It used to be that every red-blooded young boy watched Top Gun and dreamed of growing up to be a fighter pilot, though hopefully not one killed during an emergency ejection. Today, the Air Force cannot get enough fighter pilots to fill its fancy planes.

Who knew? Apparently a decade of endless war and the fact that fighter pilots get paid substantially less to risk horrific death than commercial airline pilots do to essentially drive a flying bus have combined to lessen the appeal of flying in those killer jets. Also have you ever felt those "G" forces? Scary. Seems perfectly rational to us not to be a fighter pilot. But the Air Force, fearing a shortage of hundreds of pilots over the next several years, is now sweetening the deal, according to the LA Times:

As a result, the Air Force is offering a souped-up incentive package under something called the Aviator Retention Program, which was first rolled out in 1989. The program now offers a $25,000 signing bonus per year for nine years — nearly twice as long as the usual contract...

Today, just 65% of pilots are deciding to extend their service past their 11th year, when they choose whether to stay for an additional five years. That's compared with 80% in 1993.

That $25K yearly bonus is enough to push the salary of a very senior fighter pilot slightly above that of an average commercial pilot. So the fighter pilot calculation is:

PRO: Get to fly jet with missiles; get to shoot missiles; get to kill; get to fly upside down; get an awesome nickname and patch with nickname sewn on flight suit; possibly make a few thousand bucks more than civilian counterpart.

CON: Substantial risk of horrific death; killing; what if you get a dorky call sign like "Robin?"

We pray that America's future generations will not need to wrestle with such thorny problems.

[LAT. Photo: AP]