A fighter pilot has been grounded and relieved of his squadron command by the Air Force pending investigation of an allegation that he flew an F-16 while he was under the influence of alcohol.
The grounding of Lt. Col. Thomas L. "Waldo" King was a precaution until military due process is complete, said his commander at the 419th Tactical Fighter Wing, Brig. Gen. Forrest S. Winebarger.King commanded the 466th Tactical Fighter Squadron, the flying unit of the 419th, an Air Force Reserve wing based at Hill. Winebarger said King assumed command on his recommendation in March 1988. King joined the wing in 1978.
The 466th flies General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons, the United States' top-performance tactical fighter, worth about $16 million each.
Although Winebarger emphasized King is considered innocent, he said the matter is serious and conceivably could result in court-martial.
"There is no tolerance for what it looks like it could be," the general said.
When called at his Park City home, the 45-year-old King said, "I don't think I have anything to say."
After hearing flying-under-the-influence rumors in the wing, Winebarger said he went to King. Although he did not detail the pilot's response, the general said, "I did not get the same story."
Air Force regulations prohibit pilots flying sooner than 12 hours after drinking.
Winebarger said he has ordered a formal investigation of an allegation that King flew in a Dec. 2 exercise at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas too soon after drinking at a party.
He said he hoped the investigation, by an active-duty colonel from another Air Force base and outside the general's command, would begin Monday. It should last two weeks, he said.
At the same time, a colonel from the inspector general's office at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas, will conduct an inquiry. That probe began Wednesday, said wing spokesman Barbara Ann Vessels.
Winebarger said he decided to proceed with a formal investigation Feb. 16, before the inspector general's officer arrived. He said the inspector's office was tipped anonymously.
Winebarger said he has heard rumors of the allegations for several weeks, but did not have enough information to take action until recently.
"I kept picking up a little bit of information here and there, and last Thursday morning, I had a conversation with an individual that was willing and saying, `Yes there was a potential of the individual flying under the influence of alcohol.' "