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F-35 maintainer is on his way to becoming an F-35 pilot

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Lausanne Kinder
  • 944th Fighter Wing

Staff Sgt. Andrew Martin, a Reserve Citizen Airman crew chief assigned to the 944th Fighter Wing’s Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here, knew at the age of 5 he wanted to be a pilot.

“My grandfather got me one flying lesson per month starting when I was 13 and I wanted nothing else,” Martin said. “Back then I was flying a Piper Warrior.”

When he was 17, he visited his local recruiter and inquired about becoming an Air Force pilot. Told he would need a college degree first, he looked at other options that might eventually help him reach his ultimate goal.

“I looked through (the recruiter’s) big book of jobs and decided on crew chief because I figured working on airplanes would get me a job if I ever left the Air Force,” he said. “Also, I figured if I couldn’t fly them, it would be cool to maintain them every day.”

After finishing technical school in 2010, Martin was stationed at Luke with the active duty 308th Fighter Squadron’s Aircraft Maintenance Unit before a permanent change of assignment to the 310th Fighter Squadron’s AMU in 2013.

Wherever he went, Martin never forgot about his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot and would ask all the pilots he met about their career path.

The maintainer spent five years on active duty before transitioning to the Arizona Air National Guard as an F-16 crew chief before making the move to F-35 crew chief for the Air Force Reserve.

Throughout his military career, Martin worked toward earning his college degree and pursued his civilian pilot career.

One of the pilots Martin met was Lt. Col. David Salisbury, an F-16 instructor pilot at the time who currently serves as the AFRC Force Generation Center deputy chief of the Security Cooperation and Exercise Division, Robins AFB, Georgia.

Salisbury took an interest in Martin after hearing he was currently pursuing flying outside of the military.

“At one point during his flight training, Martin’s flight gear was stolen out of his car,” Salisbury said. “I loaned him some of my flight equipment so he could continue his training. Since I also have my civilian pilot instructor license, I went flying with him and shared some of the lessons I have learned along the way.”

By the end of 2017, Martin had earned his bachelor’s degree, instrument pilot rating, commercial pilot license and Certified Flight Instructor’s license. He worked as a civilian flight instructor in the mornings, a crew chief in the evenings and flew on the weekends.

After working as a flight instructor for 11 months, he had logged 350 hours as an instructor pilot and more than 600 total flying hours, all while maintaining his Air Reserve Technician job as a crew chief.

“I recently returned from a non-flying assignment, and now that Martin is a civilian flight instructor, he was able to return the favor and help me get my flying currency back after three years of not flying,” Salisbury said. “It was great to see everything come full circle.”

Once Martin completed all of the training and experience requirements, he was within reach of his dream. He gathered letters of recommendation, completed the appropriate application and interviewed with members of his chain of command, including Col. Bryan Cook, 944th FW commander.

“My ultimate hope for Martin was for him to become an officer and a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force,” Salisbury said. “It takes a lot of dedication to pace yourself and manage your money to obtain the appropriate experience and flight hours required to earn all of the different pilot ratings to achieve the level of instructor.”

After several weeks, Martin was given the chance to interview for a spot in the first AFRC F-35 B course.

“I was in disbelief because I had been working toward this for the better part of a decade and couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Martin said.

“This is so meaningful to me because there were some very difficult times that lasted a number of years that I didn’t think would have a solution,” he said. “However, through hard work and a lot of support, I was able to overcome those challenges and have an opportunity like this.”

His 22-year dream is finally coming true. Martin’s application was approved and he was scheduled to attend Officer Training School in March.

Salisbury shared his advice for those who want to pursue a path similar to Martin’s.

“There will most likely be setbacks, so keeping your eyes on the horizon and persevering is key to moving toward whatever you want to accomplish,” he said. “Don’t neglect your current job while working toward your goal. Be an expert in whatever job you’re doing and people will recognize your dedication and help you open doors to great future opportunities.”