Highest rank at which someone would still be a military pilot

By the time someone reaches, say, the rank of lieutenant colonel, would they no longer be at the physical controls of a military aircraft such as a fighter jet? What’s the highest rank at which someone would still be flying?

Didn’t George W. Bush fly onto an aircraft carrier to declare “mission accomplished”? So that would be the head of the whole military. No one above that.

Surely that wasn’t staged. :wink:

Why not. I believe a GAG on a Navy carrier is still expected to fly and now they are normally a captain.

Yes, you jest and I get it, but he was a passenger. He wasn’t actually doing the flying.

I found this in Check Yeager’s entry on Wikipedia:

Yeager wasn’t just any general, and a Beechcraft would have been for observation or personal transport. The quote doesn’t even specifically state that he was at the controls. But it’s a start.

There is no “rank” at where they pin new insignia onto you and snatch your wings away. In most militaries whether you fly or depends on your posting at the time. Some billets are flying ones other are non flying ones. They tend to alternate between flying and non-Flying billets. Per LSLGuy in the USAF in non flying billets a person does no flying. In other Air Forces, even in non flying billets a certain number of hours a year are required.

As an officer increases in rank, even in ostensibly “flying” billets, most of their actual duties are non-flying.

Did you mean CAG or have the designations changed since I stopped reading Clancy?

Well, he also has a misspelling in his sig, so let’s go with the meaning was CAG.

What defines being a military pilot? An officer whose main duty is flying planes? Or somebody who mainly performs other duties but who is qualified to fly a plane? My understanding is there are a lot of higher ranked officers who spend the overwhelming majority of their time in administrative or command duties but who fly just enough to maintain their pilot status. While they only fly a few hours each year, they technically qualify as military pilots.

Yeager"s biography said he could no longer fly after becoming a General. It did chafe and he claimed to often take the controls during flights.

That changed after he retired. He resumed flying military aircraft in retirement.

I’m not sure how, unless he was in reserve status. He was very clear in his bio that he regularly took flights in retirement.

This would have been the late 1960’s and 70’s.

Verified. Was friends with a CAG who was a Navy 06. He flew front line fighters all the time. Even used an A4 to take a training flight to deliver a kitten to his daughter. That was a few years back obviously. (A4 reference)

Didn’t Gen. Yeager fly as a general also?
ETA, might be thinking of Robin Olds.

Not military, but the Dutch King was an infrequent but regular pilot for KLM. He also qualified as a military pilot at some point before ascending the throne.

Or Jimmy Stewart.

There’s plenty of stories of four star generals flying aircraft. I believe either the Chief of Starf or the Commander of Air Combat Command recently flew in one of the light attack demonstration aircraft. Every now and then one flies an F-22.

As said above, in the US military there are flying billets and non-flying billets. Somebody in a flying billet will have flying as part of their ordinary weekly duties. Somebody in a non-flying billet will not fly at all. Every couple of years officers who have pilot ratings change jobs. And as they get promoted up the ranks, flying billets become a shrinking percentage of the total.

In USAF, USN, & USMC it’s normal/typical that flying squadron commanders are O-5 (= USAF/USMC Lieutenant Colonel, USN Commander). These folks fly a lot, like 3 times a week.

Inadvertantly hit [Submit]. Here’s the rest of the post:

It’s typical that flying wing commanders or carrier air group commanders are O-6 (= USAF/USMC Colonel, USN Captain). These folks fly a little. Like 1x a week. The job is a 90/10 mix of administrative and flying duties. But they *are *flying billets. These folks are expected to fly some, but are also expected to mostly stay behind and manage in a real shooting war. Good bet they’ve been flying actual combat sorties during the low intensity wars of the last 15 years; the participation medals are promotion fuel.

Some O-7s (=1-star Generals/Admirals) command unusual units where their role is about like the O-6 wing commanders. These guys also fly. But we’re getting into rarified territory; there simply aren’t more than a handful or two of these jobs in DoD. All the rest of the O-7s and up are in non-flying billets.

Even higher ranked Generals / Admirals fly very occasionally if they’re in a command role. It’s Good to be King. But if so they’re closely supervised by an instructor or QA pilot; they’re not expected to be fully proficient. And the scenario for any flying is pretty benign. You won’t find a 2-star leading a 100 airplane raid in a Red Flag exercise, much less in a real war. There are lots of jokes in USAF about letting General so-and-so fly on a nice afternoon as long as he brings his seeing-eye Captain (O-3) along so nobody gets hurt.

Why do USAF non-flying billet officers not fly at all while in other Air Forces they do? Even if its just a few dozen hours a year. Whats the advantage/disadvantage?

That changed post-Viet Nam. In prior times, a USAF pilot had to fly some minimal X hours per quarter to retain eligibility for the flying bonus pay. Which is a significant bump (IIRC 15-20%). So what ended up happening was the creation of special units whose fulltime job was to be a “flying club” where they’d be the aerial baby sitters for the desk-jockeys to go get their 1 flight per month or whatever.

It was expensive, stupid, and contributed almost nothing to actual combat flying proficiency.

So as part of the post Viet Nam drawdown they ended that. A pilot (barring the occasional General) in a non-flying billet has no access to airplanes. If/when he/she returns to a flying billet they’ll get the refresher training (and often change-of-airplane training) needed.

This was/is also the story for the rest of DoD. The details of flight pay eligibility are a matter of law, not mere service regulation.

All the above is factual as best I know. It’s all IMO from here down …

As to why other nations’ services do it differently I think it’s mostly a matter of inertia; it’s always been that way. Besides, it’s fun for the non-flyers who’re predominantly high ranking senior folks who have a big hand in setting these policies.

Other, more practically useful reasons might be:

For the seriously undersized / underfunded services even their frontline pilots don’t fly much. So by having non-flying billet holders do some flying they’re keeping everybody at a similar albeit low level of proficiency. Which means you have ready-to-use pilots in reserve when hostilities begin.

DoD in general and USAF in particular have a particularly fat “tooth to tail” ratio. Keeping large numbers of DoD desk jockeys sorta proficient would consume a hefty percentage of the total resources. Smaller services have a better tooth-to-tail ratio, so it’s not as cost-prohibitive *pro rata *to keep that smaller tail at least partly in the air.

I don’t know if this helps, but my base CO was a Major General (2 star) and he regularly flew missions … I suppose for the extra pay …

Lt Colonel is only O-5, the Navy equivalent is Commander. Commander still flew off Carriers, I would be shocked if Lt Colonels weren’t flying especially as squadron leader for B-52s. I’m sure we had Captains flying and that is O-6 or Colonel in the Air Force/Army/Marines.