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B-Course profile: 1st Lt. Colton Buechel

1st Lt. Colton Buechel of class 16-ABK listens to last minute advice from his instructor pilot as he prepares to start up the F-15 Eagle at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Ore. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

1st Lt. Colton Buechel of class 16-ABK listens to last minute advice from his instructor pilot as he prepares to start up the F-15 Eagle at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Ore. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. -- Over the course of the B-Course series we will introduce you to each of the six students who are making their way through the course. This time it's 1st Lt. Colton Buechel's opportunity to explain how he landed an opportunity at the sole F-15C training house.

Catching up with Buechel has been an exercise in persistence, and when we sit down for an interview he mentions nearly all of his classmates as either more exciting or more charismatic and also that he's really not good at public speaking.... I infer that he's a little allergic to the attention.

One could almost anticipate what his approach to this difficult course is when he says, "I may not be the smartest, I may not be the fastest, but I'll do whatever it takes." And it has taken seven years of hard work to arrive here for Class 16-ABK. From the beginnings of picking up a job at a regional airport in the greater Seattle area to his appointment to the United States Air Force Academy he's said little, worked hard, and put together a record of accomplishment that's earned him what many see as the top choice for that of any aspiring pilot.

It's also ironic that an electrical engineer with a minor in Japanese claims he's not the smartest. So one could grant him this in the case of the superlative use of the word that's true; however, it's also evident that he is plenty smart. After five months of this learning experience he expresses how his underlying philosophy has helped him succeed thus far in training to fly the Eagle.

"I've found that a good way to start every day is with the realization that I really don't know anything," said Buechel, staying completely in character. He does elaborate a bit, and it's telling that there is a reason he chooses this humble approach saying it's a mindset that helps him absorb more from the experience.

One thing he doesn't mention is that he is by far the biggest student in his class, in fact he has a larger stature than any B-course student or instructor pilot at Kingsley Field. But before you draw the wrong conclusion, let me assure you he is not overweight; he is just a large man and he used that frame to his advantage as a wrestler in high school taking third in the Washington State tournament. He does concede that he had to fly F-15s because he simply wouldn't fit in an F-16 cockpit.

Capt. Alex Lisot said the class jokes that he's here because he flunked out of truck driver school, paying homage to his large stature.

At this point the driving he's doing is significantly harder than navigating his 80-thousand pound payload on a cross country run. He's taking off in total darkness relying on night vision goggles to light up a small circle directly in front of him, and flying around at 500 miles-an-hour. In his understated fashion he says the most important thing to remember while night flying, "is knowing where the ground is...."

On further prodding for an analogy of what it's like he says, "It's like rolling out of mile-high headed for Shaky Town bundled out and tryin' not to catch the greasy side in a come-a-part. When you got nothing but a mud-duck and hopin' not to throw iron and needing a cup of 100-mile darktime to keep clear of the meat wagon it can end up 10-200 in a jiffy--and that's pretty much what it's like."

We will take his word for it.