For all their glamor, speed and lightning-fast reflexes, fighter pilots aren’t all that different than your average person. While it takes hard work, mental flexibility, and exceptional health to be a pilot, one might be surprised that a lot of America’s fastest warfighters are essentially “big kids who like to go fast.”
With a lot going on inside of a cockpit (especially a single-seat aircraft), the average ground pounder may wonder what goes on in the mind of a fighter pilot.
If the conversations during mid-air refueling are any indication, it isn’t too far off of what one would think about on a long road trip: food, bad jokes, and coffee. While they never reference any use of illicit drugs, just like the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High never does, their vernacular, conversation, topics, and tone are not far off from those of the movie.
While not a pilot, Senior Airman Jordan Smith knows better than most what goes through a pilot’s brain. A KC-10 In-Flight Refueler from California’s Travis Air Force Base, Smith regularly carries on conversations with the crews of aircraft that come to him when their planes start to get thirsty.
If a KC-10 is a flying gas station and Smith pumps the gas, then America’s best aviators are his loyal customers. One might even say Smith is one of the most important gas station attendants in the world.
Smith is known for his creative, morale-boosting conversation methods often puzzling his customers with riddles, making them laugh (or shake their heads) with jokes or talk about the kinds of food they miss.
From chatting with F-22 pilots about Chick-Fil-A sauce to figuring out how to remotely solve an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot’s “cold coffee” problem, Smith makes a point to be friendly with the pilots, who often sound fresh out of a college fraternity house.
“Dude, if you want some [Chick-Fil-A sauce], come to our room or whatever afterward…,” Smith says to an Air Force officer pilot while refueling his F-22.
Not unlike the gas stations you would find on terra firma, the KC-10 has the ability to bake and heat up all sorts of junk food, from chocolate chip cookies to pizzas that Smith’s fellow crew members wouldn’t want anyone but him to make.
“Our boom operator makes the most fantastic pizzas in the world,” one of the KC-10’s pilots said in February. “…Perfect texture.”
In a world where ground troops engage enemy troops within spitting distance and fighter pilots drop bombs to support them, SRA Smith pumps gas and makes pizza- and that’s okay.
After all, without him (and others like him), the entire war effort just might grind to a halt.
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