May 1, 2007  


An F-16 pilot killed in action in Iraq. Late last year, Gilbert found and circled two heavily armed insurgent trucks that had fired at U.S. ground troops protecting a downed Army helicopter. Gilbert strafed the lead truck, then went after the second. According to the recent Air Force investigation, a textbook high-angle strafing attack would have started at about 5,600 feet. But at that level, Gilbert likely could not spot the trucks and confirm they were carrying guns, so he descended to 3,400 feet for the first attack and started the second attack at 2,800 feet. His plane was then too low to recover; Gilbert died instantly in the crash. Target fixation is a deadly peril that pilots are trained to avoid. But accident board president Brig. Gen. David Goldfein didn’t fault Gilbert’s decision to start the attack at a lower altitude. “He adjusted the parameters to that of a wartime environment,” the general noted. In other words, he was a warrior pilot — an airman who died with his boots on.