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This Air Force fighter pilot retired a day before he turned 60

Miguel Ortiz Avatar

Military service can seriously age you. Whether you’re pulling Gs in a fighter plane, rucking to the ends of the earth in the infantry, or getting tossed around in high seas, a year as a service member isn’t the same as a year as a civilian. Nevertheless, there are plenty of service members who stick it out for 20 years to score those coveted retirement benefits. But then there are those who truly love what they’re doing and stay in as long as they can. This was the case for Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph “Hooter” Feheley.

walking out for final flight
Feheley (right) walks out to his aircraft for his final flight before retirement (U.S. Air Force)

Interestingly, Feheley started his work career as a stock broker in Miami. However, his desire to fly was strong and he started taking flying lessons. He pursued flying as a hobby until he attended a college reunion. There, an old classmate suggested that he try flying for the military as a career.

air force pilot retired
Feheley inspects his F-16 before taking it up one last time (U.S. Air Force)

Feheley joined the Air Force in 1988. Like many Americans at the time, following the release of movies like Top Gun and Iron Eagle, he wanted to become a fighter pilot. However, the Air Force had no fighter pilot positions available. Instead, Feheley trained to fly the A-10 Warthog. After completing his training, Feheley flew the Hog from 1990 to 1994.

fehely before final flight
Feheley in the cockpit prior to his final flight (U.S. Air Force)

In 1994, he got his dream. Feheley was accepted to transition from the A-10 to the F-16 Fighting Falcon. As a combat pilot, Feheley has served in every military campaign since Operation Desert Storm in 1991. After a 33-year flying career and about 5,000 flight hours, he retired at 59 years and 364 days old. “If I wanted to do a different job, I could’ve left,” Feheley told Master Sgt. Allissa Landgraff with the 482nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs. “I earned my retirement and all that stuff years ago. But when you wake up in the morning doing something that you love to do, why change that?”

air force pilot retired after final flight
An airman salutes Feheley and sends him off on his retirement flight (U.S. Air Force)

Feheley’s decades-long career is the result of passion and dedication to his profession. While the dream of flying and the honor of service kept him going, he also credits the airmen and women that he’s worked with for his success in the Air Force. “The people in the squadron are why you stay, and the things you remember,” Feheley said. “You start for a national honor thing where you want to do something for your country, and then you realize, ‘wow’, it’s pretty cool flying airplanes, it’s the people that keep you here for 33 years.” When he retired on December 10, 2021, Feheley was the oldest F-16 pilot in the Air Force Reserves.

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