Military Aviation

THE STORY OF THE U.S. AIR FORCE F-16 FIGHTING FALCON MAINTAINER WHO BECAME FIGHTER PILOT

F-16 maintainer-turned- Viper fighter pilot

As told by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs in the article Maintainer-turned-fighter pilot puts new skills to the test, when Capt. David was a child, his father would take him out to the flightline at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico and sit him in the cockpit of an F-111 Aardvark.

Looking up at his dad, David would say, “One day, I’m going to be a pilot.”

Fast forward a couple of decades later: “I guess I kept my word,” he said, standing in the 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS) at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan where he serves as an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter pilot.

The road has been a long one for David, who first enlisted in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in 2004. Following in his father’s footsteps, he became an F-16 avionics specialist.

Capt. David, 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, walks out to an F-16 Fighting Falcon before a night mission at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. David enlisted in the Air Force in 2004 as an F-16 avionics specialist and now flies the same airframe he used to maintain.

The dream to be a pilot

“It’s always been my dream to be a pilot, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” David said. “I just took a different route than most people do.”

That route included going to school while working as a maintainer, through a deployment to Balad Airfield, Iraq and temporary duties where he was often gone for three weeks out of every month.

“I have the best wife in the world,” he said. “She was stubborn for me when I didn’t want to do it, she was always there pushing me, telling me that I could, telling me it’s going to be worth it. ‘All the hard work, the sweat the tears, one day it will all pay off and you’re going to be where you want to be.’”

David achieved his goal when he was accepted for officer training school and was subsequently selected for pilot training and the F-16 slot. He now flies the same airframe he was once a maintainer for.

“There’s always a giant support system behind anyone who gets to this point,” David said. He gives the credit to his wife, children, supervisors throughout his Air Force career, along with a little timing, luck and a lot of hard work.

Capt. David, 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, and Staff Sgt. Daniel Lasal, 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, prepare an F-16 Fighting Falcon for a night mission at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. David served as an aircraft maintainer for eight years before commissioning as a pilot in 2012.

F-16 maintainer first operational assignment as a pilot

After years of training, David was sent to his first operational assignment as a pilot, where he headed back out to the flightline as a pilot rather than a maintainer.

“Having that maintenance and operations background provides that extra piece to make the cogs fit a little bit better,” said David. “They’re not really all that different, to be honest. We all want the same thing, we all want to do the same thing, we’re all fighting in the same direction.”

The skills Capt. David learned as a maintainer give him increased credibility as a pilot.

“The guy’s knowledge of the airplane, is beyond some of our more seasoned pilots because he’s had his hands in some places we don’t even know exist inside an F-16,” said Maj. Joseph , 79th EFS director of operations.

This deployment to Bagram Airfield will also be David’s first as a pilot.

Capt. David, 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, taxis an F-16 Fighting Falcon before a night mission at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. To become a pilot, David went to school while working as a maintainer, through a deployment to Balad Airfield, Iraq and temporary duties where he was often gone for three weeks out of every month.

“I always wanted to be the tip-of-the-spear kind of guy, the last link in the chain before taking care of bad guys,” he said. “The most rewarding part has been coming out here and being effective.”

The first member of his family to commission

When he’s not deployed, David follows in his father’s footsteps again, bringing his children to the flightline at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.

“Seeing that pure joy and pride in their faces when I have them come out to the jet and I taxi up and hop out…. There is no better feeling in the world, then seeing my kids’ faces light up,” David said.

Every generation of David’s family has served in the military since the Civil War. He is now the first member of his family to commission.

“I’ll probably be in the Air Force until they tell me to stop coming to work, whether I’m flying jets or not. It’s where I want to be,” David said.

Capt. David, 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, takes off in an F-16 Fighting Falcon for a night mission Jan. 13, 2017 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

Photo credit: Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo and Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

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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