U.S. Combat Pilots on Speed

ByABC News
December 20, 2002, 1:51 PM

Dec. 20 -- Preliminary court-martial proceedings begin next month against two U.S. fighter pilots involved in a tragic incident over Afghanistan that cost four lives and exposed a little-known fact about the way America fights its long-distance air wars.

Majs. Harry Schmidt and William Umbach are facing up to 64 years in prison for a friendly fire incident over Kandahar Afghanistan on April 17 that killed four Canadian soldiers and wounded eight others.

When the two were sent on their mission over Afghanistan and Iraq the Air Force gave them $30 million F-16 fighter jets laser-guided precision munitions state-of-the-art technology and something that came as a complete surprise .

a prescription drug are known on the street as uppers or speed. Yet a 20/20 investigation has found thethe speed pills are now standard issue to U.S. Air Force combat pilots to help them stay awake on long combat sorties.

The two pilots from Illinois are part of the 183rd fighter wing of the Illinois Air National Guard. Schmidt trained as a top gun fighter pilot was sent to Afghanistan in March. Umbach was called up at the same time leaving behind his family and a full-time job as a United Airlines pilot.

Schmidt and Umbach and their families both viewed their military service with pride. Being military we have always lived in the flight pattern. And when wed see the jets go over it was always a great wholesome feeling of pride said Schmidts wife Lisa.

Umbach said he felt an obligation to serve. Its sort of a patriotic thing. I feel like its something that I should do he said.

But what happened in the skies over Kandahar on the night of April 17 would change Schmidt and Umbachs lives forever and would bring about their facing a court martial.

go pills

The Air Force calls theit distributes to pilots go pills. They were quietly reintroduced after being banned in 1992 by the then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak. In my opinion if you think you have to take a pill to face something thats tough youre in the wrong business McPeak said.