Big Milestone 144FW Pilot Logs 4,500 Hours in the F-15 aircraft
By Staff Sgt. Christian Jadot, 144th Fighter Wing
/ Published January 31, 2016
FRESNO AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Calif. -- Col. Reed Drake, 144th Fighter Wing vice commander hit a landmark in his career last month when he achieved more than 4,500 flight hours in the cockpit of the F-15 Eagle Sept. 15.
Few pilots have achieved such a high number of flight hours in the F-15. In fact, it took Drake 25 years to achieve this goal. "I only know of four others that are over the 4,000 hour mark," Drake said. "At the end of the day, it's not about the hours. It's about all the great people, all the great friends, and all the great maintenance personnel that have provided a safe jet for each and every takeoff and landing. It is also about all the great aviators I have flown with, and most importantly, it's about a supportive family that allows me to do the thing I love to do."
Not everything was easy flying. A number of those long hours included combat-flying over dangerous war zones. "I would say the first night of Desert Storm was the most unnerving," Drake said. "It was probably the fear of the unknown. How good was an enemy that was defending their homeland going to be? How good was I going to be? Once the shooting started the military training kicked in and we didn't even think about it after that. We just did our job-- the one we were trained to do."
Drake was inspired early on to look into the Air Force. "I was a Freshman in college when I visited my ROTC commander, Col. Smulzenski," Drake said. "He was an F-100/F-4 pilot who told some great stories. He told me to enroll in the ROTC class and try it for one semester. He said that if I didn't like it, I could drop it. He also explained that I needed electives to graduate and he promised it would not be difficult to get a good grade."
"It's funny now, but after one class I walked out and reported back to Col.Smulzenski because I didn't have a clue what all the acronyms meant and told him I wanted to drop the class. He told me to keep at it for one more week and promised all the acronyms would start making sense. It's all history after that. I often reflect on how different life would have been if Col. Smulzenski didn't convince me to stick with it," Drake added. F
rom there, Drake has had a prosperous Air Force career even before hitting the 4,500 hour mark. "After college I went to UPT Undergraduate Pilot Training] and then to Eglin Air Force Base for my first tour and participated in Desert Storm," Drake said. "From there I was stationed at Soesterberg AB (the Netherlands), Bitburg, Lakenheath, and Nellis. After 14 years active duty I joined the Air National Guard and have been stationed at St. Louis, Great Falls, and now here with the 144th Fighter Wing."
Drake passes along words of wisdom to younger Airmen looking to get into avation:
"Make sure you know what you are getting into and strive to the best at it. Although cliché, being the best requires long days/nights and a lot of hard work. If you don't have the fortitude for working hard, then you should probably find another career. It's not a game or a hobby. This is a career choice that requires us to defend our Nation when called upon."