May 6, 2019 (by A1C Kindra Stewart) - Eight Viper pilot students graduated from the 8th Fighter Squadron’s first F-16 Basic Course, May 4, 2019, at Club Holloman on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
Eight Viper pilot students graduated from the 8th FS’s first F-16 Basic Course, May 4, 2019, at Club Holloman on Holloman AFB on August 4, 2017, the 8th FS was activated under the 54th FG – 49 years after being assigned to Holloman AFB in July 1968, and nearly eighty years since the squadron’s induction on November 20, 1940. [USAF photo by A1C Kindra Stewart]
As the old cliché goes, 'it's a small world and it's an even smaller Air Force.' This weathered phrase proved true for Maj. David Abel, the 311th Fighter Squadron's newest instructor pilot.
"These guys get to be a part of a very special fraternity and we have absolutely trained them up well to go out and be a part of that fraternity, the combat arms we know and love," said Lt. Col. Mark Sletten, 8th FS
commander. "For them to be a part of the greatest nation, the greatest military, greatest service and of course the greatest platform - the F-16, leaving here tonight as qualified F-16 pilots makes us all proud."
On Aug. 4, 2017, the 8th Fighter Squadron was activated under the 54th Fighter Group – 49 years after being assigned to Holloman AFB
in July 1968, and nearly eighty years since the squadron’s induction on Nov. 20, 1940.
The recent graduates of Class 18-CBF come from different backgrounds that led them toward a career piloting F-16s for the Air Force.
Capt. Robert Ritchie, 8th Fighter Squadron F-16 Basic-Course graduate, always knew he wanted to be a fighter pilot.
Ritchie’s father is a retired Air Force pilot who flew C-130s and T-38s, before flying for a commercial airline out of Minnesota.
"I was one of those kids that built model aircraft and hung them from the ceiling," said Ritchie. "My childhood bedroom was one big aerial battle."
Ritchie graduated with an undergraduate degree followed by a Masters of Science in aerospace engineering from the University of Minnesota, before leaving for Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.
Of the eight Viper pilots to graduate from Class 18-CBF, Ritchie was one of five who were First Assignment Instructor Pilots trained on another aircraft before coming to Holloman.
Like Ritchie, Capt. Nicholas Atkins, 8th Fighter Squadron F-16 Basic-Course graduate, was a FAIP who was also from Minnesota. But unlike Ritchie, Atkins struggled determining his destiny from the spectrum of opportunities he pursued.
Growing up with his grandfather, who worked for a commercial airline, Atkins was no stranger to flying. But at the age of seven, Atkins traded his commercial in-flight beverage service for a ride in a biplane piloted by a Minnesota Aviation Hall of Famer, who also happened to be a good friend of his grandfather.
"There I was, seven-years-old, sitting in the back of Chuck Doyle’s biplane," said Atkins. "We flew side by side, up and down, and through every flip and loop, I found myself completely at ease. That moment in my memory is my quintessential definition of freedom."
During Atkins’ time as a student at Gustavus Adolphus College, he adopted the school’s motto, "Make your life count." And while his original goal was to use his undergraduate physics degree to pursue a doctorate in aerospace engineering, an internship with NASA
brought his desire to become a pilot into fruition.
"Flying is a lot of work and I do study a lot," said Atkins. "But the community that I am becoming a part of makes it all worth it."
Coming from a family with no background in aviation, 1st Lt. Evan F. Wade, 8th Fighter Squadron F-16 Basic-Course graduate, describes himself as an anomaly in the world of pilots; but through patience, hard work and perseverance, he conquered his goal of being an Air Force fighter pilot in a short amount of time.
Wade studied aviation technology with a minor in aviation flight from Southern Illinois University, where he worked as a mechanic and flight instructor before being selected to commission as an Air Force pilot.
"It seems like a flash, but I have been working toward this goal for a long time," said Wade. "Knowing that you want this from an early age does not make it any easier. Honestly, it makes it harder. Failure is inevitable but being resilient and learning to recover quickly is how to overcome failure. It feels so good to be here in the moment and living in it with the best dudes, the best class and the best fighter squadron on the planet. I cannot be more thankful."
On the night of the graduation, the club lit up like a night sky. LED lights hung from the ceiling alongside clouds made of cotton.
"On behalf of Class 18-CBF, I can honestly say our experience training here on Holloman Air Force Base has been one of the most professional experiences that we have ever been involved with," said Ritchie. "From the jets, to the instructors, to the maintainers, to the air traffic controllers, how the base is run and everything in-between."
Congratulations to the graduates of Class 18-CBF:
Capt. Nicholas Atkins
Capt. Brad Beninati
Capt. Reese Black
1st Lt. Kent Greer
1st Lt. Scott Lafferty
Capt. Robbie Ritchie
Capt. Dan Rule
1st Lt. Evan Wade