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Gunfighter reaches 3,000 flight hours

Lt. Col. Michael Landers, 389th Fighter Squadron pilot, smiles out of the cockpit of an F-15E Strike Eagle at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, May 20, 2016. After reaching 3,000 flight hours, Landers has completed 1,282 sorties and 5 deployments during his 16 year career. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Alaysia Berry/Released)

Lt. Col. Michael Landers, 389th Fighter Squadron pilot, smiles out of the cockpit of an F-15E Strike Eagle at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, May 20, 2016. After reaching 3,000 flight hours, Landers has completed 1,282 sorties and 5 deployments during his 16 year career. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Alaysia Berry/Released)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --

On Friday, May 20, after a routine training flight, Lt. Col. Michael Landers, fighter pilot for the 389th Fighter Squadron, reached 3,000 flight hours in the F-15E Strike Eagle.

But what is so significant about having flown 3,000 hours? 

That is equivalent to approximately 4 months of Landers’ 16-year career spent in the cockpit of a jet. That’s a little over two times as long as basic military training. 

For most, it seems hard to comprehend operating in such a tiny space for that long, sometimes up to 12 hours at a time. In fact, Landers is currently the only pilot stationed at Mountain Home AFB to have over 3,000 hours and one of an elite few in Gunfighter history to accomplish such a task.

“I just wanted to serve, I just wanted to fly airplanes,” Landers said. “To be honest, the hours were never really any personal goal of mine. It just happened that I got to fly so much that they started accumulating.” 

This not only includes training flights spent at home station but also combat missions overseas. Over the course of his career, Landers has deployed five times and accomplished 1,282 sorties. And while the first few thousand hours flew by, the home stretch to this recent milestone has been a journey.

“Really the first 2,000 hours seemed to happen so quick; and a lot of it was due to a lot of flying in deployed locations,” Landers said. “Since then, coming back to home station, the hours happen a lot more slowly. We’re not doing four or five hour missions here, it’s more like one or two hour missions.”

Landers explained that despite all the hours of briefings, debriefings, studying, mission prep and time spent waiting on the tarmac, being able to do the mission successfully and pass his lessons learned to other aircrew makes it all worth it.

While the milestone seems like a big accomplishment to many, Landers sees it less as an accolade and more as just something else that he can contribute to the mission and his fellow flyers.

“My primary job is to be an expert … that’s what we all train to do, day-in-day-out,” Landers said. “But now that I’m later in my career and I have a lot of experience, a lot of my time is spent teaching and mentoring other guys in the squadron and our formations to do the same thing.” 

Being one of the most experienced pilots on the base has shifted Landers’ focus, and he finds that his goals and viewpoints have changed over the years from just being the subject matter expert. 

“I told the guys afterwards … that I don’t feel any older and I don’t feel any more experienced … which is a bit ironic,” Landers stated with a small chuckle. “I never considered myself to be the scholar … but what I can pass to younger guys are really just lessons learned. Through all those years, as far as mistakes I’ve made … to make them better. I see that as becoming more of my focus when I’m flying nowadays, than what I did the first few assignments.”

With the current aircrew shortage the Air Force is facing, Landers believes his milestone might become more common in the coming years. 

“I considered myself lucky that I was able to fly an assignment in the T-38, get trained in the Strike Eagle and then do three ops assignments in a row,” Landers stated. “Now we’re in a position where a lot of [aircrew] are getting the opportunity to continue flying in the Strike Eagle for consecutive assignments. They have a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge that they’re going to be able to pass on…which is outstanding. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing a lot more guys reaching milestones like this and I think that’s fantastic.” 

Landers doesn’t just think that this milestone is his alone, but rather for the entire wing as well, especially the maintainers that work on his aircraft.

“While the hours for me is an awesome accomplishment, I think about the tens of thousands of hours that our maintainers have put into the jets, in order to allow me to fly the three thousand hours that I have so far,” Landers expressed. “Really, they’re miracle workers.”

Currently working as the 366th Fighter Wing’s inspector general and having served as the Wing’s director of staff prior, Landers expressed appreciation not only to the maintenance and operations groups for everything they’ve done, but the whole Gunfighter team as well.

“One of the most valuable things I’ve learned … is the team effort that goes into just one sortie out there on the flight line,” Landers said. “Whether its fuels, security forces, civil engineering, all of the fighter wing staff agencies and all the efforts that they’ve put in. Everyone might not necessarily know the direct impact they’ve had on that one sortie, but it’s impressive to see how it all integrates to make that happen.” 

And as for his next milestone? Landers states that as long as he can continue to fly and mentor young aircrew, that’ll be enough for him.

“The motivator to climb out of bed at three or four o’clock in the morning when we have early takeoffs or get home at three or four o’clock in the morning from late night flights is the ability to go fly. Teaching guys, and seeing them do things that you’ve taught them well is obviously very motivating.”