ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England --
ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- Throughout the years, many pilots have flown with mascots or various trinkets on their flights. Some may call it superstition, but special mementos and gifts from loved ones can serve as a mental boost of assurance, or a little piece of home for pilots abroad.
One particular mascot named “Scoff the Duck” made a splash with the Liberty Wing and the local community. The plush toy gained notoriety through aviation enthusiasts over social media, and even had a patch designed and created in its honor.
“Scoff coming into the limelight really connected the community to the pilots and their work,” said Mike Whitbread, a local aviation enthusiast. “It was something to personalize the pilot, rather than just being a guy in an F-15.”
Capt. Andrew Munoz, former 494th Fighter Squadron pilot, now 335th Fighter Squadron chief of plans, and dedicated F-15E Strike Eagle chauffeur for Scoff, said that he didn’t know flying with a mascot was popular until Scoff began to make an impact within the local community.
“I had people reach out from all sorts of different aviation platforms, wanting to hear Scoff’s story,” said Munoz.
The beloved mascot got its name from the AA-10D heat-seeking missile, also known as a ‘duck’. Munoz said before every training sortie, the phrase ‘don’t scoff the duck’ is always briefed.
“There are more threatening missiles we train to combat, so the ‘duck’ is often forgotten, but it is still nonetheless lethal,” said Munoz. “It was a fitting name, and it stuck.”
Munoz started flying with Scoff during his second deployment with the 494th Fighter Squadron, which combined with his first deployment, separated him from his daughter for almost half of her life.
Munoz plucked Scoff from his daughter’s toys so that she could put more of an emotional investment into their video calls during his absence.
“I didn’t want my daughter to think I lived inside the phone,” said Munoz. “I took Scoff so she could connect me with something she had possession of in reality. It was a crucial bonding experience for us.”
Scoff wasn’t the first piece of home that Munoz kept in the cockpit. When he arrived on station during his first deployment, his daughter was just four months old. As he dumped his clothes onto the bed to unpack, there on top of the pile was one tiny sock, belonging to his daughter.
“It was a very tough moment,” said Munoz. “That was my first lucky charm. A reminder of what I had depending on me to make it home safely.”
Munoz flew his final flight with the 494th Fighter Squadron in October of 2020. Munoz and his family are now stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, and Scoff is flying high over the skies of North Carolina and beyond. Munoz said he plans to save a seat for Scoff in the cockpit for the duration of his career until Scoff can one day be returned to the original owner.
“I think it will be a special memento for her when she grows up,” said Munoz. “She will have something to remind her that she was always with me in some kind of way, no matter where I was in the world.”