KADENA AIR BASE, Japan — A maintenance airman stands in front of a fighter jet, arms stretched out as he marshals the jet into place. The engine's roar begins to fade and its canopy opens, projecting a robotic sound reminiscent of a 1980s science-fiction flick. As the pilot climbs down, friends and family congratulate him in the traditional manner — by spraying him with a stream of ice-cold water.
This is what happens when an F-15 Eagle pilot reaches the milestone of 2,000 flying hours.
Air Force Lt. Col Alexander Haddad, 44th Fighter Squadron pilot, reached this milestone Nov. 19, after a routine training mission in his F-15.
Members of the crowd congratulated him one by one, including Lt. Col. Kevin Jamieson, 44th FS commander, who presented Haddad with the 2,000-hour patch.
Reaching that many hours doesn't happen often in the fighter jet world. Unlike cargo and tanker aircraft, which fly for hours on end, F-15 flights are much shorter in duration.
"It's difficult to achieve that milestone," Jamieson said. "Typically on a training [flight] you average anywhere from 44 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes."
Accumulating 2,000 in-flight hours can take an entire career to achieve, if it happens at all. For Haddad it took a little over 19 years, and he's the first Kadena F-15 pilot to accomplish the feat since 2009.
"In today's Air Force, we're fairly limited on flight time and resources," Haddad said. "So we're trying to do more with less, and we're trying to make every single flight hour count."
As recently as a decade ago, Haddad explained, it was more common for fighter pilots to reach 2,000 hours. In recent years, though, the focus has been "on making sure they're doing the right thing with the few precious hours we do get."
Haddad graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1996, to become a pilot. He finally took off on his first F-15 flight in April 1998.
He said he didn't think he would ever make it to this moment. Jamieson said he thinks it's a big deal because it shows that the pilot has been able to do his job well over a long period of time.
"I had always aspired to get to 2,000 hours, and four or five years ago I wasn't sure if I was going to make it," Haddad said. "It feels pretty amazing; I'm very privileged that I got the chance to do that here with the 44th and the 18th Wing."