|Perspectives: Justin Riddle, USAF|
|Written by Justin Riddle|
After visiting this site, I quickly learned that there are numerous different pathways that lead to an aviation career. In short, there is no singular “right way” to get a job. This article is about how I got my job flying the mighty C-17A Globemaster for the USAF.
Growing up, I always dreamed of flying. After a long application process, I was accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. In 1997, I graduated and began working on my private pilots license. Later that year, I started Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (SUPT) at Columbus AFB, MS. The first 6 months of SUPT are spent in the T-37 (the T-37 is currently being phased out and replaced by the much more modern T-6). After 6 months, students are rank-ordered and offered various tracks: fighter/bomber, tanker/transport, helicopter, or C-130. I had always wanted to fly big airplanes, so I selected the tanker/transport track and flew the T-1A Jayhawk, which is a twin engine business jet. After 6 more months of rigorous training, I graduated and finally earned my wings.
At graduation, students are once again rank ordered. I was lucky enough to get my first choice of assignments: a C-17 to Charleston AFB, SC.The C-17 is the best airplane in the Air Force inventory! It’s a large (585,000 lbs) four-engine transport airplane. The airplane is still in production and there’s nothing quite like flying a brand new airplane with 10 hours on it! The C-17 is highly automated: fly-by-wire flight controls, Pilot and Copilot Heads Up Displays (HUDs), autopilot, autothrottles, thrust reversers, and just about every other bell and whistle known to mankind. Our mission includes airdrop, air refueling, low levels, Night Vision Goggle (NVG) operations, assault landings, tactical descents (about 15,000 to 20,000 feet per minute) and various ground operations such as aircraft backing and combat offloads. This airplane is simply amazing! We routinely fly into small and austere airfields as short as 3,500 feet long and 90 feet wide (1/2 our wingspan).
Initial and upgrade training for the C-17 is at Altus AFB, OK. After about 3 months, I graduated as a C-17 copilot and started flying out of Charleston. My first few missions were right into Bosnia! Ask any military pilot and they’ll agree—you will fly combat missions, even as a brand new copilot. Within two years, I completed my airdrop upgrade (not every C-17 pilot is qualified in airdrop and formation).
I also completed my Aircraft Commander upgrade. I was
a 26 year old Captain in command of a heavy, 4-engine,
$300 million dollar airplane flying international routes!
Within 4 years of graduating pilot training, I completed
my Instructor Pilot, Formation Lead, and Flight Examiner
upgrades. The civilian aviation world does not offer that
kind of responsibility at such a young age. But the civilian
world also doesn’t ask you to fly into combat. My
2nd mission in command was into Kandahar Afghanistan.
It was quite a night – my jet was loaded with cargo
and I landed between 2 bomb craters on a 3,500 foot long
section of the runway. My landing distance (I’ll
never forget this number) was 3,380 feet… a whole
120 feet to spare! I also had the privilege of flying
in the first ever use of the C-17 for high altitude humanitarian
airdrop in Afghanistan. I’ve flown hundreds of hours
on NVGs flying real-world assault landings in Afghanistan