Senior gets ride of his career
By Senior Airman David Dobrydney, 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 10, 2010
CAMPIA TURZII AIR BASE, Romania -- When a fighter squadron goes on an expeditionary exercise, they often give incentive rides to outstanding troops.
One such flight during Operation Golden Lance, a NATO partnership exercise, was more unique than most.
Senior Master Sgt. Michael Seelhoff, 493rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit NCO in charge, recently took his first incentive ride in a career that has spanned nearly 25 years.
"It's definitely the highlight of my career," said Sergeant Seelhoff, who has worked on F-15s since he joined the Air Force in 1986.
When Sergeant Seelhoff first started in the Air Force, he was an avionics attack control system specialist, a job he noted no longer exists as a separate specialty as time passes and career fields merge.
"I was allowed to be an expert in the radar and navigation systems," said Sergeant Seelhoff, "now young guys are expected to learn three or four times as much."
Besides seeing more expectations of young Airmen today, Sergeant Seelhoff has also witnessed the ongoing development of the F-15's capability, such as the introduction of the joint helmet-mounted cueing system.
"You turn your helmet and that's where the missile goes," he said, "It's gotten so much more complex."
Despite his long association with the F-15, including stints at the 492nd and 494th Fighter Squadrons, Sergeant Seelhoff never had the chance to take an incentive ride in one.
"There was always somebody else who'd been in longer, or when it was my opportunity something else happened," he said.
Sergeant Seelhoff's co-workers wanted to remedy this.
"He's done so much, this was well-deserved and well overdue," said Master Sgt. Jeffrey Whiting, 493rd AMU weapons section chief, who helped arrange Sergeant Seelhoff's flight.
"Everybody on the ops and maintenance sides recognized his accomplishments, so it was easy," said Sergeant Whiting.
Once he was approved, Sergeant Seelhoff got a crash course in what a pilot must do in order to fly, from flight physicals to being measured for gear.
"[Pilots] wear a lot of stuff," said Sergeant Seelhoff. "I never realized how much they have to wear and how important it is."
Sergeant Seelhoff was also impressed by the effort the pilots took to make him feel like one of them, including some dry humor such as a 'where were you in 1986' list in the break room and playing Bruce Springsteen in the van while riding out to the jets.
"Everybody up at ops was awesome, they definitely made it memorable," said Sergeant Seelhoff.
Once he was airborne in an F-15C Eagle, Sergeant Seelhoff was able to witness the 493rd Fighter Squadron pilots in action as they ran through an aerial combat exercise.
While he was only an observer, the flight gave Sergeant Seelhoff a new perspective on what pilots do with the planes he helps to maintain.
"It's given me a better understanding of the environment in which they work, it's quite intense," he said, adding that he now understands why the pilots train so much at home.
"They need to concentrate on lots of variables and it takes a lot of training to do that," he said.
In addition to seeing, Sergeant Seelhoff felt the extreme G-force pilots experience during tight turns and passes. Despite never being under G-force before, Sergeant Seelhoff took it like a veteran.
"He hung in there better than most young guys," said Lt. Col. Skip Pribyl, 493rd FS commander, who piloted the aircraft Sergeant Seelhoff rode in. "After that last 8.2G pull, I looked back and he was smiling away," he added.
Back on the ground, Sergeant Seelhoff hopes other Airmen won't wait until the end of their careers for a ride in an F-15.
"If you get the chance, I highly recommend it," he said. "It's a heck of an experience."