America lets fly at top brass as B-52 pilot escapes court

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Kelly Flinn: Her case has attracted support from unexpected quarters (Photograph: AP)

Lt Kelly Flinn, the fallen star of the US air force charged with adultery and disobeying orders, will not have to face a court martial, the air force secretary ruled yesterday. But neither will she be given the honourable discharge she had sought.

The compromise allows 26-year-old Ms Flinn, who qualified with distinction to become America's first female pilot of B-52 bombers, to withdraw gracefully from the air force - or as gracefully as she can, given that the sordid details of her inglorious love life have been splashed all over the US media for the past three weeks. It is not clear whether she will be able to fly again, even commercially, as she needs air force permission.

The outcome, "a general discharge in lieu of trial", is a partial vindication of the pilot and her decision to go public. It is a face-saving solution for the air force because it avoids setting a precedent and leaves Ms Flinn's integrity contested. The air force also avoids a juggernaut of a court case that threatened to bring the service into disrepute.

But the case also looks likely to precipitate a thorough review of procedures. The air force secretary, Sheila Widnall, said pointedly that there was a need for "a firm, just and equitable disciplinary system in the air force".

The approaching court martial had unleashed a swirling national controversy that caught politicians, the military and the American public in its wake.

Such unlikely figures as the Republican Senate majority leader, Trent Lott, had told the air force to "get real"over sexual relations in the military and said Ms Flinn had been "grievously abused".

At the Minot air force base in North Dakota, where she had been awaiting the decision on her fate, Ms Flinn had received hundreds of bouquets and letters of support. She also received huge support in the press.

What right, they asked, had the military to condemn Ms Flinn when General Eisenhower (an alleged affair with his military driver) and the present Commander in Chief, Bill Clinton, were hardly models of innocence in that department? Mary Dejevsky, Washington