FAIRBANKS — An Air Force fighter pilot in Alaska for training is flying over familiar territory.
Capt. James Collins grew up in Ester, just south of Fairbanks. When he landed his F-16 on June 4 at Eielson Air Force Base, he was greeted on the runway by his wife, Annette, daughters Olivia, 4, and Zoie, 2, and 9-month-old son James.
“It was kind of cool,” Collins said of flying in from Japan. “I could pick out where UAF was and where the Old Nenana Highway was. I could look in the targeting pod and pick out the clearing in the trees where our house is at.”
Collins, 31, is assigned to the 36th Fighter Squadron stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. He is taking part in Red Flag-Alaska field training exercises.
He grew up dreaming of being a pilot like his grandfather, a Marine Corsair pilot who died in a midair collision during a training exercise.
“He’s pretty much always had his sights set on being a pilot,” said Collins’ father, James. “Everything he did in high school and college was directed to getting a pilot slot out of ROTC and flying fighters.”
Collins this time is flying over the 65,000-square mile Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, the largest training range in America.
“Coming up here and having clear air and having air space from the surface to 60,000 feet is amazing,” Collins said. “It’s a huge amount of air space so it affords us great training opportunities that we don’t have a chance to experience any other place we fly.”
The scenery is good, too.
“I flew my first sortie out of Eielson (on Wednesday) and it was awesome,” Collins said. “It’s awesome flying over the mountains southeast of base, that part of the Alaska Range. That was pretty incredible.”
Collins will return to South Korea before transferring in August to Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City. His goal is to be stationed at Eielson.
“I don’t have any plans on getting out any time soon,” he said. “I’ll probably stay and fly as long as they let me.”