Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command, prepares for a TG-15A glider ride Aug. 13, 2012, with Cadet 1st Class Chris Olson of Cadet Squadron 13. Olson is co-captain of the Academy’s Sailplane Racing Team. (U.S. Air Force photo/Elizabeth Andrews)
Cadet 1st Class Steven Trochlil discusses aeronautics research with Gen. Mike Hostage during the general's visit to the Air Force Academy Aug. 14, 2012. Hostage, the commander of Air Combat Command, has more than 4,000 flying hours in numerous Air Force aircraft. Trochlil is assigned to Cadet Squadron 04. (U.S. Air Force photo/Raymond McCoy)
8/17/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- A perfectly working airplane doesn't necessarily need an engine. Just ask the commander of Air Combat Command.
Gen. Mike Hostage, who took to the skies above the Air Force Academy in a TG-15A glider Monday as part of a two-day visit here to speak with cadets and observe the Academy's soaring operations, first started flying gliders shortly after beginning his Air Force career in 1978.
"I started flying hang-gliders when I was in high school, and my fiancée in the Air Force decided that hang-gliding was not acceptable with being a military aviator, so I switched to gliders," Hostage said. "She was perfectly happy to have me flying gliders, and the Air Force didn't care, so I've flown gliders about as long as I've been in the Air Force."
The general built his first sailplane in 1994, while working as a political-military planner for the Joint Staff in Washington. He flew that glider for 12 years before selling it and building his second.
"That's the one I'm flying currently, and I've got a third one under construction in my garage," Hostage said.
His love of flying started even before his first hang-glider experience, though, he said.
"I love building airplanes. I love everything about airplanes," said Hostage, who has flown more than 4,000 hours in numerous Air Force fighters, training and electronic warfare aircraft. "Anytime I hear an airplane flying overhead, I look. My mom has a picture of me at 3 years old, on a tricycle with a football helmet and sunglasses, pretending I'm flying my jet around the driveway."
Hostage last visited the Academy in February 2011 to speak with cadets in the Class of 2013. He spoke to them again Tuesday, focusing on the need for disciplined, professional aviators.
"We train for combat. That's what our mission is, but that doesn't mean we're risk takers. That doesn't mean we go out there and accept any more risk than what is operationally required to execute the mission. On a training mission, we have a very low tolerance for risk. Combat's different, but even in combat, we'll do ORM. Operational risk management is the cultural DNA of how we fly airplanes.
"Somebody wants to go out there and hot dog and shine his penny, then I don't need him or her in my Air Force," Hostage continued. "But the good news is, right from the moment they enter this campus, they start learning how to be a disciplined professional, and when they get into the aviation community, it's disciplined, professional aviation. So they start out right from the first moment learning the right way to do things."
Hostage praised the soaring operations here, managed by the 306th Flying Training Group and by cadet instructor pilots, as exemplary.
"This is world-class," he said. "I've been flying gliders for 34 years, and I've been privileged to fly in maybe a dozen different glider operations around the country -- mostly clubs, a couple of commercial operations, but nothing close to this. This is fantastic."
Hostage, a member of the Garner, Va., based Tidewater Soaring Society, spoke about the Academy's soaring program during a Soaring Society of America convention in Reno, Nev., in February.
"I talked about the number of safe flying operations that happen every year here: It's more than happens in the entire glider flying community in the United States," he said. "The glider community has not had a good safety record of late, but the one here is exemplary. I think the disciplined, professional aviation that is the core of Air Force flying permeates this organization just like it does anywhere else in the Air Force.
"I'm very impressed with the program here, with the enthusiasm and the quality of the cadets. It just blows me away that this is a cadet operation, that we take these youngsters and teach them disciplined professionalism, and they apply it from Day 1. I think that's just spectacular," Hostage added. "I wish I could start my career over -- I'd come right back here and do it here, flying gliders."
8/30/2012 8:55:38 PM ET Welcome aboard Gen. I too scored a USAFA glider ride this spring with a Cadet IP Lance Wach whom I taught to fly. I was honored as the first ever Cadet to solo a glider. Your Command Historian wants to contact me concerning the first tri-level refueling. firstname.lastname@example.org