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Tucson-based F-16 pilot reaches 5,000 flying hours

Col. Lenny Dick parks his F-16 Fighting Falcon on the 162nd Fighter Wing flightline at Tucson International Airport after completing his 5,000th F-16 flying hour May 9. The vice commander of the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center here is the fourth person to reach 5,000 F-16 hours. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

Col. Lenny Dick parks his F-16 Fighting Falcon on the 162nd Fighter Wing flightline at Tucson International Airport after completing his 5,000th F-16 flying hour May 9. The vice commander of the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center here is the fourth person to reach 5,000 F-16 hours. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

Col. Lenny Dick accepts a poster May 9 commemorating his 5,000th F-16 Fighting Falcon flying hour from aircraft maintainers assigned to the 162nd Fighter Wing. Known as “F” Flight, the team supports the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center with regular maintenance as well as unique test modifications. Since he arrived in Tucson in 2005, Colonel Dick has never experienced an in-flight emergency. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

Col. Lenny Dick accepts a poster May 9 commemorating his 5,000th F-16 Fighting Falcon flying hour from aircraft maintainers assigned to the 162nd Fighter Wing. Known as “F” Flight, the team supports the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center with regular maintenance as well as unique test modifications. Since he arrived in Tucson in 2005, Colonel Dick has never experienced an in-flight emergency. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- An Air Force Reserve pilot assigned to Tucson International Airport became the fourth person to rack up 5,000 flying hours in F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft during a flight here Monday, May 9.

Col. Lenny Dick, vice commander of the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center, began flying the multi-role fighter in 1984. His milestone mission over the Arizona desert was a test flight for Software Capability Upgrade 8 - new software intended to improve Guard and Reserve F-16 warfighting capabilities.

By comparison, most F-16 pilots accumulate about 3,500 flying hours in the course of a career. He credits his rare achievement to opportune duty assignments and to the Airmen who support the Air Force flying mission.

"I've been really fortunate that most my assignments have been flying assignments. I've had staff assignments but was able to fly during most of those," said Colonel Dick.

"But the real reason is the pyramid of support that it takes to get to 5,000. How many hundreds or thousands of people have worked to produce that many hours? How many pounds of fuel? It really is astounding."

In succession, 5,000 hours add up to nearly seven months. Each flying hour, requiring approximately eight hours in maintenance work, amounts to 40,000 man hours. Sorties that burn 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of fuel per hour equate to roughly 20 to 25 million pounds over the colonel's career.

"A lot does go into the mission and it's good to see one of our pilots reach 5,000 hours," said Senior Master Sgt. Al Aragon, maintenance supervisor for the test center mission. "The great thing about this flight is that he's the fourth person to do it and he did it in a jet that has about the same number of hours - 5,100."

Aragon and his team of 21 crew chiefs, weapons and avionics technicians are members of the 162nd Fighter Wing, the test center's host unit at the airport. They maintain seven F-16 Block 25s and 32s - models built in the mid-1980s - which are used by the center to conduct operational tests on behalf of the Air Reserve Component in order to keep older weapon systems relevant.

"All of our maintenance is done by the 162nd," said the colonel. "These are as old as any jets in the Guard and Reserve but they are the most advanced F-16s that the Air Force flies and that creates a unique maintenance situation. Our jets are test aircraft that have avionics, weapons and recording media that they wouldn't see anywhere else."

Over the course of 5,000 hours, Colonel Dick saw as many changes outside the cockpit as he did within.

As a junior officer he trained for a war with the Soviet Union that never happened, and instead had his first combat experience at the onset of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

"I remember that Desert Storm was the first combat for all of us and now looking back that's where all of my combat has been with the exception of Bosnia."

Over 12 deployments Colonel Dick said he spent more than a third of his career in the Middle East. He amassed over 300 combat flying hours serving as an F-16 pilot in Operations Desert Storm, Deny Flight, Northern Watch, Southern Watch and Enduring Freedom.

He also served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Special Forces ground liaison and later as the commander of the 506th Air Expeditionary Group in Kirkuk.

"I've been fortunate to serve in all of those conflicts and to fly as much as I have," Colonel Dick said. "But for me it's not so much about flying itself. It's about being part of a team, planning difficult missions and executing them with my wingmen. I'd like to see more of them reach 5,000 hours."