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Meet the best fighter pilot in the Air Force: ‘Fuel’

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An F-16 Fighting Falcon flies over the Adriatic Sea on Oct. 26, 2016. Aviano’s 555th and 510th Fighter Squadron’s fighter pilots trained with the Utah Air National Guard’s 191st Air Refueling Squadron during a two week training to stay proficient on refueling procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Cory W. Bush/Released).

Every year, the Air Force recognizes its best fighter pilot with a prestigious award.

The Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault award is given to the fighter pilot who had distinguished himself as an outstanding aerial warfare tactician.

Last week, the Air Force announced that the winner for 2019 was an F-16 pilot nicknamed “Fuel,” who is assigned to the 31st Operations Support Squadron (31st OSS), which is based in Aviano Air Base, Italy.

Fuel is the Chief of Weapons and Tactics of the 31st OSS. The Squadron, among other duties, is responsible for developing tactics and training in advanced dogfighting the fighter pilots of the two F-16 subordinate squadrons (555th and 510th Fighter Squadrons).

“I feel that it’s an award that puts credit on the last year,” said Fuel in an interview. “It was a great year for the wing, the squadron and myself, but to me it’s more of a decade process. When I look at it, that’s what I’ll see.”

best fighter pilot
F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 555th and 510th Fighter Squadrons over Europe (DVIDS).

F-16s from the Squadron have been deploying regularly to the Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria), Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (Afghanistan). Last October, the 555th Fighter Squadron alone conducted more than 840 missions and flew more than 5,000 hours in less than four months. The pilots of the 31st OSS, thus, are not lacking in combat experience.

“I’m driven by competition,” added Fuel. “In the world of aerial training and combat, generally there is a winner and a loser. Coming into a flight or a mission and putting all your learning and preparation on the table to see if you can beat your adversary is a great motivator.”

The award has been named after Major General Claire Lee Chennault (he was honorably promoted to Lieutenant General after retirement; the rank that is reflected in the award). Lt. General Chennault is famous for his service with the American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers, against the Japanese in China during the Second World War.

The Commanding Officer of U.S. Air Forces Europe, General Jeffrey Harrigian said that “It is with great pleasure and complete confidence that I endorse [Fuel] for the prestigious Lt. General Claire L. Chennault Award. Fuel’s leadership, instructional ability, and tactical prowess were instrumental in the 31 FW’s successes in both the European theater but also the Central Command theater, having worldwide impact.”

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Stavros Atlamazoglou

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and national security. He is a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from the Johns Hopkins University, an MA from the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and is pursuing a J.D. at Boston College Law School.

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