Retiring four-star U.S. Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, 56, commander of Strategic Command, on Monday revealed to a small group of reporters his only ambition in life: “I’ve really aspired to nothing, except for one thing,” he said. “The reason I joined the Air Force was to become a United Airlines pilot. I couldn’t figure out any other way to get flying lessons.”
“I failed,” he bemoaned, with a wry smile. Instead, Chilton will have to settle for a career flying the historic U-2 spy plane, the B-52 Stratofortress, F-15s, F-4s….and two space shuttles, orbiting the earth 469 times.
Chilton, the combatant commander in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal and mission, was atop many parlor lists for higher positions in the military. But he seemed quite satisfied at the Air Force Association’s national convention when asked if his retirement was truly voluntary.
“I have had, I would say, a pretty unique career,” that most would call “fantasy or fiction,” he said.
“I’ve achieved more than any dream I ever had as a youth,” he said. “All of that was made possible -- to include meeting my wife -- all of that was possible, my education, my ability to be a reconnaissance pilot, a fighter pilot, a test pilot, an astronaut, a member of the Joint Staff, the air staff, commander for the last five years, and come to this position – all of that was made possible by the United States Air Force.”
Chilton told Stars and Stripes he will stay on until the Senate this autumn takes up the nomination of his successor, Gen. Bob Kehler, of Space Command. Chilton will keep his kids in school in Omaha, Neb., through the semester before relocating to Colorado Springs, Colo.
Many generals have long resumes, but to this reporter and Space Camp alumnus, nothing is cooler than the fact that he was a space shuttle pilot and commander. In May 1992, Chilton piloted Endeavor’s maiden voyage, and another one in April 1994. In March 1996, on STS-76, Chilton was shuttle commander aboard Atlantis (my favorite shuttle) when it docked with the Russian space station Mir.
In total, Chilton spent a month of his life floating in orbit above the heavens.
If space isn’t your thing, he also commanded the 9th Reconnaissance Wing’s U-2 spy planes. In fact, here is the official list of planes he’s piloted: F-4C/D/E, F-15A/B/C/D, OV-104A and OV-105A (space shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour), RF-4C, T-38, U-2 and VC-11, B-52H
United Airlines, are you reading this? Give this poor unemployed schlub a job!
His official bio is here.