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10,000 Hour Aviator

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Command pilot and 133rd Operations Group Commander, Lt. Col. Steven T. O'Brien reached an aviation milestone recently, having logged over 10,000 hours as a pilot with the Minnesota Air National Guard. It is a rare achievement; members of the unit recall that the last person to reach 10,000 hours was in 1999 and that person has since retired. Records indicate the next closest Airman in the unit has about 6,000 hours.

O'Brien, 54 years old, downplays the accomplishment, and says he loves to fly and to teach. He has flown C-130 "Hercules" military cargo aircraft since joining the Air National Guard in 1977. His father had been in the United States Air Force and encouraged him to be become a pilot.

"Flying is incredible, says O'Brien. "It is very natural for me to fly and teach. I love being in a job where I can watch young people over an extended period of time, watching them learn to fly."

The milestone wasn't recognized until the monthly records were compiled recently. His 10,000th hour of flight happened on Mar. 4, 2008 during a local aeromedical training flight. He was serving as an instructor pilot during the mission, while medical personnel practiced caring for patients during the flight.

O'Brien pilots the C-130H, a military cargo aircraft capable of hauling pallets of cargo, patient litters, combat troops or a combination of any of these up to 42,000 pounds. The C-130 has the ability to land and take off on short austere runways. Aviators and C-130s from the Minnesota Air National Guard have been key resources in the Global War on Terrorism, providing tactical air support to the nation's efforts to secure freedom around the world in recent years.

"When I was a young instructor pilot with my hair on fire," O'Brien recalls, "I probably logged 400 to 450 hours a year. Now I fly maybe 200 hours a year." He says that may seem like a low number compared to a commercial airline pilot, who can easily log twice as many hours as their military counterparts in a career, but 10,000 hours is not very common in the Air National Guard.

Some of his most memorable missions were delivering humanitarian relief supplies over the past 30 years to locations around the world. He has deployed most recently in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and has flown 33 combat missions.
"We have new missions to keep us fresh," says O'Brien. He says their current need is to update and stay current using night vision devices so they can operate in any environment. "We are at the cutting edge of this technology," he says, "and it is very fulfilling to teach these skills to new people."