|LeMay and Boeing Test Pilot Tex Johnston
Preparing to check out a prototype tanker transport
Strategic Air Command has been history since it dissolved in 1992. Its mission, people, and aircraft were split among various Air Force commands and the Joint Command, Strategic Command.
This paragon of discipline and excellence, first created by General Curtis LeMay, still has much to teach us about the best way to husband our nation’s nuclear weapons.
Who was Curtis LeMay? The answer takes several books. (Suggest you start with LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay by Warren Kozak) But, to be brief, when the US entered WWII, LeMay was a major in the United States Army Air Forces and the commander of a newly created B-17 Flying Fortress Group. He took this unit to England in October 1942 as part of the Eighth Air Force.
Upon arrival, the outgoing commander told him to give up. The post WWI aviation Army’s dream of strategic bombardment — crossing the fortified front lines and dealing destruction to the enemy from behind — was impossible.
He explained to LeMay, if you fly straight and level to drop your bombs precisely, the enemy will get you with their anti-aircraft weapons. If you don’t fly straight, you will miss your target, wasting the sortie.
LeMay considered this. After work each night for several nights, he ran the calculations. How many lives would be lost? How many aircraft would be lost if he kept to new Army Air Forces doctrine? He decide the numbers were acceptable.
The next day, he rallied his group and told them how they would bring destruction onto Hilter’s 3rd Reich. His hope was to hit hard and often to bring the terrible destruction of WWII to a quick end. Straight and level.
His men had faith in their leader and followed him into Hell. Yes. He flew with them.
So post-WWII, when he had the job to create a viable deterrent from the scraps of old bombers, his men believed him when he said: “I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate”
To reiterate the meaning of those words, and as an old SAC pilot myself, me and my fellow combat crew members often repeated the old SAC saying: There are two kinds of people in SAC, those who have failed a check ride and those that will.
When perfection is demanded. People sometimes fail, but the unit gets better.
Later Air Force colonels thought if they chomped on a cigar and yelled at people, that was leadership.
But being a truly great leader, and because he demanded the impossible from his troops, LeMay was also very concerned about their well-being. He found ways to encourage them. Some of his actions: off-duty group recreational activities, spot promotions based on performance, and special uniforms, training, equipment, and allowances.
Yes. Still a lot to learn from LeMay.