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Big milestone over the Big Sky-pilot logs 4,000 hours in the F-15 aircraft

Lt. Col. Reed Drake gets a hug from his son Matthew, his biggest fan.  U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson.

Lt. Col. Reed Drake gets a hug from his son Matthew, his biggest fan. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson.

GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- Four thousand flying hours is an acknowledged milestone in any aviator's career; however, 4,000 hours in one aircraft is truly an accomplishment. On Friday, Lt. Col. Reed Drake became the fourth pilot in the world to do just that. 

Immediately after his historic flight, Colonel Drake, call sign "Snake", was greeted with cheers by his fellow fighter pilots, well wishers, media, and his family. 

"My goal was to fly one hour in the F-15", said Colonel Drake. "If I can get more, I'll keep going." Unlike many professional and military pilots, Colonel Drake did not want to be an aviator at an early age. He took an interest in it during his junior year in high school. 

Colonel Drake started college as a pre-med student and was introduced to the Reserve Officer Training Corp by a fellow classmate. "After I found out I could fly after graduating from the program I became very interested," said Colonel Drake. 

He graduated with a bachelor degree in computer science from the University of Texas and took his first F-15 flight in 1988, and said he's never had a day where he didn't look forward to going to work. And who could blame him. For more than 21 years Colonel Drake has flown one of the nation's premier fighter aircraft. 

Asked about his most memorable flight in the F-15, commonly known as the Eagle, Colonel Drake said, "all of them have been memorable, every flight is different, and no two sorties are ever the same." Simulating knocking on wood, Colonel Drake said he has never had to eject or any serious emergencies. "Sure, there are always little things, but nothing too serious." 

What was even more interesting than the obvious world-class accomplishment was his bearing while being interviewed. He was very humble and unassuming about entering the history books of the F-15, and just felt honored to be doing what he loves. "Whatever you want and love to do, I'd say go for it because you get one chance in life to do it," said Colonel Drake. 

The 186th Fighter Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Mike Buck presented Colonel Drake with a patch to wear on his flight suit depicting an F-15 with the word eagle in bold letters and 4,000 hours on the bottom. Only three other pilots in the world are sanctioned to wear the patch. 

Colonel Pete Hronek, the 120th Fighter Wing operations group commander said, "It's great to be able to bring him on board and he will be a tremendous help to our unit with the conversion." 

MTANG is currently converting from the F-16 to the F-15 aircraft and anticipates being full-mission ready in April of 2010. The F-15 is a small, highly maneuverable jet plane designed to fly combat missions in all weather conditions. Its primary mission is maintaining air superiority. In other words, its ultimate purpose is to defeat other planes in aerial combat. 

The Montana Air National Guard is not new to record setting. In 2004 Col. Mike McDonald became the fifth pilot world-wide to surpass the 4,000 hour mark in the F-16 aircraft.

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