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Flight Line to Cockpit: Maintainers Earn Pilot Slots

  • Published
  • By Jared Rand
  • 187th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
“If you had told me three or four years ago that I would have this opportunity, I would have said you were crazy,” said Staff Sergeant Patrick Holmes during a short break in flying operations at a recent drill weekend here.

“I remember the first time I saw an F-16, I thought it was a big terrifying jet that I would never be able to fly.”

Holmes and Staff Sergeant Jonathan Gill, both crew chiefs with the 187th Maintenance Group, were the most recent enlisted Airmen to be selected for F-16 fighter pilot positions in the 100th Fighter Squadron Red Tails. This intensely competitive process screens hundreds of applicants per year for aptitude, personality, and motivation, usually resulting in 1-2 new hires per year.

With such a selective process, many Red Tail pilots have chosen to get their start by enlisting in the different units around Dannelly Field, setting themselves apart as high performers and team players well before they ever interview.

Gill, a Drill Status Guardsman who works as an aeronautical engineer in his civilian capacity, had a clear vision of where service in the Air National Guard could take him.

“I actually enlisted in the unit with hopes of being a pilot,” Gill said. “I talked to another pilot here who was prior enlisted, and hearing about how he did it, that made it my goal from the very beginning.”

“I chose the career field of crew chief because it’s hands on maintenance and I get to interact with the pilots on a regular basis,” he continued. “I would tell the pilots when I was an (Airman First Class) six years ago that I hoped to get where they are one day. And when I got selected, (Maj. Richard Peace) called me and told me ‘We took you because we know you, your drive and your dedication.”

Along with a drive to become a pilot, Holmes saw other benefits that drew him to service in the Air National Guard.

“When I joined, first and foremost I wanted to be good at my job of being a crew chief,” Holmes said. “I had always wanted to serve my country, and the Guard has helped me get through college, taught me a trade, and I have a brotherhood and a whole lot of support around me. ”

Soon Gill and Holmes will be headed to training to learn how to fly the machines they’ve spent years maintaining. In the meantime, they’ll continue to produce sorties, launch jets, and mentor the Airmen following in their paths.

“If I could tell anyone anything about the process (of becoming a fighter pilot) I’d say that it’s worth it,” Holmes said. “It may seem like a lot but it’s very possible. If you’re dedicated to what you do, and you come out here and do your best every day, anything is possible.”