Costly Affirmative Action

Remember Navy Lt. Kara Hultgreen who was killed attempting to land her $38 million F-14A Tomcat fighter on the USS Abraham Lincoln? The Navy's official public report was the crash "was precipitated by a malfunction of the left engine." Questions about pilot error were greeted with charges of sexism. ABC's Peter Jennings said there had been a "vicious campaign against allowing women to serve in combat."

According to John Corry's summary in the American Spectator (June 1995) and a report of the Center for Military Readiness (CMR), the government and media version of Lt. Hultgreen's accident is part of the continuing saga of government deceit and media complicity. But here's what really happened.

On approach to the USS Abraham Lincoln, Lt. Hultgreen made five major errors and ignored repeated wave-off signals by ship's landing officer. One of those errors caused the F-14A's left engine to stall, sending the plane out of control, because Lt. Hultgreen mistakenly jammed on the rudder. In the twenty years of F-14A's service, no pilot had ever stalled an engine this way. In an effort to back up their lie that the crash was due to engine failure, the Navy selected nine male pilots to "fly" through Lt. Hultgreen's pre-crash conditions in a ground simulator.

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jeremy M. Boorda reported "the situation was re-created in an F-14 flight simulator. Eight of nine pilots in the simulator were unable to fly the plane out of the replicated regime." What Admiral Boorda failed to say was that the male pilots had been ordered not to execute the F-14A manual's so-called Bold Face Instructions, the critical things a pilot must do to fly through an emergency similar to Lt. Hultgreen's.

Documents obtained by Elaine Donnelly, director of CMR, shows that Lt. Hultgreen not only had subpar performance on several phases of her training but had four "downs" (major errors), just one or two of which are sufficient to justify the dismissal of a trainee. The White House and Congress' political pressure to get more women in combat is the direct cause of Lt. Hultgreen's death. But the story doesn't end there. A second female F-14A pilot, identified by Elaine Donnelly only as Pilot B, has been allowed to continue training despite marginal scores and seven "downs", the last of which was not recorded so she could pass the final stages of training.

These double standards are destructive in several important ways. They risk the lives not only of young women like Lt. Hultgreen and Pilot B but the lives of fellow military men and women. They dumb-down aviation standards. After all what do we do when a male F-14A trainee, washed out because he had four "downs" and subpar performance, accuses the Navy of sex discrimination? In the name of sex equality, do we lower standards for males? Finally, special concessions for female pilots undermine military morale and respect.

The Hultgreen incident demands several responses. The first is courts-martial of the Navy officers who deliberately submitted false and misleading reports about the incident. Second, Senators Strom Thurmond, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Sam Nunn, its ranking member, must call hearings. If the Navy establishes double standards for female aviation trainees, families of those exposed to unnecessary death should be informed and the nation should debate wisdom of the Navy's affirmative action policy. Then there's the pure military mission question: how much military efficiency are we prepared to sacrifice to promote the leftist quota vision?

Walter E. Williams
May 24, 1995
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