September 8, 2009 (by SSgt. John Gordinier) - A crew chief stands ready by his F-16 Fighting Falcon on the flightline. Off in the distance, he sees the pilot with helmet and gear in hand. As the pilot approaches, the crew chief salutes, but is puzzled by the pilot's rank.
Flight Lt. Andrew Mallery-Blythe, a RAF (United Kingdom) exchange pilot, stands in front a F-16C block 50 #00-0225 from the 79th FS on August 21st, 2009. [USAF photo by SSgt. John Gordinier]
The pilot is Flight Lieutenant (captain equivalent) "Bli-T" Andrew Mallery-Blythe, a 79th Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot who is an exchange pilot from the Royal Air Force, United Kingdom.
Flight Lieutenant or "Leftenant" Mallery-Blythe said the pilot exchange program is a great opportunity to see how another country operates.
"For the past 25 years, every time the U.K. has been involved in a conflict, we have been fighting alongside the U.S.," he explained. "This is also likely to be the case in future conflicts. Therefore, it is essential that we have an understanding of each other's capabilities."
The exchange program allows a select few individuals to gain a very detailed insight into the workings of the U.S. military and vice versa, for those Americans working in the U.K, the leftenant continued. In recent history, there has been trust between the U.K. and U.S., but the exchange program takes this to another level.
"I think the real benefits of the exchange program lie in the fact that the officers selected can proliferate understanding and trust within their service on their return home," Leftenant Mallery-Blythe added. "This serves to greatly enhance our interoperability in the future."
The leftenant, who has 12 years of service in the RAF, said he has been to other nations on training exercises, including Hungary, Poland
and India, but this is the first time he has been assigned to a foreign unit.
"Exchange tours are fairly difficult to come by, so most officers will only have this opportunity once in their career," he said.
The RAF pilot has been stationed in the states for about 18 months, with the past year assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron, and the previous six months at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., to learn how to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
"At home, I fly the RAF Tornado combat aircraft, which I love, but it was a nice change to learn how to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon," Leftenant Mallery-Blythe said.
Overall, the British pilot said his experience here has been great, unique and sometimes challenging.
"It took me a long time to understand things like: How to buy and legally register and insure a car; how the banking system works; and how to get a social security number," Leftenant Mallery-Blythe said. "I couldn't get a cell phone for six months because I had no credit history in the U.S."
Since the pilot's arrival, he has traveled to many places in the local area.
"I have visited Savannah, Ga., Myrtle Beach and Charleston, S.C., several times," the leftenant said. "I particularly like Charleston because it has the feel and appearance of an historic English town, but with better weather. I love the weather here. In the U.K., it is cloudy and rains a lot; sometimes continuously for weeks. Here, you know it will never be long before the sun comes out again. Life always seems better on a beautiful day.
The weather in the UK is very unpredictable, so the pilots need to be very flexible in terms of where and when to fly, he said. Plans are changed on the day, every day.
Besides the weather, the British pilot has enjoyed working with his new comrades as well.
"I have really enjoyed working with American pilots," he said.
"When I first came here, I thought American pilots would be less adaptable and flexible. My experience with the 79th FS
has shown me that this is not the case at all. American pilots are very adaptable, especially on the F-16 when they may have to change not just where and when they fly, but possibly their entire mission."
Bli-T's fellow 79th FS
Tigers are equally impressed with him.
"I am extremely impressed with (Leftenant) Mallery-Blythe's professionalism, tactical knowledge and dedication," said Capt. Dave Snodgrass, 79th FS F-16 pilot. "He stepped in and contributed from day one. And without a doubt, we benefit from his unique experiences.
"Despite the difficulties of moving to another country, flying and mastering tactics in a new fighter and integrating with foreigners, Andrew has made it look easy. I am looking forward to going to war with Bli-T."
The leftenant has about 18 months left on this tour.
"I will miss my friends and colleagues from the Tigers," Leftenant Mallery-Blythe concluded. "I will also miss flying the F-16. It is a great pilot's aircraft, which has evolved to have a world-class capability in every type of mission a fighter can carry out."
Leftenant Mallery-Blythe returns the salute to the crew chief and inspects the F-16 for today's mission. As the pilot prepares to board the aircraft, he looks up at the sky and notices it's another beautiful day at Shaw and a great day to fly.