1st Lt. Cole Skinner of the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard, steps to an F-15 Eagle aircraft to embark on his first flight as a member of the 104th Operations Group, April 23, 2020, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts. Skinner’s first flight is historical amid COVID-19 pandemic, as the pilots are maintaining operational readiness and continuing to train with a risk-balanced operations approach. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Julie Avey)

Amid deep blue, nearly cloudless skies, crew chiefs wore protective masks as they greeted pilots making their way out to the F-15 Eagle jets waiting on the flight line, April 23, 2020, at Barnes Air National Guard Base, Mass. First Lt. Cole Skinner donned his flight suit and walked out to his aircraft to embark on his first flight as a member of the 104th Fighter Wing.

“It was the greatest feeling stepping out to the jet,” said Skinner. I was able to fly out with our commander, “Bishop,” and defend freedom.”

In the short time stepping out to the jet, he saw his friends, crew chiefs, he said. Seeing his friends out there and helping him made it memorable.

1st Lt. Cole Skinner of the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard, prepares for take-off in an F-15 Eagle aircraft to embark on his first flight as a member of the 104th Operations Group, April 23, 2020, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts. Skinner’s first flight is historical amid COVID-19 pandemic, as the pilots are maintaining operational readiness and continuing to train with a risk-balanced operations approach. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Julie Avey)

His first flight with the unit was designed to orient Skinner with the departure and arrival features in a busy flying hub and to train to max performance in the jet, he said. He flew in the military operating area with Col. Andrew “Bishop” Jacob, 104FW Operations Group Commander, who is an experienced weapons school instructor formerly at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School.

“I am blessed to be flying the greatest air superiority fighter in the world,” said Skinner. “Even more blessed to be flying in Massachusetts, as this is my home.”

The pilots are maintaining operational readiness and continue training with a risk-balanced operations approach.

The in-flight training also focused on Aircraft Handling Characteristics and how the jet performs; airspeeds, altitudes, and angles of attack, to be more effective in those maneuvers while in combat. “I need as much training as I can get to catch up with those old guys,” he said.

1st Lt. Cole Skinner of the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard, prepares for take-off in an F-15 Eagle aircraft to embark on his first flight as a member of the 104th Operations Group, April 23, 2020, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts. Skinner’s first flight is historical amid COVID-19 pandemic, as the pilots are maintaining operational readiness and continuing to train with a risk-balanced operations approach. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Julie Avey)

Skinner enlisted more than nine years ago as an intelligence analyst Airmen with the goal of becoming a pilot.

“I still remember making name tags as a kid,” said Skinner. “Becoming a pilot was a lifelong goal.”

His first flight with the 104th Fighter Wing is more memorable than some, as it occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the biggest challenges of our time, and I feel like business has been altered based on just the necessary steps that need to be taken,” said Skinner. “The wing leadership, I think, has done a great job on limiting COVID-19 spread.”

Leadership continues to ensure they are going to work and ready defend the nation if called upon, he continued.

“I’ve been keeping up with our commander’s emails and the videos on the 104FW mobile application,” he said. “Even when I was in Oregon training, I was keeping up to stay safe, healthy and prepared to do the mission.”

A 104th Fighter Wing Pilot takes off amid COVID-19 and with blue skies up ahead
104th Fighter Wing/Public Affairs
Story by Senior Master Sgt. Julie Avey
Sunday, April 26, 2020

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