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Raptor pilot surpasses 4,000 hours

May 27, 2010 (by A1C Jason J. Brown) - In order to stay proficient and ensure the Air Force's continued air dominance, pilots must train constantly in their fighters, logging hours upon hours in the cockpit. For one Langley pilot, years of missions added up to a remarkable milestone.

Lt. Col. Robert Sandford, 192d FW chief of standardization and evaluation, taxis in an F-22A block 20 no. 03-4059 from the 27th FS after surpassing 4,000 flight hours on May 17th, 2010. Sandford amassed the milestone flight time over 24 years, flying A-7 Corsairs, F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-22 Raptors. [USAF photo by A1C. Gul Crockett]

Lt. Col. Robert Sandford, 192d Fighter Wing chief of standardization and evaluation, surpassed 4,000 hours of fighter flying time May 17. Fellow Airmen and friends gathered on the taxiway to greet the colonel upon landing and congratulate him on his accomplishment.

"I had no idea anyone was going to be out there waiting on me," he said. "I didn't even realize I was meeting the mark that day."

Lt. Col. William Butz, a fellow 192 FW F-22 pilot, secretly organized the flightline rally upon learning Sandford's flight would put him over the mark.

"It meant everything to me that they gave their time to come out and see me," said Sandford. "Their time means the most. It's great to feel like part of the team."

Sandford said the milestone was not particularly one of his goals, but merely a result of his adoration for flying.

"I never set out to amass thousands of hours, I just love to fly," he said. "I'm very fortunate that I've been able to do what I love all these years."

Sandford said he did not pay much attention to the feat, considering it a commonality seen throughout his career. The current airpower dynamic keeps pilots on the ground more often than in past years, he explained.

"Pilots used to fly a lot more years ago," he added. "It wasn't uncommon to see pilots reach 5,000 or more hours."

Sandford commissioned in 1986 with the Virginia Air National Guard, since flying the A-7 Corsair, F-16 Fighting Falcon and currently, the F-22 Raptor.

In addition to flying fighters, he helped develop FalconView, a mapping system designed for military operations now adopted as a Department of Defense standard. Following an active duty assignment as an instructor pilot at Nellis AFB, he returned to the VaANG, which he called his favorite assignment.

Sandford attributed his accomplishment to his willingness to train and learn, explaining that "there are no substitutes for hands-on practice."

Sandford said he encourages young Airmen to adopt the same hands-on principles in training, work and life. He called this willingness to see the country and constantly hone skills "a fundamental of Airmanship."

As for the future, Sandford's cockpit hours log will continue to grow. The veteran pilot said he plans to stay with the 192 FW " as long as possible," recently volunteering for a deployment to Guam with the 27th Fighter Squadron.

"I'm going to stay until they kick me out," he said, laughing. "I love coming to work every day and doing this job. I wouldn't have it any other way."

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Additional images:

SMSgt. David Beahr, 192d Fighter Wing non commissioned officer in charge, and CMSgt. Michael Bouley, 192 FW maintenance group chief, speak to Lt. Col. Robert Sandford, 192 FW chief of standardization and evaluation, after surpassing 4,000 flight hours on May 17th, 2010. [USAF photo by A1C. Gul Crockett]