Monday, August 07, 2006

Pilot Buoyed by New Role

Pilot Buoyed by New Role
By Erin Pursell/Staff Writer

U.S. Air Force Cpt. John Flynn is a C-17 pilot stationed at Travis Air Force Base. The first of the base's 13 C-17's will be arriving on Tuesday. Flynn is standing next to a C-17 from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii that visited the base late last week. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

Versatility and flexibility are traits that Air Force Capt. John Flynn shares with the aircraft he loves to fly.

Things in the sky don't always go exactly according to plan. The key, Flynn said, is rolling with it. Or in this case, flying with it.

"You have to be like a chameleon and adapt to your environment," he said.

Flynn, of the 21st Airlift Squadron, is one of 76 active duty pilots coming to Travis Air Force Base to fly a fleet of 13 of the new C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

He joins 14 other pilots who have moved to Solano County so far, just in time for the delivery of Travis' first C-17 on Tuesday. In the meantime, the base is buzzing with anticipation.

In addition to the active duty pilots, reserve forces have been trained to fly the new aircraft as well.

"We're getting brand spanking-new aircraft," gushed Rick Tubbs, a member of the Air Force Reserve 301st Air Squadron that just spent more than a year leaning the ins and outs of the new planes.

And, he said, it's very big for the community at large.

"It just makes us a much more viable base," he said. "Something the surrounding cities can be proud of and build on as new personnel moves in."

"Once the plane gets here there's gonna be people falling all over each other to fly it," added Flynn, revealing his own excitement.

The versatile, cargo-carrying C-17 is capable of a variety of missions. That's rather like Flynn, who has been to some 41 countries, including Mongolia and New Zealand, during his six years of flying with the Air Force.

"In terms of showing up at work and having something different to do every day, the C-17 allows some flexibility," he said.

The agile hauler's ability to land in relatively short distances and on uneven terrain enables it to deliver supplies just about anywhere in the world, which makes for some interesting assignments, according to Flynn.

One of the captain's most memorable missions was flying supplies into Baghdad in 2003.

"As you were flying in, you could see the people running out from their houses and waving," he said. "It was touching to know you were going to make a difference in their lives."

The calm, fresh-faced 29-year-old moved to Benicia in late June with his wife of 15 months after spending nearly four years at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Wash.

An Irvine native, he said returning to California has been a welcome homecoming.

"Everything from setting up our lease to installing Internet, everyone has been really helpful," he said. "Especially once they find out you're in the military."

Flynn was interested in the armed forces from a young age, especially after watching Army-Navy football games on TV as a kid.

"Pretty much everything that's going on around the world the military and air force has a role, in and that intrigued me," said Flynn, who ended up on the football team at the Air Force Academy before getting on the C-17 track. "And it's pretty much a guaranteed job after training."

But being a pilot isn't all Top Gun glamor.

"Some missions take up to 26 hours, including flight, stops and refueling," he said.

Then, after a short rest period of as little as 12 hours, they can re-embark on "back-to-back-to-back" flights.

"I wasn't a big coffee drinker until I started flying longer trips," he laughed.

With the C-17 being added to the base's C-5s and KC-10s, Travis is now at the forefront of air mobility.

"It's kind of the last piece of the puzzle in terms of aerial command at Travis," said Lieutenant Lindsey Hahn, a base spokeswoman.

And Flynn is happy to be a part of that puzzle.

"You have to take a step back sometimes and realize there are not many people in the military world who get the opportunity to do what you're doing."

He often considers this, he said, while soaring more than 30,000 feet above one of the world's vast oceans.

Erin Pursell can be reached at

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