Understanding Leadership at 500 Knots: The Ad Hoc Leadership Style of the Air Force

By Mustafa Aytug Kaya and Recep Unal.

Published by Organizational Cultures: An International Journal

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Leadership is closely related to military functioning. Therefore armed forces have been a focal point for leadership researchers, since the military is a renowned source of leaders. Among all other services, the Air Force stands out as it requires more professionalism and sophistication. Leaders in blue uniforms need to adapt to an extremely dynamic three-dimension medium, think faster, and make prompt, correct judgments. In aviation, there is no margin for error. Since failure is mostly fatal, aviation needs to be a perfection-based profession. All the rules in airmanship are written in blood. Therefore, leadership in the Air Force has different attributes, which can be observed as common traits of successful air leaders. Integrity, determination, effective communication, devotion, competency, and team work are sine qua non for a leader in a blue uniform. In this study, differences between flight leadership and other types of leadership applications are researched. The differences are due to the nature of flight, which is highly demanding. Each and every airman is trained to assume leadership at any stage of flight. Unrated aircrew may become assigned or de facto leaders due to tactical considerations, system errors or emergencies. Therefore, officers in blue need to be competent and ready enough to assume leadership at any time. In flight, leadership is not based on hierarchy, but competency. This ad hoc type of leadership is the essence of aviation and is inherent for every airman.

Keywords: Leadership, Flight Leader, Air Force, Ad Hoc Leadership, Integrity, Service before Self

Organizational Cultures: An International Journal, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp.23-32. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 545.471KB).

Capt. Mustafa Aytug Kaya

Officer, Turkish Air War College, Turkish Air Force, Istanbul, Turkey

Captain Kaya graduated from the Turkish Air Force Academy as a 2nd Lieutenant with a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1999, and received his pilot training at Sheppard Air Force Base, USA. He was subsequently assigned to fly F-5’s at the 3rd Main Jet Base, Konya. In 2003 he completed the basic F-16 course and was assigned to 5th Main Jet Base, Merzifon. Between 2007 and 2009 he received his Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Houston, USA. In 2009, he was re-assigned to the 5th Main Jet Base, Merzifon. Captain Kaya is currently studying at Air War College. He studies leadership and space applications. He has logged over 1000 F-16 hours

Recep Unal

Director of Training, Turkish Air War College, Turkish Air Force, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkey

Colonel Unal graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1984. He earned his wings in 1985 and attended the Air Force Staff College in 1994 and the Armed Forces Staff College in 2001. His numerous assignments include the 5th Main Jet Base between 1985 and 1991 and the 3rd Main Jet Base from 1991 to 1994 as a fighter pilot. He was one of the founders of the Turkish Acrobatic Team “Turkish Stars” in 1993. From 1998 to 2001, he was assigned as a Staff Officer to Plans Section, Reaction Forces Air Staff, Germany. Upon completion of his first NATO tour, he later commanded the 132nd Squadron, 3rd Main Jet Base, until 2003. In 2003, he was assigned as Force Planning Section Chief with the J5 at the Turkish General Staff HQ in Ankara. Then, he was assigned to JFC HQ Brunssum as Air Operation Section Chief in 2005. Upon completion of his second NATO tour, he worked as Operational Commander in 3rd Main Jet Base at 2007. Then he has performed Training and Exercises Division Head in Air Command in İzmir. Currently he is Director of Training in Turkish Air War College.