Ron Gordon's answer to question about A-10 cannon mentions "white-scarf Air Force". As civilian, subtlety was lost on me. What does it mean? From the context, looks like fighter pilots? Are the scarves of other colors, and what they are?

In particular:

"The white-scarf Air Force has an averse to building flying tanks and particularly doesn't like single-mission, CAS systems. They never will forget that the A-10 was forced on them."


1 Answer 1


A white scarf air force is one that values aircraft above all else (space-, cyber-, missile-warfare, etc.), i.e. an air force that is unwilling to evolve beyond flying planes:

In this regard, the greatest challenge that the USAF must overcome is its inability to focus on the ends rather than on the means. When the USAF finally realizes that it greatest strength comes from its ability to take advantage of all elements within the airpower domain (air, space, and cyber, and not merely on a particular system, that is when the USAF will have obtained a level of maturity capable of sustaining its operations without fear of continual, periodic change. This long-view transition will require the USAF to force itself out of "white scarf syndrome," where the means (flying aircraft) are more important than the ends of providing the nation with the greatest possible amount of airpower options. Unfortunately, if the USAF continues to rationalize its existence under the pretense of decisive operations, continually strives to prove its independence, and views its primary mission in terms of the aircraft it flies, then its future validity and relevance is questionable.

— Smith, Jeffrey J. Tomorrow's Air Force: Tracing the Past, Shaping the Future. Indiana University Press, 2013. p. 221.

How that fits in the comment about the A-10, I'm not sure, but as @Gerry noted, "You don't get to be an Ace killing tanks or hauling troops."

The term refers to WWI pilots who wore white scarves. (Regulation outfit over at nationalmuseum.af.mil.)

The silk scarves were smooth so they did no chafe the skin when looking around, they kept the pilots warm in the open-cockpits, and were used in cleaning the oil and rain off the goggles—bright colors are good since you know which part is clean and thus can be used.

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    $\begingroup$ But it appears Sopwith Camel pilots wear read ;) $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 1:20
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    $\begingroup$ And it helps filter the castor oil out of the pilots' breathing air, somewhat alleviating the intestinal consequences... $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 5:43
  • $\begingroup$ Unless I am missing something from @RonGordon answer linked in the question compared toy yours: Why "white scarf air force" in your definition does not value A-10? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 13:36
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps "white scarf" was muddled with "white collar", implying that the A-10 is more of a "blue-collar" plane. It takes punishment, flies low and slow, and isn't meant to avoid the muck so much as survive it. $\endgroup$
    – Pyrotrain
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ The USAF is run by pilots. Even though they comprise only 30% of the officer corps in ranks of Lt Col and below {AFPC stats}, almost all general officers are pilots. If you're not a pilot, you're a second class citizen. But even among pilots, there's a pecking order. You don't get to be an Ace killing tanks or hauling troops. The pilots at the top have spent a career learning to use a tool (fighters) and that's the solution they see. "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 22:13

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