is technophobia, which I will explain in an upcoming article. Also, managing the electronic workspace will be examined. Techniques for making the best decisions using supportive technology will be suggested.

 

Maj. Gen. Perry Smith, U.S. Air Force retired, has published six books. His two most successful: Rules and Tools for Leaders and Assignment Pentagon. His website is genpsmith.com.

 

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