November 15, 2007 (by SrA Erik Hofmeyer) - Col. Robert Polumbo, 482nd Fighter Wing vice commander, surpassed the milestone of 4,000 F-16 flying hours on Tuesday, and was promptly greeted with hugs from his family and a celebration with fellow Makos.
Col. Robert Polumbo, 482nd FW vice commander, is greeted by fire and emergency services personnel upon surpassing 4,000 F-16 flight hours. While many fighter pilots have completed 4,000 flying hours, only a handful of fighter pilots around the world have surpassed 4,000 in one airframe. [USAF photo by Tim Norton]
The colonel began his flying career upon graduation from the Air Force Academy in 1984 and undergraduate pilot training in 1985, and he has been flying F-16s ever since. Out of the 22 countries that fly and maintain F-16s, he ranks near the top in total flying hours. After the completion of 4,000 flying hours, and over 100 hours of combat time, Colonel Polumbo sat down for an interview to discuss the achievement.
Q: Did you ever think you'd reach this many flying hours in an F-16?
A: No, I never thought I'd reach 4,000 hours when I began flying 20 years ago. It's very rare for somebody to reach 4,000 hours in the same fighter aircraft. Joining the Reserve [after 14 years of active-duty service] gave me the opportunity to continue flying the F-16.
Q: What's the significance of 4,000 flying hours?
A: It's very significant. Few fighter pilots reach this amount of hours. However, 4,000 hours is actually quite insignificant when you look at the big picture of air operations and the amount of support needed to get jets in the air. All of the support is a big undertaking, and it's the reason why the U.S. Air Force is the preeminent air power in the world. I'm just the "end of the food chain." For example, I've burned about 4 million gallons of jet fuel in my career, and somebody had to be there to pump all that fuel. And then consider all the hours of aircraft maintenance needed for every flying hour. Also, security forces and fire and emergency services personnel are always there guarding our assets, and all the other support in order to reach 4,000 hours.
Q: When did you start keeping track of your hours in anticipation of reaching 4,000?
A: Shortly before the 93rd Fighter Squadron left for the deployment to Balad Air Base, Iraq
. I was hoping I could get a slot on the rotation to reach 4,000 hours in combat. So I started doing a little math shortly before the AEF
Q: What does this milestone represent?
A: I think it's luck. A lot of guys have reached 4,000 hours, but not in a single airframe. I've also been lucky enough to have only spent about a year-and-a-half as a staffer at the Pentagon, so I've been able to spend lots of time flying. Most of the high-time fliers are in the Reserve because of the longevity. Sometimes you don't have control over your career, and you get moved around and take on new missions.