When you think about things that fly, you probably think about birds – or maybe even airplanes! But do you ever think about the person that flies the airplanes? Joe Ratterree rarely did – until he went on to graduate from the United States Air Force Academy in 2006 as an Air Force pilot. He decided to pursue this career after realizing how exciting it’d be to make traveling a full time job and how much he loved the adventure of flying.
His long road to becoming an Air Force pilot started with a year of formal pilot training, which involved a lot of studying and plenty of opportunities to demonstrate behavior under pressure. “I was put in various scenarios that simulated uncomfortable situations because, as a pilot, I have to be able to handle those situations at any given time,” Joe says. For the next three and a half years, Joe taught formal pilot training to new pilots, which he remembers as special because he was able to fly every day, logging in over 2,000 hours of flight time.
Once Joe finished teaching pilot training, he moved to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, where he still works today. There, Joe’s job is to refuel other planes in the air and to receive gas in the air so that planes can take cargo to other locations!
It is hard to imagine choosing a favorite experience when each day seems so exciting, but Joe says that a recent mission stands out. “My team and I created a formation of four KC-10s, which took off from McGuire Air Force Base and met six F-22s at a random point in space over the United States,” Joe explains. “And once we met the planes in mid-air, they picked the six planes up and took them all the way to Hawaii.” In Hawaii, the pilots regrouped and caught up on some much needed rest. “The next morning, we carried the six F-22s all the way to Japan.” What an adventure! In addition to flying half way around the world in two days, Joe says he really enjoyed how the teams worked together to execute their mission. “It was really cool to see it all play out the way we had trained.”
Though Joe found his way into his career through the Air Force Academy, he says that “if you are interested in flying, there are so many different routes to becoming a pilot.” He suggests talking to people within your community about general aviation options and inquiring within your school. Being a part of such important missions takes hard work, focus, and dedication, but Joe says it is totally worth it. “You see how important studying is when you are able to directly apply it to your career and day-to-day. I still study a lot, but it is because I take pride in my job and studying makes me a better pilot.”
Have you ever thought about becoming a pilot? What aspect of this job would you enjoy the most? Tell us about it below!