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Father & son take to the skies

  • Published
It's not every day a father gets to dogfight against his son in a high-performance fighter aircraft, 20,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. It's even rarer when the aircraft being flown by the son is the same tail number that the father flew almost thirty years earlier. 

That's exactly what happened Sept. 4 however when Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance visited Kadena Air Base and had the opportunity to take to the skies in an F-15C along with his son, Capt. David Deptula. 

The once-in-a-lifetime engagement turned out to be not only a unique opportunity for father-son bonding, but a telling illustration of the need to modernize the Air Force's aging fighter fleet. 

The general came to Kadena as part of trip to visit Air Force ISR facilities and personnel in East Asia. In addition to meeting with ISR professionals in the 18th Wing, the 390th Intelligence Squadron, and the 82nd Reconnaissance Squadron, General Deptula stopped by for a special visit to the 67th Fighter Squadron where his son is an F-15 pilot. In 1979, then Captain Deptula was assigned to the 67th as part of the initial cadre of pilots that introduced the F-15C to the 18th Wing. 

"Kadena has come a long way in many respects in the 29 years since the F-15 first arrived," said the general, a command pilot with more than 2,900 hours in the F-15. "And yet, the pilots and maintainers here are putting the same jets in the air that have been flying since 1979. 

On this day, Gen. Deptula had the opportunity return to his roots and fly again with the 67th. Ironically, the F-15 with Captain Deptula's name on it, tail number 78-548, is one of the very same jets that General Deptula flew 29 years ago as a young captain himself.
While the novelty of a young captain flying the same aircraft his father flew 29 years ago can't be overlooked, Gen. Deptula stresses that the underlying point of the story goes way beyond these two officers and their shared experience. 

"Not too long ago the maximum desired age of our fighter forces was 10 to 15 years old," said Gen. Deptula. "Today the Air Force is flying F-15s over 30 years old. It is way past time we need to modernize our geriatric fighter forces, particularly considering that both China and Russia are producing fighters more capable than our current U.S. fourth generation fighters." 

In today's mission General Deptula flew in the back seat of an F-15D with Capt. Jim Schiess in the front seat while his son flew in another F-15. 

Captain Deptula briefed and led his dad on the Basic Fighter Maneuvers mission where they jousted against one another and also conducted air-to-air refueling. 

"I was pretty impressed that dad did as well as he did, not having flown an F-15 in about two years, but then again he's almost got 3000 hours of F-15 time," said Capt. Deptula.
Captain Schiess agreed, saying "the general flies a great jet." 

When asked who won the majority of BFM engagements, father and son simply smiled. They both acknowledged that it was a special opportunity highlighting the great legacy of the F-15, the incredible efforts of the Air Force maintenance community to keep the 30 year-old fighters flying, and the spirit of pilots that remain committed throughout generations to keeping the U.S. Air Force the best on the planet.