World's high-time F-16 pilot recalls when he hit 6000 hours in the Viper and explains why flying the Fighting Falcon is challenging

Rather than move up the ranking ladder, he just wanted to fly: The story of World’s high-time F-16 pilot

By Dario Leone
Feb 11 2024
Sponsored by: Mortons Books
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The F-16 Fighting Falcon

Sleek, futuristic and deadly – the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon was born from the crucible of the air war over Vietnam and the need for cheaper, simpler and more manoeuvrable fighter aircraft with which to combat the many thousands of Soviet-bloc supplied aircraft sold around the world.

Back in the early 1970s the F-16 was the pinnacle of modern design, integrating a powerful turbofan engine and offering unrivalled manoeuvrability – thanks to its relaxed static stability and fly-by-wire system with computer control.

World’s high-time F-16 pilot

World's high-time F-16 pilot recalls when he hit 6000 hours in the Viper and explains why flying the Fighting Falcon is challenging
Lt. Col. Mike “Brillo” Brill, the world’s high-time F-16 pilot.

As told by Bertie Simmonds in his book F-16 Fighting Falcon, with the F-16 having been in service since the 1970s it’s understandable that some pilots have hit some serious milestones. Lt. Col. Mike “Brillo” Brill is a legend in the F-16 community; rather than move up the ranking ladder, he just wanted to fly.

He became the first pilot to fly 3000 hours in the F-16 in 1993, breaking the 4000 hour barrier in August 1998. In November 2002 he broke the 5000 hour barrier and pushed through the 6000 hour barrier while serving with the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron in 2008.

After this new record, Brill said: “I was 30 miles north of Baghdad when I hit the 6000 hours but to me it was just another day in the office. I’ve been lucky, really. You need to have a passion for flying to continue to push yourself over the years especially with long hours, days, weeks and months of deployments. I’ve flown the F-15 and the F/A-18 but the F-16 is to me a thoroughbred of them all as it has lots of thrust. The F-15 was always air-to air, but the F-16 is a multi-role and jack-of-all-trades so it’s been a challenge to do that.”

World's high-time F-16 pilot recalls when he hit 6000 hours in the Viper and explains why flying the Fighting Falcon is challenging
Lt. Col. Michael Brill, a 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, takes off on a combat mission over Iraq at Balad Air Base on May 2, 2008. Colonel Brill is the world’s high-time F-16 pilot.

Brill first encounter the F-16 back in 1980 after graduating from the Air Force Academy in 1979. He went to Hill Air Force Base in Utah and began his training on the Electric Jet’ eventually becoming a full-time reservist.

Today’s F-16 Viper

Today’s F-16 Viper is light years away from the simple, lightweight point defence fighter first envisaged, but it has evolved and matured into the finest and most exported fourth-generation combat aircraft around the world.

World's high-time F-16 pilot recalls when he hit 6000 hours in the Viper and explains why flying the Fighting Falcon is challenging
Lt. Col. Michael Brill, a 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, prepares to don his helmet before flying a combat mission over Iraq here in 2008. Colonel Brill became the world’s high-time F-16 pilot when he surpassed the 6,000 hours milestone in the type.

He says the advances in weaponry have been the biggest changes: “The advances in the weapons we carry have had the biggest impact on how we employ. Things like Night Vision Goggles and Data Link have enhanced our ability to fly in poor weather and at night, but the precision munitions have completely changed how we do business. With dumb bombs, we flew at low altitude or in packages of 20-30 aircraft. Now we fly as two-ships at medium altitude.”

Brill explains in the article Q+A with the world’s high-time F-16 pilot by Bryan Magaña, 419th Fighter Wing Public Affairs that the F-16 pilot training changed as a result: “There is 10 times the amount of pre-mission study and planning. The missions and attack profiles are so complicated that guys will have to do hours of study, where before we only looked at an attack for a couple minutes. We used to fly with one or two pieces of paper that had all our mission data. Now we literally have books of data that we fly with.”

World’s high-time F-16 pilot breaks the 6300 hour barrier

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He knows just what the F-16 is and how it will be remembered. Brill says: “”The F-16 still flies the same as it did back in 1980 and will be remembered as one of the best fighters ever produced. It will be in the same class as the P-51 Mustang.”

Brill would go on to break the 6300 hour barrier – that’s the equivalent of spending 263 days in the air. That may be nothing for tanker or cargo pilots, but for a fighter pilot with much shorter missions, it’s something very special.

F-16 Fighting Falcon is published by Mortons books and is available to order here.

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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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