Military Aviation

The oldest F-16 Viper pilot in the Air Force Reserve retires one day before 60th Birthday

Serving in every military campaign since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Lt. Col. Joseph “Hooter” Feheley’s retirement came at 59 years and 364 days of age.

Most people in the military think of their jobs as at least a 20-year sentence. You do the time to get the retirement.

As told by Master Sgt. Allissa Landgraff, 482nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs, in the article Fighter to the finish, oldest F-16 pilot in the Reserve retires, for Lt. Col. Joseph “Hooter” Feheley, it was a dream come true. So much in fact, it led him into a 33-year flying career with about 5,000 flying hours under his belt.

Serving in every military campaign since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Feheley’s retirement came at 59 years and 364 days of age.

“If I wanted to do a different job, I could’ve left,” Feheley said. “I earned my retirement and all that stuff years ago. But when you wake up in the morning doing something that you love to do, why change that?”

His first job was as a young stockbroker in Miami, but Feheley knew he wanted more. He decided to take flying lessons locally, and quickly realized he had a passion for the craft.

While he continued to pursue flying as just a hobby, he attended his college reunion, and old classmate mentioned the potential of a military career to him, and Feheley knew he had to try.

Feheley joined the Air Force in 1988 with the hopes of becoming an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot. Unfortunately, at the time, the position for that fighter jet was unavailable, so he began training for the A-10 Warthog. He flew the A-10 from 1990 to 1994 when he got accepted for his coveted position of F-16 pilot.

So after 20 years of flying his favorite aircraft, what kept him going?

“The job,” said Feheley. “It’s truly that little boy that never has to grow up. You get to play with the coolest toys on the face of the earth.”

Lt. Col Joseph “Hooter” Feheley prepares for his final flight in an F-16 Fighting Falcon on the day of his retirement at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, Dec. 10, 2021.

Lt. Col. David Sproehnle, Commander of the 93rd Fighter Squadron, gives credit to Feheley’s skill and attests to why he had such a long and successful career.

“He’s knowledgeable about his job, he can execute his job, but yet he’s still humble,” Sproehnle said. “His ability to adapt is what allowed that. Swapping airplanes, keeping up with all the changes in tactics, all the different weapons, all the different systems have constantly evolved, so he’s really grown with the airplane.”

Feheley also credits the people he worked with and the aircraft.

“The people in the squadron are why you stay, and the things you remember,” he said “You start for a national honor thing where you want to do something for your country, and then you realize, ‘wow’, it’s pretty cool flying airplanes, it’s the people that keep you here for 33 years.”

Feheley said that it is the freedom that the jet offers that helped him to enjoy his career and his time in the military. The flexibility and dynamic aspect of the aircraft kept him enthralled through everything, to include his last flight and retirement date of Dec. 10, 2021.

Feheley was last assigned to the 93rd Fighter Squadron. The 93d Fighter Squadron is part of the Air Force Reserve Command’s 482d Fighter Wing. The 482nd Fighter Wing, Air Force Reserve Command, maintains and operates Homestead Air Reserve Base, located near the southern end of the Florida peninsula, about 25 miles south of Miami. It is a fully combat-ready unit capable of providing F-16C multi-purpose fighter aircraft, along with mission ready pilots and support personnel, for short-notice worldwide deployment. The wing has more than 2,500 members, including more than 1,700 traditional reservists, of which more than 240 are full-time reservists, in addition to more than 250 full-time civilians.

The 93rd Fighter Squadron “Makos” fly and maintain the F-16C Viper aircraft. The F-16s can be identified by the letters “FM” (“Florida Makos”) and the Mako shark displayed proudly on the tail.

Lt. Col Joseph “Hooter” Feheley receives a salute prior to his final flight in an F-16 Fighting Falcon the day of his retirement at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, Dec. 10, 2021.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Allissa Landgraff

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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