Major (LtCol select) Jeffrey B. "Roach" Rochelle was a distinguished graduate from the F-16A RTU at Luke AFB AZ. Roach's first operational assignment was to the 612 TFS, 401 TFW at Torrejon Spain, where he eventually became a flight commander and Instructor Pilot. After converting to the F-16C and enduring three NATO TACEVAL's in nearly 4 1/2 years, they let Roach leave to attend the USAF Fighter Weapons School. (Both Jeff and his dad - LtCol(retired) Herbert R. Rochelle who flew over 3300 hours in the F-4 Phantom and was stationed at Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam from '68-'69 where he flew 100 missions over North Vietnam - are graduates of the Fighter Weapons school. There are few others who have that distinction and as far as we know Jeff was the first "legacy" of that most prestigious institution.)
From the FWS he went to Moody AFB in Georgia - assigned to the 68 TFS, 347 TFW. There he flew the A-model again for a short time, before Moody converted to the C-model block 40 and the LANTIRN mission. After nearly two years at Moody AFB, Jeff was selected to be the no. 2 pilot, Left Wingman, for the USAF Thunderbirds Aerial Demonstration team. His tour quickly brought him back to Europe as the spare pilot in '91. Roach began flying demos in '92 when the team was invited to South America. As Operations Officer in '93 Jeff had the opportunity to fly with the Frecci Tricolori, Red Arrows and Russian Knights. After his tour with the Thunderbirds, Roach served on the Air Combat Command staff and then attended Air Command and Staff college. Major Rochelle is currently attending the School of Advanced Airpower Studies at Maxwell AFB, AL. The summer of 1997 should see him joining the 20th FW at Shaw AFB.
Background info: Jeff followed his father around the world as he was stationed at fighter bases in Japan, Spain, England and in the Southwest US. Roach met his future wife, Karen, while attending high school in England where his father commanded the 92 TFS at RAF Bentwaters. After graduating from the USAF Academy with a BS in aeronautical engineering, Roach married Karen and went to the Euro-Nato Joint Jet Pilot training at Sheppard AFB TX. Roach and Karen now have three children: Nicholas, Kristen and Cameron. Roach has a MS in Aeonautical Science and is presently pursuing a second MS in Advanced Airpower Studies at Maxwell AFB AL.
F-16.net: For how many years have you been flying the F-16 now?
Maj. Rochelle: It has been 14 years since I first strapped on the F-16. Over that period I've flown just about every variation of engine and avionics they have put into it.
F-16.net: How many flying hours do you have and how many would you fly on a daily basis as a Thunderbird and "normal" squadron pilot?
Maj. Rochelle: I've been lucky enough to accumulate over 3000 hours in jets and 250 in gliders. Over 2600 hours of my jet time is in the Viper. As a Thunderbird we averaged 500 hours a year while my best year as a line pilot was 330 hours. The average for line pilots is about 250 hours.
F-16.net: As former Thunderbird no. 2, what do you think is the thrill about being an Air Demonstration Pilot?
Maj. Rochelle: The thrill of being a Thunderbird is seeing the smiles on the faces of the kids in the crowd after the demonstration. To be a positive influence on the lives of millions of kids is obviously very rewarding. There is also a great deal of satisfaction from knowing you have personally done your best to represent the rest of the USAF as they are deployed doing "THE MISSION" in obscure places around the world.
F-16.net: What was your most glorious / scariest experience in the Viper?
Maj. Rochelle: The most memorable experience was flying for the President of the United States and first family, Secretary of Defense and Air Force Chief of Staff as a Thunderbird pilot. It was quite and honor to be able to represent over 400,000 men and women of the USAF in such a way. Also, I was proud to be able to go to Europe and South America and demonstrate US airpower to our allies in the same manner. The most exciting experience was doing an airshow on the lakefront in Chicago where the tops of the buildings are 1000 feet higher then we fly. It takes a certain finesse to avoid all those skyscrapers.
F-16.net: What was your favorite assignment?
Maj. Rochelle: Any fighter pilot will tell you his favorite squadron is his first. That is the squadron where you are raised as in a family. They lay the foundation of the path that you will take the rest of your career. It's the first squadron where you earn the right to have your name painted on a jet. Mine was #82016, "Sweet Sixteen." The number is significant as '82 represents the year I graduated from the Air Force Academy and received a commission. The number 016 speaks for itself. There is nothing "sweeter" than the F-16. One's first jet truly is the same as one's first love. (By the way I married my High School sweetheart; my first true love.)
F-16.net: Do you have any special recollections of a particular mission or exercise?
Maj. Rochelle: Flying the air to mud mission is always spectacular - especially at night, at 300 feet - popping-up only momentarily to deliver live ordonance and then getting back down in the dark to egress home knowing the enemy would never know what hit them. One of my most memorable daytime air-surface missions was on a Fighter Weapons school sortie when we were carrying live CBU to a target defended by F-15 eagles. Needless to say, CBU has a lot of drag and eagles don't cut you much slack. Anyway, we were on the peak of our game that day and were able to defeat the adversary's radar missiles and engage each eagle successfully before pressing on to the target to destroy it.
F-16.net: What was the best joke you played on your fellow squadron mates at the Bar?
Maj. Rochelle: Fighter pilot tip no. 1: Never admit to alcohol related juvenile delinquency as an officer in the USAF. You get the picture!
F-16.net: Looking back as a FWS graduate, do you think you can evaluate specific things in a fighter squadron better? What do you think are these things and who is qualified to go to USAF Weapons School?
Maj. Rochelle: The things to look for in a potential Weapons School graduate is maturity! A mature fighter pilot has humility and an eagerness to learn. The guy who makes the most out of each sortie and debriefs thoroughly is the right kind of guy. You have to be willing to take a lot of punches in order to improve. You can't be thin skinned in a fighter squadron. Those who debrief at the bar or are "too cool for school" are not they type to go to Weapons School. There are a lots of guys who are naturally "good" but it's the ones who struggle and strive to learn from those around them who will eventually be the best. A squadron that fosters this kind of continuous improvement is the squadron you want to go to war in.
F-16.net: How important do you consider the support of your family? In your time as demonstration pilot you were often away from home. Did you ever consider refusing the assignment with the Thunderbirds because of these circumstances?
Maj. Rochelle: The family is the most important part of a successful Air Force career. Without their support, the challenges sometimes seem to be too much. The mission just won't get done if the "home drome" is not taken care of first. As a demo pilot we were on the road about 220 days out of the year. While we are at home we fly twice a day and work long hours just as everyone else so it's difficult to get caught up. The many days away and long hours were a big consideration for my wife and I before we submitted our application to the team. We knew the challenges and we accepted them. The rewards more than make up for most challenges in life.
F-16.net: Thanks for the interview!
- Maj. Rochelle was interviewed online by Martin Agüera -