I’ve been saying it for years and I’ll say it again: the Air Force does not have a pilot shortage because of a shortage of people who want to fly airplanes. It has a pilot shortage because life in the Air Force sucks. If you’re going to take a daily kick in the junk for decent money, there are countless places to do this without the burden of deployments, irritations from shoe clerks, and the psychological neutering effect of being perpetually denied the tactical initiative in a top-heavy and bullshit-laden bureaucracy.

Life in the Air Force sucks, even for pilots. This is why there’s a pilot shortage, which is really just a symptom of a broader and deeper morale crisis that has been festering since long before Norton “Spock” Schwartz replaced “In Lieu Of” with a cute acronym in an unsuccessful attempt to take the stink off. Since long before “Fight to Fight” was used as a euphemism for force shaping, and even since before “force shaping” was itself substituted as jargon for deliberately understaffing the entire service and hoping no one would notice.

When the flesh peddlers got the upper hand, we all lost. Even those witless Americans who assume airplanes just magically appear overhead to protect them.

Now, as we enter the Seventh Circle of the pilot shortage, desperation is setting in. Generals are finally realizing that despite their Earthly deification, they cannot summon airpower with a casual wiggle of their stars. Turns out you can’t actually do jack shit with airplanes unless you have people who are willing to fly them.

Now in years past, “willing” was not a problem. Having an available pilot slot to fill was like being the lone female in a deployed maintenance squadron. You could turn away many applicants before giving someone a shot, and if it didn’t work out there were many strong candidates waiting in the wings.

These days, not so much. People have figured out this is no longer the best deal in the world. Without the right support and orientation … the right culture … it’s just a shitload of work without enough intrinsic payoff.

In the year or so since the service finally admitted it was so addicted to nonsense that it was driving its most intrinsically motivated servants to trample each other in a rush to the exits, any number of bizarre tactics have been attempted to put direct pressure on the pilot hemorrhage.

Huge bonuses. Promises of reduced queep. Sugary rhetoric. More bonuses. Vagaries about assignment preferences and extensions. You name it, Goldfein and company have promised it. Sure they haven’t delivered, but it’s early … and if you can look into the seeds of time and tell me which will grow and which will not, then speak unto me.

But for their latest attempt at pandering, Air Force leaders deserve special recognition, for they have found a new low. An Eighth Circle.

An email circulated earlier this week tells the tale. See for yourself.

Let’s just be clear what’s happening here. We’re experimenting with giving Air Force wings to pilots who have not had Air Force pilot training. This is a great way to fast-track the utter ruin of what was once a proud warfighting service. This is easily the worst idea since the furbie, and has about as much chance of looking serious as Madonna had trying to pass herself off as a virgin.

There is a proven recipe for the baking of an Air Force pilot. This is like trying to bake bread without yeast … it will not rise. Without the primary phase of training, which teaches not only basic flying skills but the fundamentals of military aviation culture, you will not produce a competent military aviator. Instead, you’ll fool yourself into winging someone who will instantly become a drag device on his or her gaining unit.

Sure, it’s only 10 people for now. Sure, it’s just an experiment. But the fact it would even be considered demonstrates that even as the Air Force grapples with how to solve its pilot problem, it’s not listening to pilots. They’re telling you everything you need to know, and either you’re not listening or you’re powerless to act. Either way, this move spells doom for the USAF.