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B-1B Pilot Reaches 4000 Flying Hours

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jeff Roetzel, 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, places a 4,000-hour patch on his uniform after completing a recent Operation Enduring Freedom combat mission. Roetzel is the first pilot to reach 4,000 flying hours in a B-1B. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Patrick Mitchell
by Tech. Sgt. Jason Smith
Baghdad, Iraq (AFNS) Jul 05, 2006
A 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron pilot etched his name in the history books as he became the first pilot to go over 4,000 flying hours in the B-1B. Lt. Col. Jeff Roetzel recently completed an Operation Enduring Freedom combat mission that put him on a plateau that no other pilot has ever reached.

Immediately after landing at the 40th Air Expeditionary Group, Roetzel was presented with a B-1 4,000-hour patch that only he and one other person have the credentials to wear.

"One of my buddies from home left the patch here for me," said Roetzel. "We knew coming here that I would go over 4,000."

Although Roetzel is the only pilot to complete this feat, he is quick to point out that there is one weapons systems officer who also has the distinction of 4,000 flying hours in the B-1.

"I don't think there's anybody within 800 hours," said Roetzel. "I really hope somebody breaks it, but I don't think that will happen for a long time."

Unlike many pilots who knew they wanted to fly as small children, Roetzel didn't decide to make flying a career until he entered college. In 1986, he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Arizona where he was studying management information systems.

"My brother (retired Lt. Col. Dave Roetzel) is nine years older than me, and he was an Air Force pilot," said Roetzel. "He flew C-130s at the time, and he made flying sound like something I'd really like to do. He was definitely the main influence on me becoming a pilot."

Early in ROTC, Roetzel said he wanted to fly a fighter. However, during training at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., he found out he would be flying B-52s.

"I can't remember the exact order of aircraft I wanted," said Roetzel. "I know I was just happy to get a plane that could drop bombs."

Roetzel flew the B-52 for about a year. In 1989, he was selected for a program that allowed him to transfer to the B-1B.

The lieutenant colonel left the active-duty Air Force in 1996 and joined the Kansas Air National Guard. He also started flying a 737 aircraft for American Airlines. Without the Guard, Roetzel said he never would have reached the 4,000-hour mark.

"I've been lucky to fly my whole career," said Roetzel. "It's hard to stay in the cockpit for an entire career. Since I started flying, that's the only thing I've wanted to do. In the Guard, I was able to keep flying and not work any staff jobs.

"I know the Air Force needs people to take on leadership roles as they progress through the ranks," he continued. "In today's Air Force, it's very difficult to get 4,000 hours in one aircraft."

Roetzel said he enjoyed his Guard time, but in 2003, he came back on active duty to finish his B-1 career. He took

a three-year leave of absence from American Airlines, and is planning on retiring from the Air Force as soon as this deployment is over.

Even though he has a record number of hours in the B-1, this deployment is Roetzel's first. Since arriving at the 40th, he has flown his first combat mission and dropped his first bombs in a combat situation.

"It's all based on the training," said Roetzel. "It's the same stuff we train to do, but of course it feels a little bit different knowing that you're dropping real bombs.

"Most of all, I'm happy knowing that the bombs we're dropping are supporting our forces on the ground," he said.

When he hangs up his B-1 gear for good this fall, Roetzel said he should have more than 4,300 hours in the plane.

"It's time to go," said Roetzel. "After 20 years, my time is up, and I'm moving on."

Roetzel said he will move to Florida and go back to flying 737s for American Airlines. He has been commuting between Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and his home in Florida for the past three years. He said most of all, he's looking forward to spending more time with his wife.

The B-1 community will miss Roetzel, according to Col. Scott Vander Hamm, 40th AEG commander.

"Colonel Roetzel is the undisputed expert flier and instructor pilot for the B-1," said Col. Vander Hamm. "Four thousand flying hours is an acknowledged milestone in any aviator's career, but 4,000 hours in one aircraft is truly an accomplishment."

When asked what he will miss about the B-1 as compared to flying the 737, Roetzel jokingly said, "I'll have 140 people complaining about my flying instead of just three."

On a serious note, Roetzel said he'll miss the Air Force family.

"We have such positive esprit de corps in the flying community," said Roetzel. "You have that in the commercial airline industry, but there, you do your job and you go home.

In the Air Force, you go home, and you're still with the same people. It's a family."

To date, Colonel Roetzel has about 7,500 flying hours counting his military and civilian time. That's more than 312 entire days spent in the air over the past 20 years.

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