by Airman Shawna L. Keyes
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
8/6/2015 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. --
For F-15E Strike Eagle aircrew at the 4th Fighter Wing, flying through
the skies is a part of their lifestyle. However, for Lt. Col. Paul
Hibbard, 333rd Fighter Squadron instructor pilot, the clouds are almost
like a second home.
On July 22, Hibbard surpassed the 3,000-hour mark in the F-15E, joining an elite group of fighter aviators.
"It's quite an honor," Hibbard said. "Not many fighter pilots accumulate that many flight hours and experience."
Hour one began more than two decades ago when he started his career as
an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot on Feb. 9, 1995, as a student in the first
Basic Course held at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
"My first couple of hours in the Strike Eagle were exhilarating,"
Hibbard said. "What an amazing machine. The simulator and ground briefs
prepared us for all of the procedures we would execute, but nothing
prepares you for the kick in the pants, the g-forces and the mind-racing
visuals of a flight in an F-15E. Over time, I've grown accustomed to
the physical demands, but the joys of dominating the aerial environment
Following initial training, Hibbard explained he had a unique experience
to be assigned to four different F-15E operational squadrons.
Hibbard has flown with the 494th FS at Royal Air Force Lakenheath,
England, the 389th FS in Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, and the 335th FS at
Seymour Johnson AFB. He's also spent time at the 90th FS at Joint Base
Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, when F-15Es were assigned there.
"I've participated in operations or exercises supporting our National
Military Objectives in over 21 nations throughout four continents,"
Hibbard said. "While amazing and rewarding, I wouldn't call it
exceptional. Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and DoD civilians are
making the amazing possible every day in places more far-flung than I
ever experienced. They are the exceptional ones."
Hibbard has flown more than 1,550 sorties and deployed seven times
throughout his Strike Eagle career. During that time, he learned no one
is perfect, including himself.
"I don't want to be known as the guy with 1,000, 2,000, or 3,000 hours,"
Hibbard said. "Credentials don't mean much to me. Demonstrated
performance was always, and remains, my benchmark, and that is only as
good as your last sortie."
Upon landing from the sortie that took him over the mark, Hibbard's
family and friends joined him on the ramp to celebrate his achievement.
He said he was especially appreciative that his family was allowed out
because they don't get to participate in a lot of what he does.
"So few Strike Eagle aircrew reach this milestone, and I didn't get
there on my own," he said. "My wife of 22 years has supported me the
whole way (as well as) all the unsung Airmen doing their best to make
this milestone possible."
As an instructor pilot, Hibbard is charged with training new Strike
Eagle aviators during the qualification course. His commander, Lt. Col.
Frederick Haley, said having someone with Hibbard's expertise provides
an added benefit to those on hour one in the aircraft.
"There are only two other actively flying F-15E pilots who have achieved
this rare milestone," said Lt. Col. Frederick Haley, 333rd FS
commander. "The 333rd Fighter Squadron is fortunate to have an officer
of such tremendous talent and rare experience committed to developing
the next generation of Strike Eagle warriors."
Now a member of this elite Strike Eagle club, Hibbard plans to continue
passing down his knowledge and expertise to all the younger pilots that
come through his classroom.
"I can tell you the 3,000th hour didn't feel very different from the
2,000th or 1,000th hour, but it feels a lot different from that first
hour," Hibbard said. "I look forward to being able to continue to fly
the Strike Eagle for as long as the Air Force will allow me."